|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (May 2008)|
Savitribai Jyotirao Phule (January 3, 1831 – March 10, 1897) was a social reformer, who, along with her husband, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, played an important role in improving women's rights in India during the British Rule.
Savitribai was the first female teacher of the first women's school in India and also considered as the pioneer of modern Marathi poetry. In 1852 she opened a school for Untouchable girls. Stones would be thrown on her and she would be orally abused but still she continued teaching. When she was hurt, she would be encouraged by her husband, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule.
Savitribai Phule was born in Naigaon village in Satara district to her mother LaxmiBai and father Khandoji Navse Patil on January 3, 1831. Her father was the village chief. Savitribai was just nine years old when she was married to JyotiRao Phule (age thirteen) in the year 1840. According to the Hindu calendar, the date of their marriage was Phalgun Vadya panchami, Shakey 1765. SavitriBai’s father-in-law, Govindrao Phule, was from Phursungi, with the last name Khirsagar. The Peshwa gave him a horticultural land in Pune, so he migrated to Pune and started a horticultural business. This was why he acquired the last name Phule, from the word phul, flower. (Many last names in Maharashtra are acquired due to the family business).
Savitribai’s husband Mahatma Jyotirao Phule lost his mother at a very young age. His maternal cousin sister Saguna (lovingly called SagunaAau by JyotiRao, Aaee = mother) nurtured him. SagunaAau worked as a nanny for a British officer’s son. She therefore understood and was able to converse in English. She used this knowledge to inspire JyotiRao. JyotiRao was thus attracted towards education.
Savitribai had been given a book by a Christian missionary before her marriage which she brought with her to her in-laws house. This shows the attraction she had for words and books despite being uneducated. SavitriBai set up a school for SagunaAau on May 1, 1847 in a backward community. This was their first school. SagunaAau started teaching there happily and enthusiastically. A year later when a school was started in Bhide Wada in Pune ( It is Opposite to Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Mandir, Budhawar Peth, Pune ), SagunaAau was called there to teach. The first school had stopped working abruptly due to lack of acceptability for education for lower caste people in those days.
Mahatma Jyotirao is regarded as one of the most important figures in the social reform movement in Maharashtra and India. He is most known for his efforts to educate women and the lower castes. Jyotirao was Savitribai’s mentor and supporter. 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. She worked towards tackling some of their major social problems, including women’s liberation, widow remarriages and removal of untouchability.
The next step was equally revolutionary. Savitri realised that along with education it was necessary to work on other social fronts, to build up the self-esteem and confidence of women. She also campaigned against some cruel social practices. Many girls who were married off young would be widowed by the age of twelve – thirteen. After the death of their husbands, either they would have to take Sati (a practice of burning the widow on the funeral pyre of the husband) or their head would be clean shaven to make them ugly and unattractive to other men. These helpless women, with no rights to denial, would be easy targets for depraved men. The resultant pregnant widows would be scared of being ostracized by the society and the suppression that the child would have to suffer, and would resort to suicide or killing the new born.To counteract this situation, JyotiRao started a home for the pregnant widows and orphaned children to stop this carnage. Savitri ran the home capably. She considered all the children in the orphanage like her own.
Savitribai and Jyotirao were moved by the plight of such widows and castigated the barbers. They organized a strike of barbers and persuaded them not to shave the heads of widows.
Savitribai was not only involved in educational activities of Jyotirao but also in every social struggle that he launched. They also fought against all forms of social prejudices. They were moved to see the untouchables who were refused drinking water meant for the upper caste. Both Jyotirao and Savitribai opened up their reservoir of water to the untouchables in the precincts of their house.
Once Jyotirao stopped a pregnant lady from committing suicide, promising her to give her child his name after it was born. Savitribai readily accepted the lady in her house and willingly assured to help her deliver the child. Savitribai and Jyotirao later on adopted this child who then grew up to become a doctor. This incident opened new horizons for the couple. Many women were driven to commit suicide by men who had exploited them to satisfy their lust and then deserted them. Therefore, Savitribai and Jyotirao put boards on streets about the "Delivery Home" for women on whom pregnancy had been forced. The delivery home was called "Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha".
Jyotirao and Savitribai were also opposed to idolatry and championed the cause of peasants and workers. They faced social isolation and vicious attacks from people whom they questioned. After his demise, Savitribai took over the responsibility of Satya Shodhak Samaj, founded by Jyotirao. She presided over meetings and guided workers.
In 1868 she welcomed untouchables to take water from her well. She also was the first woman to light her husband's pyre in the history of India.
Savitribai Fought plague
During the Great Plague of 1897 The phule family had done valuable work during the two plague.Savitribai Phule and Dr Yashwant Phule’s work during the epidemics.Savitribai Phule and her son opened a clinic and treated people.Savitribai Phule told Yashwant to start a clinic at Sasane Mala, Hadapsar, which was out of the city and free of infection. Savitribai took patients there and Yashwant treated them.There is an interesting anecdote about Savitribai carrying Pandurang Babaji Gaikwad, a 10-year-old boy, from Mundhwa to the clinic. After treatment, he beat the infection but Savitribai got infected, and this led to her death. Savitribai Phule worked hard to keep plague patients alive. In fact, she was so involved that she died due to the infection on March 10, 1897. 
Savitribai worked relentlessly for the victims of plague, where she organized camps for poor children. It is said that she used to feed two thousand children every day during the epidemic. She herself was struck by the disease while nursing a sick child named Pandurang Babaji Gaikwad who lived on the outskirts of 'Mundva' village and died on 10 March 1897 at 9 pm. Her death was reported by the local newspaper 'Deenbandhu'.
Savitribai's poems and other writings are still an inspiration to others. Two books of her poems were published, Kavya Phule in 1934 and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar in 1982. Recently the Maharashtra government started an award in her name for Women Who Work Social Causes.
Jyotirao and Savitribai opposed idolatry and championed the cause of peasants and workers. Both faced social isolation and vicious attacks from the people whom they questioned. Savitribai's letters give us a good idea about the experiences of women during this social movement. On her death anniversary, a postage stamp was released by the Department of Post and Telegraph.
On March 10, 1998 a stamp was released by Indian post to honour Savitribai's contribution.
Savitribai was a "Vidya Jyoti" for all those who want to do something in the field of education.
- KRANTIJYOTI, Women's Trust on the Path of Savitribai Phule,Pune, Maharashtra
- Navayan.com - Events, Life-sketch, Books, Poems, Photos of Bodhisattva Savitribai Phule
- Marathi song on Savitribai Phule
- Events in life of Savitribai
- Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women's Studies, Pune University
- Savitribai's picture
- KRANTIJYOTI, A project by State Election Commission, Maharashtra
- A Forgotten Liberator - The Life And Struggle of Savitribai Phule, Mountain Peak Publishers, New Delhi ISBN 978-81-906277-0-2
- Savitribai Phule: Kal Ani Kartrutva. Savitribai was a published poet of two poetry collections-Kavyafule and Bawannakashi.