A trailblazing figure in the field of women’s education in India, Savitribai Phule is the subject of Tuesday’s Google Doodle on the occasion of her 186th birthday.
Born in Naigaon in Maharashtra on January 3, 1831, Phule is widely regarded as one of India’s first generation modern feminists for her significant contributions in ensuring equal education opportunities under the British raj.
She became the first female teacher in India in 1848 and opened a school for girls along with her husband, social reformer Jyotirao Phule. The two also worked against discrimination based on caste-based identity, something vehemently opposed by the orthodox sections of society in Pune.
Stones were pelted at her and cow dung flung her way as Savitribai endured abuse daily as she walked to the school she was teaching, writes Cynthia Stephen in the book ‘A Forgotten Liberator : The Life and Struggle of Savitribai Phule’.
She went on to establish a shelter for widows in 1854 which she further built on in 1864 to also accommodate destitute women and child brides cast aside by their families. Phule also played a pivotal role in directing the work of the Satyashodhak Samaj, formed by her husband with the objective to achieve equal rights for the marginalised lower castes. She took over the reins of the organisation after Jyotirao’s death in 1890.
Savitribai opened a clinic in 1897 for victims of the bubonic plague that spread across Maharashtra just before the turn of the century. She is said to have personally cared for patients, as a result of which she contracted the disease herself. Even in death, she showed her dedication to the upliftment of poor and oppressed and continues to be remembered as one of the most inspirational figures in the women’s rights movement in India.