Savitribai Phule: The Mother Of Modern Education
By Rahul Chimurkar
11 December, 2015
World humanity is going to celebrate 184thBirth Anniversary Celebrations of Savitribai Phule-The liberator of women, Pioneer of Human Rights and the Greatest Humanitarian Revolutionary of the world. We were all shocked when Taliban shot a young girl MalalaYousafzai for defending the right of young girls to education. But if in today’s world girls can walk freely to school without being attacked it is because other young Malalas have braved criticism and struggled for education in their times.Most prominent among them was SavitribaiPhule who not only fought for right education for girls but also for the right to dignity for widows,unwed mothers and women with unwanted pregnancies. She was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India. The world history has witnessed the agricultural revolution,industrial revolution, info revolution, bio revolution which has changed the “material world” of Human society. Human society has also largely been changed by “Western Enlightenment” viz. Scientific and Secular revolutions, French and Russian revolutions. The ‘Eastern world’ on the other hand also contributed to human history by Chinese revolution. All the above developments in the history of human civilisation has changed the “mental and material world” of humankind. But these revolutions could not abolish the human sufferings and end problems of human kind. If by ‘Revolution’ we mean Deconstruction of undesirable principles values and orders and establishment of desirable principles, values and orders, neither of the Enlightenments and revolutions could establish the principles of Equality-Liberty-Fraternity-Justice in reality. Thus, there is a greater revolution beyond this led by SavitribaiPhule and her husband JyotibaPhule, which contributed for the establishments of golden principles of humanity viz. Equality, Liberty, Fraternity and Justice.Women of the Indian society are not aware of the greatness of SavitribaiPhule,who dared to pursue the noble profession of teaching in the ‘Dark Age’.The time when women were mere objects to be used,education for women was considered no less than a punishable crime;she dared to speak against the unpardonable boundaries imposed on women in Indian society, she ignited million lives, for which today’s women and everyone should be grateful to her. I have always wondered why the Teachers’ Day in India is not celebrated on the birthday of SavitribaiPhule, the lady who started the first school for the downtrodden and was the first woman teacher of India.
EARLY LIFE STRUGGLES OF SAVITRIBAI PHULE
Savitribai was born on 3rd January,1831,inNaigaon of Satara district in Maharashtra. It was a common practice those days to marry a girl at an early age. In spite of her desire to study, she got married to Jyotirao Phule at the age of nine.Jyotirao being a visionary and with a firm belief that every woman must be educated, started teaching his wife at home. His firmness on educating women could be seen in this interview to Dyananodaya on 15th September 1853.He says-"It did occur to me that the improvement that comes about in a child due to the mother is very important and good. So those who are concerned with the happiness and welfare of this country should definitely pay attention to the condition of women and make every effort to impart knowledge to them if they want the country to progress. With this thought, I started the school for girls first. But my caste brethren did not like that I was educating girls and my own father threw us out of the house. Nobody was ready to give space for the school nor did we have money to build it. People were not willing to send their children to school but LahujiRagh RautMang and RanbaMahar convinced their caste brethren about the benefits of getting educated".
Under his influence,Savitribai had taken women’s education and their liberation from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as mission of her life. On January 14th,1848,Jyotirao started a school for girls and Savitribai started teaching in this school and hence, she became the first woman teacher of India. However, teaching by a woman was not an easy task then because education for girls was considered as a sin.She was subjected to intense harassment everyday as she walked to the school because a group of orthodox men used to follow her and abuse her in obscene language. Stones, mud and dirt were flung at her as she passed. She started taking an extra sari with her to wear at school. But she faced all this very courageously. This couple kindled by passion for their goal did not stop their work of educating girls from all sections of society. She innovated many new ways of teaching like telling short stories to make learning more interesting, taking sport sessions, reciting her own-made poems in front of girls. Her first collection of poems-KAVYA PHULE-was published in 1854 stressing the necessity of English and Education. Looking at her passion for education, people started sending their girls to schools themselves. The number of girls increased from twenty five to seventy during 1849-50.Thus,it could be seen that Education for her was not merely alphabetical learning but a means of igniting the minds and the personality of women and others. Her way of teaching was very simple, participative and activity based.Today we talk of educational philosophies of Gandhiji’stalim, Zakirhussain’scommittee report on education etc but none of our intellectuals has ever looked at the educational pattern adopted by the Phule couple in order to make education a universal reality.
