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If you’ve seen the Google Doodle this morning, you’ll notice that it represents an Indian woman with a caring, motherly face, enfolding humanity in her arms, sort of protecting them from the harsh reality out there. This is the very essence of Savitribai Phule, an inspiring woman, India’s first female teacher, a social reformer and a poet who played an important role in the fight for women’s rights in pre-Independence India.
Today, January 3rd is her 186th birth anniversary and as good time as any to remember her many achievements, and what she’s done for millions of Indian women like you and me to live the life we lead today. Today in India, every little girl can dream of going to school, get a quality education and do something with all the knowledge that she’s picked up – this is largely due to the tireless efforts of Savitribai and her constant struggle against the patriarchy to demand and justify equal rights for women and men, cutting through the barriers of caste, creed, religion and race.
She relentlessly fought against the dominant caste system and worked towards the upliftment of the marginalized. She demanded dignity for all women, for which she, along with her husband Jyotirao Phule worked their entire lives. The principles of humanity, equality, liberty and justice were of utmost importance to her.
During a time when women were mere objects, she ignited a spark that led to equality in education – something which was impossible before. By getting to know her better, by understanding her struggles and hardships, we see a life that not only changed the face of education in India, but also enlightened humanity in its real essence.
She was a victim of child marriage herself, but found strength in her life with her husband Mahatma Jyotirao Phule as they both embarked on the long journey of women’s emancipation and equality for all, fighting against and overcoming all odds to ensure equality for all and quality education for the masses in India.
She was deeply involved in all those causes wherein women were oppressed and mistreated in the largely patriarchal society in pre-Independence India. Among her many noted and noble acts include opening a care centre for pregnant rape victims and helping them deliver children safely, founding the first school for women at Bhide Wada in Pune IN 1848, starting a care centre for victims of sexual harassment (leading to pregnancy) and female infanticide, which was named “Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha” (Infanticide prohibition house).
She worked hard and generously devoted her time to abolish discrimination and unfair treatment of people based on their caste and gender. She devoted her life to caring for people, and died also the same way, while tending to patients suffering from bubonic (bacterial infection) plague, during the worldwide Third Epidemic. She openly supported widow remarriage and opened a home to help orphaned widows and children.
She’s a true icon for all young girls and boys out there who want to do their bit for society. It’s also important for us parents to share her story with our kids, to teach them about grit, determination, patience and grace, as without these a Savitribai Phule wouldn’t have been the changemaker that she’s considered now. Our kids need to understand that a LOT of people over a LOT of years have gone through LOTS of trouble to make sure simple basic rights are given to one all, including just simply going to school and getting an education!
She’s been designated as the one of “First Generation of Modern Indian Feminists” and very rightly so. Her poems and other writings continue to be an inspiration for many and remain pioneering in the struggle against India’s caste system.
Here’s remembering an iconic woman!