Tag Archives: Savitribai Phule

How Can India Reinvigorate Phule’s Revolutionary Legacy ?

Remembering a colossus in the times of Hindutva.

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Who will reinvigorate Phule’s legacy? This question stares us in the eye on 28 November, the 130th death anniversary of Jyotirao Phule, considered the “father of social revolution in India”. Phule largely remains relegated to the background—a result of selective amnesia and identity politics in modern India, where his path-breaking contributions, and those of his wife Savitribai and her fellow traveller Fatima Sheikh are rarely remembered.

They are credited with opening the first school for girls from the historically “untouchable” communities in Pune, which was once ruled by the Peshwas. This school created an upheaval in the Brahmin-dominated Maharashtra of yore, as a 14-year-old Muktabai, belonging to the formerly “untouchable” Mang caste, who studied in the school, wrote: “O learned Pandits, wind up the selfish prattle of your hollow wisdom and listen to what I say.” The student’s essay was published in 1855 in Dnyanodaya, a journal popular then. (From Women Writing in India, Edited by Susie Tharu and K Lalitha, Pandora.)

Jyotirao Phule was given the honorific of “Mahatma” a few years before he breathed his last in 1890, for a life spent engaging in tremendous innovation and creativity. He initiated his wife into writing and she later became an independent activist too—a rarity in those days. He opened the doors of his home for those considered the lowliest among the low. He came to the defence of scholar-activists, such as Pandita Rambai, when she embraced Christianity. So he fought against the conservative onslaught single-handedly. Many such instances in his life are worth emulating today.

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Shuddhikaran of Hindu Mahasabha by Lovers of Love in Delhi

Well, they tried, and more power to them.

shuddhikaran of that hate-filled, divisive, toxic organization (and others of the Hindutva brigade) would have considerably reduced pollution in the only vasudha we have, which is our kutumb, but the attempt was foiled by a compliant Delhi Police. However, Parliament Street Police Station was very shuddh indeed by the end of the day, its noxious atmosphere cleansed by the cosmic vibrations of music, dance and “marriages” among all sorts of human beings.

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Mehndi ceremony inside parliament Street Police Station

Image courtesy feminisminindia.com

This hilarious subversion of the idea of marriage, with which Hindu Mahasabha threatened lovers, is in fact a deeply political gesture against the institution of patriarchal, heterosexual marriage with all its violent hierarchies of age and gender, in which disobedient women and younger people are in the custody, much like prisoners in jail, of the patriarchs of the family, which include compliant women. There are no honour killings – these are custodial deaths, when families violently separate couples who chose to marry outside their caste or religious community, often killing one or both of them.

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September 5 as Teachers’ Day – The Dalit Critique: Abhay Kumar

Guest post by ABHAY KUMAR

While the schools and educational institutions of the country have been observing September 5 as Teachers’ Day since 1962, on the birth anniversary of the first Vice-President and second President of independent India Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975), a section of Dalits, mostly students, activists and intellectuals at public universities, are increasingly denouncing its observance. They contend that the birthday of Radhakrishnan, a Brahmin, should no longer be held as Teachers’ Day because he had made no contribution to the educational uplift of lower castes and classes. Instead they exhort people to observe National Teachers’ Day on January 3, the birth anniversary of the nineteenth century social reformer, and teacher from backward caste, Savitribai Phule (1831-1897).

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According to the biographer of Savitribai Phule, M. G. Mali (Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule, 2005), she was taught by her husband in a school run under the shade of a mango tree. Access to education enabled her to become aware about egalitarian movements at global level as she managed to read the biography of Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), who fought for liberation of the Black. Later when she became a teacher, it was vehemently opposed by reactionary Brahmins who pelted stone and threw dung on her in order to “save” orthodox Hindu religion. When frustrated Brahmins were unable to deter the zeal of Phules about imparting education, they succeeded in reasoning with her father-in-law, Govinda Rao, to force them to leave home. She preferred eviction with her husband from home to giving up her mission on education. Despite the opposition, they continued to persuade parents to send their daughters to schools. As a result of their hard work, 18 schools were opened from 1848 to 1852. Her dedication to spread education, particularly among subalterns is self-evident from a few lines of her poem. ‘All gets lost without knowledge… We become animal without wisdom…So learn and break the chains of caste….Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast.’   Continue reading September 5 as Teachers’ Day – The Dalit Critique: Abhay Kumar