Today’s government programmes like Right to education act, midday meal scheme etc. which prioritises education,may seem like modern concepts but even 184yrs back Savitribai had set a precedent-she gave stipends to prevent children from dropping out of school. She was the teacher who inspired a young student to ask for a library for the school at an award ceremony instead of gifts to herself. She also conducted parent-teacher meeting at regulate intervals to involve the parents so that they could understand the importance of education and encourage their children. Being a visionary she very well understood the relation between Malnutrition and education.She very much took care of health of each and every child in school.But today when 46% of the children are malnourished and 1crore of children are out of school,Right to education act was enacted under UN pressure because of the obligation to ensure universal education by 2015.Thus,the question arises of “Intention”. The government is trying to fulfil the obligation set by UN by 2015 without realising the impact on the children in their future life. One may feel happy by looking at our literacy rate but when we analyse the situation we will find that there is not even Functional Literacy in India.
OTHER SOCIAL REFORMS
During those days, widows, particularly the Brahmin widows were the easy targets for the males of the society in terms of sexual exploitation. Many women were driven to commit suicide by men who had exploited them to satisfy their lust and then deserted them. Most of the time, they happened to be pregnant due to lack of contraceptives or other measures. Saddened by this,Phule couple immediately started a shelter home-Balhatyapratibadhakgriha for such Brahmin widows in their own house. They put up advertisements all over the city and at places of pilgrimage announcing it as a “way to avoid kalepani(life imprisonment in the Andamans)” and thus, the information about the shelter home spread. By 1873,66 Brahmin widows had come to this shelter home from different places. They also adopted a child of a Brahman widow Kashibai who later grew up to continue the work started by them.
During those days marriages were arranged between young girls and old men. Men used to die of old age or some sickness and the girls they had married were left widows. They were forced to have their head shaved so that she could easily be identified as a widow.Savitribai was moved by the plight of such widows and organised a strike of barbers to persuade them not to shave the head of the widows. This was the first strike of its kind.
During those days, Untouchability was a common practice all over India. They were not allowed to take water from the wells situated in the upper caste colonies. Moved by this, Savitribai opened up their reservoir of water to the untouchables.
After realising the Caste discrimination prevailing among women, she started organising meetings and TilGur festivals. In these meetings and festivals women of all caste could participate. Thus she provided a platform where women of all castes could have a effective sharing of views and discuss their problems with each other. Later on Savitribai realised that coming of women together is not enough. She came to the conclusion that the plight and worse condition of women is due to patriarchal values and mindset of the people. Thus women should be organized in a manner that one should feel the power of collectiveness and could fight against the atrocities done to her in the society. It was due to her efforts that a MahilaMandal was formed in Pune in 1852.This MahilaMandal started working for the empowerment and liberty of the women.
All these were the revolutionary steps taken by Savitribaiphule in order to fight with the social evils prevalent in the society.
AN EDUCATIONAL PRAGMATIST
Savitribai Phule approached the problem of educational upliftment of the masses as a pragmatist. She very soon realised that lack of education is the main reason for the backwardness of poor people. She says that education is one of the basic needs along with food, clothing, shelter and medicine. For her, simply getting education does not mean to acquire the knowledge and getting academic designation. Education must get through by the way of free mind and free thinking. For all these reasons, she put all her efforts to guarantee the education without any discrimination to all citizens of Independent India. But when I compare this kind of education with the present policy of education prevailing in our country, I ask myself- Can the present policy of education create an ideal democratic society? Can the existing policy of education capable enough for making India self-reliant and efficient? I feel the present policy of education is not sufficient to achieve these objectives.
