Savitribai Phule

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Savitribai Phule
Born 3 January 1831, Naigaon, Maharashtra, British India
Died 10 March 1897
Nationality Indian
Spouse(s) Jyotirao Phule

Savitribai Jyotirao Phule (3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897) was an Indian social reformer and poet. Along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule, she played an important role in improving women's rights in India during British rule. The couple founded the first women's school at Bhide Wada in Pune in 1848.[1] She also worked to abolish discrimination and unfair treatment of people based on caste and gender. She is regarded as an important figure of the Social Reform Movement in Maharashtra and is regarded as "Rashtramata" (The Mother of The Nation)[citation needed].

Early life[edit]

Savitribai Phule was born in 1831 in Naigaon, Maharashtra. Her family were farmers.[2] At the age of nine, she was married to twelve-year-old Jyotirao Phule in 1840.[citation needed]

Career as a social reformer[edit]

Statue of Savitribai Phule and her husband, Jyotirao Phule

Mahatma Jyotiba is regarded as one of the most important figures in social reform movement in Maharashtra and India. He and Savitribai fought against all forms of social prejudices, however they are most known for their efforts to educate women and the lower castes. Jyotirao, then called as Jyotiba 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 the then major social problems including women’s liberation, widow remarriages and removal of untouchability. Jyotiba who was working for women's education had started the first girl’s school and required women teachers to assist him. Jyotiba educated and trained Savitribai, his first and ideal candidate for this job of a teacher. Jyotiba sent her to a training school from where she passed out with flying colours along with a Muslim lady Fatima Sheikh. When Savitribai completed her studies, she, along with her husband, started a school for girls in Pune in 1848. Nine girls, belonging to different castes enrolled themselves as students. As a teacher Savitribai faced a lot of oppositions from conservative sections of the society. Savitribai yet continued to teach the girls. Whenever Savitribai went out of her house, groups of orthodox men would follow her and abuse her in obscene language. They would throw mud, cow dung, and stones at her. She would walk meekly and arrive at her school. Fed up with the treatment meted out to her, she even decided to give up. But it was because of her husband that she continued with her efforts. Slowly and steadily, she established herself. Jyotiba and Savitribai managed to open 5 more schools in the year 1848 itself. She was ultimately honoured by the British for her educational work. In 1852 Jyotiba and Savitribai were felicitated and presented with a shawl each by the government for their commendable efforts in Vishrambag Wada.[3]

Savitribai worked as both an educational reformer and social reformer, especially for women. During the 19th century, arranged marriages before the age of maturity was the norm in the Hindu society of Maharashtra. Since mortality rates were high, many young girls often became widows even before attaining maturity. Due to social and cultural practices of the times, widow remarriage was out of question in many castes and therefore prospects for the young widows were poor. The 1881 Kolhapur gazetteer records that widows at that time used to shave their heads, and wear simple red saris and had to lead a very austere life with little joy.[4] Once Jyotiba stopped a pregnant Brahmin widow 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 Jyotiba later on adopted this child and named him Yashavantrao, who then grew up to become a doctor. After Jyotiba's death, Yashavantra lit his pyre and completed his duties as a rightful son.[5] This incident of Yashwantrao's mother trying to commit suicide opened new a campaign of social reform for the couple. They thought of the plight of widows in Hindu society. Many women were driven to commit suicide by men who had exploited them to satisfy their lust and then deserted them.[6] Therefore, Savitribai and Jyotiba put boards on streets about the "Delivery Home" for women on whom pregnancy had been forced. The delivery home was called "Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha". Savitribai and Jyotiba also organized a strike of barbers and persuaded them not to shave the heads of widows.This was the first strike of its kind.

Moved by the treatment of the untouchables, who were refused drinking water meant for the upper caste, the Phule couple opened the well in their own house in 1868 for these communities.

Jyotiba 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 Jyotiba. She presided over meetings and guided workers.

Tiffany Wayne has described Phule as "one of the first-generation modern Indian feminists, and an important contributor to world feminism in general, as she was both addressing and challenging not simply the question of gender in isolation but also issues related to caste and casteist patriarchy."[2]


Bust of Savitri Phule in the grounds of Pune Municipal Corporation

Savitribai Phule and her adopted son, Yashwant, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the worldwide Third Pandemic of the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Pune in 1897. The clinic was established at Sasane Mala, Hadapsar, near Pune, but out of the city in an area free of infection. Savitribai personally took patients to the clinic where her son treated them. While caring for the patients, she contracted the disease herself. She died from it on 10 March 1897 while serving a plague patient.[citation needed]


  • Two books of her poems were published posthumously, Kavya Phule (1934) and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar (1982).
  • The Government of Maharashtra has instituted an award in her name to recognize women social reformers.[citation needed]
  • In 2015, the University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule Pune University in her honour.[7]
  • On 10 March 1998 a stamp was released by India Post in honour of Phule.
  • On 20 March 2015, Congress party MP from Hingoli, Maharashtra Rajeev Satav demanded Bharat Ratna award for Savitribai and her husband Jyotirao Phule in the Indian Parliament.[8]


Savitribai Phule wrote many poems against discrimination and advised to get educated.

Go, Get Education

Be self-reliant, be industrious

Work, gather wisdom and riches,

All gets lost without knowledge

We become animal without wisdom,

Sit idle no more, go, get education

End misery of the oppressed and forsaken,

You’ve got a golden chance to learn

So learn and break the chains of caste.

Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast. [9][10]


  1. ^ Mariam Dhawale. "AIDWA Observes Savitribai Phule Birth Anniversary". Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Wayne, Tiffany K., ed. (2011). Feminist Writings from Ancient Times to the Modern World: A Global Sourcebook and History. ABC-CLIO. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-31334-581-4. 
  3. ^ Mali, M.G., 1989. Education of Masses in India. Mittal Publications page 67-70 [1]
  4. ^ Government of Maharashtra (1886), "People", in Campbell, James M, Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Kolhapur District XXIV, Government of Maharashtra, retrieved 10 October 2010 
  5. ^ O'Hanlon, Rosalind (2002). Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India (Revised ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-52152-308-0. 
  6. ^ SHAH, A., 1983. TILAK AND SECULARISM. Political Thought and Leadership of Lokmanya Tilak, p.201.[2]
  7. ^ Kothari, Vishwas (8 July 2014). "Pune university to be renamed after Savitribai Phule". Times of India. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  8. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Few Poems by Savitribai Phule
  10. ^ A Forgotten Liberator – The Life And Struggle of Savitribai Phule, Mountain Peak Publishers, New Delhi ISBN 978-81-906277-0-2

Further reading[edit]

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