‘Clad in a cotton sari along with her head covered, walking timidly, she would reach a school in Bhide Wada, Pune. Her face showed no traces of self-pity for the verbal abuses faced. The tell-tale signs on her sari announced aloud her plight of being the target of tomatoes, cow dung, rotten eggs and stones – mercilessly hurled by the many orthodox men of the society’.
Savitribai Phule (3rd January, 1831 – March 1897) was a social reformer, who worked towards education and liberation of women in the male-dominated society of the pre-independent India. She and her husband Mahatma Jyotirao Phule witnessed heart breaking sights of Sati rituals (a practice that required the widow to burn herself to death on funeral pyre of her husband). The illogical practice of child-marriages would eventually cause images of misery.
A large number of young widows were forced to look ugly by clean shaving their heads, unexplainable to the fact that they were easy prey for lust seeking men. These victimised widows, when pregnant, would resort to the extreme step of suicide or kill the new born to avoid humiliation form the watch dogs of the society.
The sight of this social injustice awakened up Savitribai Phule’s consciousness. Against the social prejudices, along with her husband as her inspiration and strength, she worked towards building self-esteem and confidence among the female folks. Using education as a tool to improve the scenario they set up schools for women, where she worked as a teacher. Delivery homes were also opened up for distressed women. The history of India, proudly remembers her as “Vidya Jyoti” (light of knowledge) and also as a first woman ever, to light the funeral pyre of her husband.