First woman teacher of India

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Er H.R. Phonsa

Mata Savitribai Phuley the first women teacher known in Indian history which lived and died for the social upliftment of downtrodden especially women. She was born on 3rd of January 1831 in Naya Ganj, Tehsil Khandala, District Satara of Maharashtra. Her father’s name was Khado Ji Nevse Patil. At the time of her birth, nobody could realise that the small ray of light which had descended on the earth in the form of Savitribai shall become a torch bearer for many suppressed, illiterate including women and lightening for suppressors and oppressors inflicting tyranny in the name of caste and sex, on millions belonging to their own country and religion.
At an age of 9 years in 1840, she was married to Jyotirao Phule, who was then 13 years old. The union of two small lights later emerged as a big Light House for millions of their fellow countrymen and pulled them out of their ignorance and illiteracy inflicted on them due to poverty and low caste. The couple fought for the downtrodden people including women of India to make them to live with dignity. Jyotirao Phule, later Mahatma Jyotirao Phule proclaimed that illiteracy, the ill of all ills, causes lack of intellect which in turn causes lack of moral which results in stagnation, promoting further loss of riches and fortune. This results in dooms days of society. As harsh Hindu religious laws barred Shudras and woman from education so resulted in reducing them to a level even worst than animals. So to help Shudras and women to regain their lost dignity and social status Phule duo gave preference to impart education to them.
The education to Savitribai was imparted at home and she was sent for training in teaching at Mitchell’s school in Pune where she performed very well. Mahatama Phule had passed his Secondary Education Examination in 1847 from Scottish Mission High School Poona and had decided not to accept any job under the Government. On reading, Paine’s famous book ‘The Rights of Man’ revolutionised the young mind of Jyotirao Phule and he in turn influenced the tender mind of Savitribai, who also took oath to help her husband for Social Revolution even at the cost of her life and comforts. They faced hard life ordeals to accomplish their social work dreams. They wanted to help those to whom God did not care.
They jointly opened the very first Girl’s School on 1st January,1848 against the vicious campaign launched by orthodox upper caste Hindus for such an act of the Phule couple, as education to girls was coded as unlawful in the law codes of orthodox Hindus, although they claimed to possess the most knowledgeable books called ‘Vedas’ but never shared this with Shudras & women. Nine girl students with two from untouchable castes got admission in this school. No upper caste Hindu teacher came forward to teach. Therefore, Mahatama Phule appointed Savitribai as Headmistress of the school. This school was run from the house of a Brahmin in Budhwara Peth, with majority of Brahmin girl students. The orthodox Brahmins raised a great hue & cry against carrying on women education including those of Shudra girls, which stood banned by the Hindu scripture. As soon as Savitribai came out from her house to go to school, people used throw on her cow dung and mud spoiling here dress, which she washed at the school and at her residence. But ill treatment meted out to her by upper caste Hindus did not deter her from her strong convictions and she carried on with the noble cause for the social change. She, instead, opened another school on 15th May 1848 in untouchable’s colony and it was run by her widowed sister -in-law (husband ‘s sister) Suganabai.
On this again the reactionaries, raised objections and threatened Govinda Rao (Jyotirao ‘s father) with dire consequences, if, he failed to dissociate himself from the activities of his son & daughter-in-law. So the couple left their home to continue their missionary endeavor. Both shifted to a Muslim Mian Usman Sheikh’s house. Fatima Sister of Mian Sheikh known as first Muslim women teacher of 18th century, started educating Dalit children in this school opened by a Hindu Dalit couple. This was an extremely difficult task during those days of Brahmin domination. Mahatma Jyotirao Phule blamed the British Government for spending profusely a large portion of the State revenue on the education of the higher castes, which resulted in monopoly of all higher offices under the Government by the Brahmins. The dedicated couple wanted to break this monopoly so as to prepare the downtrodden masses for struggle of having equal rights as human beings in their motherland. Jyotirao Phule for the first time, made strong demand in memorandum submitted to Hunter Commission in 1882 for free & compulsory education to all. This plea was accepted on the instance of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and incorporated in the Constitution of Free India in 1950. Phuley Couple also opened first and unique by a Hindu, a care centre for pregnant rape victims and aided deliver their baby. The care centre was called ‘Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha’. Here the first Brahmin widow Kashi Bai gave birth to a male child in 1873 ,child was named Yaswant, Phuley couple educated him as doctor and adopted him as their heir. They opposed age old Sati system, Child marriage and supported widow re-marriage.

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