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Who was Savitribai Phule? Remembering India’s first woman teacher

A leading social reformer of her time, Savitribai Phule is hailed for her contribution in the field of education.

A leading social reformer of her time, Savitribai Phule is hailed for her contribution in the field of education.

A leading social reformer of her time, Savitribai Phule is hailed for her contribution in the field of education. Savitribai was a crusader for women empowerment as she broke all stereotypes and spent her life promoting the noble cause of women’s education. On her 186th birth anniversary being celebrated in the country today. Savitribai was a pioneer who is remembered for advocating big changes in caste-based Indian society too.

Born on January 3, 1831 in Naigaon Maharashtra, Savitribai played an important role in improving women’s rights in India during British rule. She worked for the upliftment of women in terms of education. Savitribai was married at a very young age of 9 to social reformer Jyotirao Phule. Jyotirao was 12 years old at the time of marriage. It was Jyotirao who helped her learn how to read and write. He helped her attain high levels of education and live her life with her head held high.

Savitribai set up India’s first women’s school from different castes in Bhidewada, Pune and became first woman teacher in the country. In her lifetime she built 18 such schools in the region. Her move was discouraged by many especially upper castes who opposed Dalits education. To discourage her, they threw cow dung and mud at her while she walked towards the school. But even after bearing such atrocities, she was never deterred by failure and carried two sarees. She even gave stipends to children for attending school in order to control the school drop out rate

She also worked towards preventing female infanticide and set up a home, Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha, to prevent the killing of widows. She also campaigned against child marriage and sati pratha, which undermined the existence of women. As part of the Satyashodhak Samaj, the Phule couple organised marriages without a priest, without dowry, and at a minimum cost. The wedding vows in these marriages were the pledges taken by both the bride and the bridegroom. Even after the death of Jyotirao Phule in 1890, she continued to lead the Satyashodhak Samaj till her death.

Savitribai died of an infection while taking care of patients during the third global pandemic of the bubonic plague in 1897. In 2014, the Maharashtra government in a tribute to Savitribai Phule renamed Pune University in her name.

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