To celebrate Women’s Day without recognizing the contribution of Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule, and Ambedkar is hypocrisy and shameful act. Here are few of the highlights of work done by Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule for women empowerment.
On 1st Jan. 1848, India’s first school for girls was started at Bhide’s wada in Pune by Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule.
On 28 January 1853: First ever infanticide prohibition home of India was started by Savitribai Phule.
Savitribai Phule started Mahila Seva Mandal in 1852, which worked for raising women’s consciousness about their human rights, dignity of life and other social issues. She went on to organise a successful barbers strike in Mumbai and Pune against the prevailing practice of shaving of widows’ heads.
On 28 January 1866, Vishnushastri, inspired by Phule’s movement opened an institution to promote widow remarriage. The institution (a society) was known as Punar Vivahtojak Mandal(remarriage association).
At a time when even the shadow of Bahujans was considered impure, when the people were unwilling to offer water to thirsty Bahujans, Savitribai Phule and Mahatma Jyotirao Phule opened the well in their house for the use of Bahujans.
Savitribai Phule was the first Bahujan woman, in-fact the first woman whose poems got noticed in the British Empire. Savitribai Phule was the mother of modern poetry stressing necessity of English and education through her poems.
Did you know? On 16th Nov. 1852, Phule family was honoured by British government for their works in the field of education and Savtribai was declared as the best teacher.
In 1863, first ever orphanage home was started by Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule, hence gave protection to pregnant widows.
Six reasons every Indian feminist should remember Savitribai Phule
Savitribai Phule (1831-1897) is considered one of the first-generation modern Indian feminists. January 3 marked her 184th birth anniversary. Here’s why you should know more about her.
She got intersectionality.
Savitribai along with her husband Jyotirao, was a staunch advocate of anti-caste ideology and women’s rights. The Phules’ vision of social equality included fighting against the subjugation of women, and they also stood for Adivasis and Muslims. She organized a barber’s strike against shaving the heads of Hindu widows, fought for widow remarriage and in 1853, started a shelter for pregnant widows. Other welfare programmes she was involved with alongside Jyotirao include opening schools for workers and rural people, and providing famine relief through 52 food centers that also operated as boarding schools. She also cared for those affected by famine and plague, and died in 1897 after contracting plague from her patients.
She was a pioneer of women’s education.
At 17, Savitribai began teaching and in 1848, the Phules set up the first school in India for women at Bhide Wadai in Pune. Savitribai set up and ran many more schools for girls from oppressed communities. In 2014, the University of Pune was renamed Savitribai Phule Pune University in her honour.
She started one of the first women’s rights organisations in modern India.
In 1852, Savitribai started the Mahila Seva Mandal to help create awareness among women of their social status and rights.
She wrote an inspiring collection of literary works.
Savitribai’s writing ranged from poetry in folklore form, collected in the anthologies Kavya Phule and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar, to essays such as ‘Karz’. She also edited some of her husband’s speeches for literary publication and published some of her own speeches. Apart from its literary and political value, her works, on subjects such as education, caste, and liberation of untouchables, serve as valuable historical documentation of the times.
She subverted Brahminical Hinduism.
The Phules supervised marriages without the presence of Brahmin priests, and formulated a new religion called Sarvajanik Satya Dharma – ‘the Religion of Universal Truth’.
She wasn’t just a mute follower of her husband.
As her letters to her husband show, she was as devoted to her work as she was to him. When Jyotirao died, she lit his funeral pyre and carried on their work after his death. She looked after their organisation, Satyasodak Samaj, in the years that followed.
Periyar the Radical Feminist
Periyar was way above his time in his perception of women and their position in the contemporary society. He said “Man treats woman as his own property and not as being capable of feelings, like himself. The way man treats women is much worse than the way landlords treat servants and the high-caste treat the low-caste. These treat them so demeaningly only in situations mutually affecting them; but men treat cruelly and as slaves, from their birth till death.”
Periyar’s most revolutionary insights were perhaps in his espousal of radical feminism, which he theorized well before the term itself was invented anywhere in the world. Periyar, for example, attacked the oppressive notion of female “chastity” thus: “To insist that chastity is only for women and should not be insisted upon for men, is a philosophy based on individual ownership; the view that women are the property of the male determines the current status of a wife.”
Periyar’s championing of the right of women to get educated, work and live and love as they please was too bold for many of his own ardent followers in the DK movement, which has failed to elaborate or even uphold his thoughts on this issue. jinnah-periyar-and-ambedkarAs the feminist and Periyar scholar V. Geetha pointed out in a recent talk in memory of the 19th-century social reformer Savitribai Phule, “Periyar has been de-radicalized and made an exponent of the reservation policy, crude atheism and a strident anti-Brahmin rhetoric, and so his views on caste, hierarchy, the gender and sexuality question have all been relegated to a forgotten archive.”
