Google India created a special doodle on Tuesday to pay its respects to poet Savitribai Phule on the eve of her 186th birthday. In a country, where women have traditionally been subjected to inhumane behaviour owing to their position as the “secondary” gender in the state, Savitribai Jyotirao Phule, along with the husband Jyotirao Phule stood strong to fight a patriarch 150 years ago. Savitribai Phule is considered the India’s first female teacher. She was also a social worker and a renowned poet.
Who is Savitribai Phule?
Born on January 3, 1831, just a couple of years after the Sati Pratha had been banned, Savitribai was subjected to other horrors of the society when she was married off with a 12-year old Jyotirao Phule in 1840, at the mere age of 9 years old. Savitribai was born in Maharashtra’s Naigaon and was the eldest daughter of Khandoji Neveshe and Lakshmi Patil. It was her husband, Jyotirao Phule, who educated her in academics at home and then trained her to be a teacher. Savitribai Phule is widely credited with laying the foundations for granting women the deserved opportunities and is known to have participated majorly in the struggle to improve facilities for women in the country. The University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule University in 2014 in her honour. She is known to have opened about 18 schools for girls and had gone on to become the country’s first woman teacher and headmistress.
Although in 1829, the Bengal Presidency had banned the Sati Pratha, the practice was still widespread in the country. Meanwhile, in many other reasons, banning the inhumane ‘Sati’ wasn’t enough, as child marriage was a major norm in the days. And with a high mortality rate, many such girls became widows at a very young age and were being forced to shave off their heads and lead a life of embarrassment and isolation. In turbulent times like these, Savitribai had stood up against these rules and had organised a strike against the barbers in the region to stop them from shaving off young widows. According to India Today, Savitribai had also opened a care centre, “Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha” for pregnant victims of rape and helped deliver their children. In those time, women who became victims of sexual exploitation and rape mostly committed suicide.
Standing up to a ‘casteist and patriarchal’ India
Savitribai Phule worked for the abolition of discrimination based on caste and gender. In the 1800s where casteism was at its peak and treatment of the marginalised sections of the society could be termed uncivilised. In 1868, she built a well in her house, for the people termed as the “untouchables”, who were not allowed to use the drinking water the upper castes used. Many of her poems go on to speak against the discrimination in the society based on gender and caste and appealed about the need to get educated. Savitribai Phule died during the Third Bubonic plague while taking care of the patients.