Born on January 3, 1831, Savitribai Phule (née Patil) is one of India’s foremost social reformers. She was the first modern Indian woman to have become a teacher when girls were not allowed to attend schools. She was also a poet. On the occasion of her 191st birth anniversary, we look at some of Savitribai’s key achievements.
With the help of her husband Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai established what is believed to be the first school for girls in India. The institution was founded at Bhide Wada, Pune, in 1848. It will be re-built as a national monument and girls’ school.
Savitribai was illiterate when she was married off at the tender age of nine. Jyotiba, however, was a progressive individual who taught her to read and write. Savitribai completed her education and received training to become a teacher. She became India’s first female teacher and the first Indian headmistress.
Savitribai never forgot her past and in 1854, set up a shelter for child brides, widows and other women shunned by their families. She and her husband were thrown out of their house by her father-in-law for opening the girls’ school. Savitribai opened 17 more schools with Jyotiba.
Fatima Begum Sheikh, an educated woman and the sister of Jyotiba’s friend Usman Sheikh, joined Savitribai at the Bhide Wada school. She became the first Muslim woman teacher in the country.
Savitribai continued to teach girls and children of different castes, despite repeated attacks from higher caste people. She was also against the Sati tradition. She and Jyotiba adopted Yashwantrao, the son of Kashibai, a widow whom conservative Brahmins wanted to kill after her husband’s demise.
Savitribai set up a centre for pregnant rape victims called Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha where she helped them deliver and protect their children. She also opened a clinic with Yashwantrao for Bubonic plague victims in 1897.
On March 10, 1897, Savitribai died after contracting the disease from a 10-year-old boy she was trying to save. However, the boy survived.