Periyar and Self-Respect Marriages (SRM)
Periyar’s conception and articulation of the Self-Respect Marriage (SRM) in 1929 was an ingenious master stroke. It projected marriage as a contract between equals irrespective of caste, class or religious considerations, without priests or even parental approval. It shifted “marriage” from the realm of the sacred to that of a contract between equals, from one that was “forever” to one that could be terminated by either party, from one that was divinely ordained to one that was self-contracted. He shifted the onus and jurisdiction of the SRMs from the family and community to the individuals concerned. The crux of the SRMs was gender equality and individual agency. This was nothing short of a revolution in the realm of thoughts and ideas and a leap in self-consciousness and self-awareness. In short, Periyar created the new man and woman.
Five decades before Periyar was born, the Phules had articulated a radical concept – the Satyashodhak Marriage Rites in Pune, Maharashtra – where the bride and groom recited their own secular, gender-equal mantras in place of the Hindu religious mantras. Periyar took this radical strand of self-determination to its logical end even though he might have had never heard of Phule.
The SRMs presided over by Periyar himself gave him a public platform to propagate his feminist ideas. There was no aspect of the man-woman relationship that he left unexplored. He wanted women to have complete control over their sexuality, fertility and labour. He believed in women having unlimited and unconditional freedom. In fact, he said and did everything to sabotage patriarchy. He specialized in scandalizing society and shaking it out of its complacency by making provocative statements like “women should cease having children if it comes in the way of their personal freedom”. He bluntly stated that women would never be free as long as “patriarchal masculinity” enjoyed currency. He wanted chastity and “character” to be applicable to both man and woman or neither.
He insisted that parents bring up their daughters in the same manner as their sons, even in matters of names and attire, and train their daughters in sports such as boxing and wrestling.
He also had radical views on contraception for women. All these and many more of his radical views are articulated in his booklet titled “Why the Woman was Enslaved”.
He spoke the language of radical feminism decades before the second-wave feminists in the Western world coined the term.
Apart from Self-Respect Marriages, the Self-Respect Conferences, women’s conferences and youth conferences provided yet another avenue to Periyar to articulate his gender concerns. The resolutions passed at these get-togethers were pro-women and gender-just
Another important aspect of the movement was that women not only attended the women’s conferences but played an important role in the general Self-Respect Conferences as well – from organizing them, presiding over them to moving resolutions. The women activists of the movement clearly understood the link between caste and patriarchy. They drew parallels between caste oppression by the Brahmins and gender oppression by men. They saw the dominant religio-cultural complex of the day as legitimising and justifying both caste and gender inequality. All this was articulated by them in the various papers and journals of the movement. In fact, the title “Periyar” or “the Great One” was conferred on E.V. Ramaswami by the Tamil Nadu Women’s Conference held in Madras in 1938.
Periyar did not believe in ghettoizing women either in the public domain or the private one. He practised, in his own life, what he preached to women. He persuaded his newly wedded 13-year-old wife, Nagammal, to discard the “thali” or mangalsutra. He encouraged her to address him as comrade and took her along with him to every meeting and conference. Ditto, with his sister Kannamal. So much so that when Gandhi gave the call for picketing toddy shops to uphold prohibition in 1921, it was Nagammal and Kannamal who led the agitation in Erode. Even so, on the death of his wife in 1933, he expressed profound regret that he had not put into practice even a fraction of his feminist beliefs, in his marriage.
Another significant event in Periyar’s life was his remarriage at the age of 70 to Maniammai, his loyal secretary of six years, some forty years younger than him, in 1949, amid raging criticism and censure. He defended his move by declaring that it was not for sexual pleasure that he had married but to entrust his life’s work, organization and property to her as he trusted her to carry on the work after him. He thus chose a young woman as an heir to his rich legacy of nearly a century of relentless battle against age-old obscurantism in Tamil society.
The Revolutionary Sayings of Periyar on Womens Rights
- Man treats woman as his own property and not as being capable of feelings, like himself.
- The way man treats women is much worse than the way landlords treat servants and the high-caste treat the low-caste. These treat them so demeaningly only in situations mutally affecting them; but men treat cruelly and as slaves, from their birth till death.
- Women in India experience much wrose suffering, humiliation and slavery in all spheres than even the untochables.
- To give man freedom of sexual selection, and to permit him to take as many wives as he like, gives rise to promiscuity.
- If the man has the right to claim a woman, then a woman also should have right to claim a man. If conditions are imposed for the worship of man by woman, let there be conditions imposed for the worship of woman by man.
