After managing to read the biography of Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), who endeavoured and fought against slavery or slave trade, Savitribai Phule, the wife of Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, was deeply committed to uplifting the social status of girls and people from the so-called lower castes through education.
Savitribai Phule was born on January 3, 1831, near Naigaon, in Maharashtra, and became the first female teacher in India. She was often ridiculed and abused by the Brahmins (upper-caste Hindus) for challenging the system of caste by educating girls and individuals belonging to the Dalit communities, who were deprived of learning and literacy for centuries. She was ridiculed for emancipating them with the critical power of knowledge and rational thinking.
Savitribai Phule played a very historic and significant role in women’s rights movement in India.
She is popular even today, but unfortunately, her birth-date is not commemorated as Teacher’s Day in India because she was not born into a Brahmin community. Whereas the ‘benefit of privilege’ straight away goes to India’s first vice-president Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (5th September 1888 – 17th April 1975), a Brahmin by caste, who is said to have plagiarised his student’s doctoral thesis, Indian Psychology of Perception (1925) in his own book Indian Philosophy II (1927). He was sued for ₹20,000 by his student Jadunath Sinha, who was counter-sued by Dr Radhakrishnan for ₹100,000. The matter was settled outside the court.
Dr Radhakrishnan’s view on Hinduism has also been Brahminical (for apparently defending the casteist and misogynistic Manusmriti) on many occasions. I don’t think he has contributed much to the upliftment of women and Dalit people during his tenure, except asking people to observe his birthday as Teacher’s Day.
On the other hand, Savitribai Phule was educated by her revolutionary husband, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, who founded a school near Pune in 1848. Brahmins envied her zeal and discouraged her, but she relentlessly continued to educate girls. She always carried an extra saree to wear after reaching the school, since the Brahmins would throw cow dung, and caste slurs, at her.
She is also considered as the mother of Indian Feminism, for working to abolish caste discrimination, patriarchy, and inequality. She and her husband were considered ‘evil’ and the couple were asked to leave the village in 1849 because their activities were considered ‘sin’ according to the Manusmriti (the source of ‘moral’ rules and ‘ethical’ laws for Hindu people that legitimizes casteism, gender discrimination and lynching).
She opened 18 schools. Her diligence and commitment paid off. She published few notable works like Kavya Phule (1854), Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar (1892) and a very famous poem Go, Get Education in which she appeals to the masses to seek education and smash casteism. Her works are not taught in today’s schools in India, due to all social and political reasons known to you and me. She favoured widow re-marriage and fought against the child marriage system. She also founded a home for the prevention of infanticide.