In the recent ASER report 2014,it is very clear that the situation with basic reading continues to be extremely disheartening in India. In 2014,in Std 3,only a fourth of all children can read a std. 2 text fluently. This number rises to just under half in Std. 5.Even in Std 8th,close to 75% children can read Std 2 level text(which implies that 25% still cannot).20% of the children in the age group of 6-14yrs still cannot go to school. There was a time when people across the countries came to India for education in Nalanda University. But today India is not even among the top 200 Universities of the world. Prof. John Dewey in his book “Democracy and Education” says – “Education plays an important role in the transmission of social experiences –which includes culture, knowledge, language, beliefs etc. and its progress and hurdles, from one generation to the next. The school as an agency plays an important role in this transmission along with family, community, religion, economy and politics.”But this seems to be not happening in India. India is all into privatising and corporatizing education in a full-fledged manner. Privatisation is not just turning higher education into a business but it is opening it to the business of God and god-men as well(2009,Meera Nanda).According to her “The state is enabling Hinduization with the help of private sector:from actively promoting religious tourism,to handling over higher education to the private sector,some of whom use religious trusts to run these institutions and imparts value based education,to giving away land at highly marginalised rates to gurus and god-men, many of the privatization measures of the government are linked with the promotion of Hinduism”. The outcome of this is we have 15 lakhs schools and 75,000 hospitals in India and 25 lakhs temples. UP and Delhi government had given 100 acres of land for the construction of Akshardham, Karnataka gave 99acres of land for Sri SriRavishankar “Art of living” etc..This clearly explains the true intention of policy-makers. We need to stop it because even the Right to Education bill of 2008 has accepted the reality that the right to education means a “right” to unequal and inferior education.The ideal of creating a common school system is all but dead.
Thus, there is need to change the present policy of education. The national aim of education should be to create an “Ideal Democratic society” and the national policy of education should be bring in social efficiency, to create social opportunity and to create Human Resource Development in India. To fulfil this aim and policy of education, we need to create Uniform curriculum, Uniform schools and Uniform teachers till class 12.Thus,this is the kind of education Phule couple adopted which needs to be revived today in order to see India becoming a Knowledge Power in the future.
NO PLACE IN HISTORY! WHY?
Non-recognition of her work is one of the reasons for not giving her a place in history. Historians have never made any attempt to study her life and struggle. She is the probably the first woman in India who took on the forces of Caste and patriarchy, the two great monsters of Indian society. I sometimes wonder, how could it be possible that the name of such a legend(SavitribaiPhule) is omitted from the history books, when names like Jhansi ki Rani, Lakhsmibai etc. are given in history books?.It is high time now that the truth should be known to people by the historians.
Secondly, Indian feminism suffers from “Terminological terrorism”. Indian feminist, rather than looking at their own’s country history, look to western concepts for the solution of their problems.When we talk about Feminism,we always trace its origin to Mary Wollstonecraft “Vindication of the Rights of Women”. We fail to recognise that we have had many women in our own history who fought for women’s freedom, rights at a time when women were merely considered as objects by the our religious scriptures like Rigveda. Women of this country must now realise the importance of their own people like Savitribaiphule and others and sought inspiration from them for their salvation.
Thirdly, I think there is a conspiracy going on to suppress the “Subaltern history” in this country. The way Peasants movements and others were sidelined in the national movement by our freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru etc. who tried to establish their Hegemony in the national movement. But they fail to recognise that it was “Dominance without Hegemony”. In the similar manner, the works by the lower caste people and women were marginalised by the so-called privileged castes.It is high time that their works and contribution to the Indian society must be recognised and appreciated by the wider section of the society.
SavitribaiPhule emphasized on Secular education for social emancipation. The basic theme of her philosophy of education is: inculcating the values of liberty, equality, fraternity, justice and moral character among the boys and girls of all shades. Her impact on the liberation of women has been spectacular.She broke all traditional shackles of 19th century Indian to herald a new age of thinking.
Studying her life teaches us the best way forthe enlightenment of human beings from ignorance.
Rahul Chimurkar, Research Scholar in JamiaMiliaIslamia University. My email id is firstname.lastname@example.org.
1.Dewey J.(2004),Democracy and Education: An introduction to the philosophy of Education,New Delhi: Aakar.
2.Drez,s&Sen, Amartya (2013), Uncertain glory: India and it’s Contradictions, London: Penguin Group.
3.Nanda,Meera(2009), The God Market, Noida: Random House.
4.Manas,Mukesh(2011),SavitribaiPhule,the First Woman Teacher of India, New Delhi: SwarajPrakashan.