- R. Ambedkar work towards women
Not many people know that Dr. Ambedkar always worked hard to uplift the situation of women in Indian society. Here are few of the less known quote/ideas/thoughts/work from Dr. Ambedkar on women empowerment. To celebrate Women’s Day without recognizing the contribution of Dr. Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule, and Mahatma Jotiba Phule is hypocrisy and shameful act.
Newspapers started by B. R. Ambedkar, Mooknayak and Bahiskrit Bharat predominantly used to cover issues related to women and their empowerment.
Ambedkar was always concerned about women empowerment. In a letter to his father’s friend, young Ambedkar, during his studies at New York, said – We shall see better days soon and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male education is persuaded side by side with female education…”
On 18th July 1927, Ambedkar addressed a meeting of about three thousand women of Depressed classes, he said ‘I measure the progress of community by the degree of progress which women had achieved.’
Never regard yourself as Untouchables, live a clean life. Dress yourselves as touchable ladies. Never mind, if your dress if full of patches, but see that it is clean. None can restrict your freedom in the choice of your garments. Attend more to the cultivation of the mind and spirit of self-Help. – Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (While addressing women of Depressed classes on 18th July 1927)
Send your children to schools. Education is as necessary for Females as it is for males. If you know how to read and write, there would be much progress. – Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (While addressing women of Depressed classes on 18th July 1927)
Dr. Ambedkar said to Women “Learn to be clean. Keep from vices. Give education to your children. Instill ambition into them. Inculcate in their minds that they are destined to be great. Remove from them all inferiority complexes.”
Dr. Ambedkar said to Women – The paternal duty lies in giving each child a better start than its parents had. Above all, let every girl who marries stand by her husband, claim to be her husband’s friend and equal, and refuse to his slave. I am sure if you follow this advice, you will bring honour and glory to yourselves.
Dr. Ambedkar raised the Women’s issue as Member of Legislative Council during his debate in Bombay Legislative Assembly on 10th Nov. 1938; he strongly advocated family planning measures and said that besides many other problems giving birth to many children negatively affects Mother’s health.
Did you know? Maternity Benefit Bill was introduced by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in 1942, during his tenure as Labour Minister in Governor General’s Executive Council.
While drafting the constitution of India, Dr. Ambedkar was the prime movers of the provisions related to the welfare of women. On the question of civil rights, Dr. Ambedkar made provisions in articles 14-16 in the Indian Constitution, which provide equal status to Woman and also banned the of sale and purchase of woman prevailing Hindu India.
Dr. Ambedkar also introduced an emancipatory bill (the Hindu code Bill) in Parliament which intended mainly 1) to abolish different marriage systems prevalent among Hindus and to establish monogamy as the only legal system; 2) Conferment of right to property and adoption on women; 3) restitution of conjugal rights and judicial separation; attempts to unify the Hindu Code in tune with progressive and modern thought.
Did you know? Dr. Ambedkar created awareness among poor, illiterate women and inspired them to fight against the unjust and social practices like child marriages and devdasi system.
How many Indian ministers have resigned over women issues?
Did you know? In January 1928, a women‟s association was founded in Bombay with Ramabai, Dr. Ambedkar‟s wife, as its president.
Did you know? Dr. Ambedkar believed in the strength of women and their role in the process of social reform. In the Kalram Temple entry Satyagraha at Nasik in 1930, five hundred women participated and many of them were arrested along with men and ill treated in jails.
Did you know? Dr. Ambedkar believed in the strength of women and their role in the process of social reform. The historic Mahad Satyagraha witnessed participation of three hundred women along with their male counterparts.
I strongly believe in the movements run by women. If they are truly taken in to confidence, they may change the present picture of society which is very miserable. In past, they have played a significant role in improving the condition of weaker section and classes.
“Unity is meaningless without the accompaniment of women. Education is fruitless without educated women, and agitation is incomplete without the strength of women”.
In January 1928, a women’s association was founded in Bombay with Ramabai, Ambedkar’s wife, as its president.
On 20th July 1942, The All India Dalit Mahila conference was organized and 25,000 women attended that conference.
Gaining inspiration and encouragement from Dr. Ambedkar, many women wrote on topics like Planning, Buddhist philosophy and such other topics. Women also wrote plays, autobiographies, and participated in Satyagrahas. Tulsabai Bansode started a newspaper Chokhamela. This showed how Dr. Ambedkar created awareness among poor, illiterate women and inspired them to fight against the unjust social practices like child marriages and devdasi system.
Tata Sivaiah belongs to Mahatma Jyotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Educational Circle, Hyderabad Central University,