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Dalit History Month – Remembering Mahatma Jotiba Phule


Today in Dalit History, in honor of Mahatma Phule Jayanthi, or birthday, we dedicate our post to Jyotirao Phule – an activist, a thinker, and a social revolutionary of the nineteenth century.

While he was not of a Dalit but a Shudra background, his ideals, works and actions have had an invaluable liberatory impact on Dalits.

Born April 11th 1827 before the widespread Adi-movements, Phule was the first to propound caste as a subjugation and oppression on an indigenous peoples by invaders. He stressed that caste was equivalent to slavery, as vicious and brutal as the enslavement of Africans in the Americas and unique in its deception and religious sanction.

Check alsoDalit History Month – Jhalkari Bai – A Legendary Dalit Woman Warrior

Mahatma Jotiba Phule

Mahatma Jotiba Phule

In his revolutionary book, Gulamgiri (Slavery) published in 1873, Jyotirao included a manifesto which amongst other things declared that he was willing to dine with all regardless of their caste, creed or country of origin and that social salvation was to be found only in the education of women and Dalits. This content was deemed extremely controversial at the time and several newspapers blatantly refused to publicize it.

He believed that Dalits were a group of people who had suffered added repression and persecution because they had at one time been actively engaged in fighting invading Brahmanism on the ground. His salvation describes the unity of the Shudras and Adi-Shudras (Dalits) into one exploited mass of people rising up in powerful political unity.

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He and his wife, Savitribai Phule, became pioneers of women’s education in India, and together started the first school for girls on January 1st 1848 at Bhide’s wada in Pune. They also started schools in which they educated both girls and Dalits.

Like most Dalit and anti-caste revolutionaries, he felt a strong need to establish an alternative religion to the one that was oppressing his people. What he began then, lead him to form the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) whose main objectives were to liberate the Shudras and Ati Shudras and prevent exploitation by Brahmins within a strong context of gender equality.

His life-long work for equality has recognized when Phule was publicly conferred the title of Mahatma on 11 May 1888 and later termed the “Martin Luther King of India” by his biographer Dhananjay Keer. Dr.Ambedkar proudly declared that Phule was one his three spiritual mentors. His birthday continues to be a celebration all around the world where Dalits honor him for Mahatma Phule Jayanthi.

Read also – Dalit History Month – Jhalkari Bai – A Legendary Dalit Woman Warrior

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The Greatness of Mahatma Jotiba Phule


An Introduction:

In India, Maharashtra a state with cultural heritage and is also land of social thinkers, social reforms and social revolutionaries who have not only molded and enriched all facets of life of Maharashtra but have also made singular contribution to growth and development of India .In this website of the great social reformer – Mahatma Phule, contempory of KARL MARX, we have the “patria protesta” of the Indian social revolution and the first leader of peasants.

Mahatma Jotiba Phule

Mahatma Jotiba Phule

In those days there was a conflict between the rationalist and the orthodox. His period can, therefore, be a aptly described as the dawn of revolution in the history not only of Maharashtra but of the country as a whole in the various fields like Education, Caste Systems, Agriculture, Economics, Women and widow upliftment , Human Rights, Untouchability ,Social Equality.

Check also – Mahatma Jotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule’s contribution towards women empowerment

MAHATMA JYOTIRAO GOVINDRAO PHULE occupies a unique position among the social reformers of Maharashtra in the nineteenth century. While other reformers concentrated more on reforming the social institutions of family and marriage with special emphasis on the status and rights of women, Jotirao Phule revolted against the unjust caste system under which million of people had suffered for centuries. In particular, he courageously upheld the cause of the untouchables and took up the cudgels for the poorer peasants. He was a militant advocate of their rights. The story of his stormy life is an inspiring saga of a continuous struggle, which he waged relentlessly against the forces of reaction. What was remarkable was his ability to stand up against all kinds of pressure without faltering even once and act always according to his convictions. Though some keen observers of the social scene in Maharashtra like Narayan Mahadeo Parmanand did acknowledge his greatness in his lifetime, it is only in recent decades that there is increasing appreciation of his service and sacrifice in uplifting the masses.

Read also – What Mahatma Jotiba Phule Said

Childhood:

Jotirao Phule was born in 1827. His father, Govindrao was a vegetable vendor at Poona. Originally Jotirao’s family, known as Gorhays, came from Katugan, a village in the Satara district of Maharashtra. His grandfather Shetiba Gorhay settled down in Poona. Since Jotirao’s father and two uncles served as florists under the last of the Peshwas, they came to be known as ‘Phules’. Jotirao’s mother passed away when he was hardly one year old. After completing his primary education, Jotirao had to leave the school and help his father by working on the family’s farm. Jotirao’s marriage was celebrated when he was not even thirteen.

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Rashtrapita Jotiba Phule’s memorial address to the education commission


[Jotiba Phule‘s deposition before the Education Commission in 1881 (also known as the Hunter Commission) is reproduced here from the book, Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule; this extract is recorded between pages 140-145 in Education Commission, Bombay, Vol II, Calcutta, 1884 – Round Table India]

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My experience in educational matters is principally confined to Poona and the surrounding villages. About 25 years ago, the missionaries had established a female school at Poona, but no indigenous school for girls existed at the time. I, therefore, was induced, about the year 1854[1], to establish such a school, and in which I and my wife worked together for many years. After some time I placed this school under the management of a committee of educated natives. Under their auspices two more schools were opened in different parts of the town. A year after the institution of the female schools, I also established an indigenous mixed school for the lower classes, especially the Mahars and Mangs. Two more schools for these classes were subsequently added, Sir Erskine Perry, the president of the late Educational Board, and Mr. Lumsdain, the then Secretary to Government, visited the female schools and were much pleased with the movement set on foot, and presented me with a pair of shawls. I continued to work in them for nearly 9 to 10 years, but owing to circumstances, which it is needless here to detail, I seceded from the work. These female schools still exist, having been made over by the committee to the Educational Department under the management of Mrs. Mitchell. A school for the lower classes, Mahars and Mangs, also exists at the present day, but not in a satisfactory condition. I have also been a teacher for some years in a mission female boarding school. My principal experience was gained in connection with these schools. I devoted some attention also to the primary education available in this Presidency and have had some opportunities of forming an opinion as to the system and personnel employed in the lower schools of the Educational Department. I wrote some years ago a Marathi pamphlet exposing the religious practices of the Brahmins and incidentally among other matters, adverted therein to the present: system of education, which by providing ampler funds for higher education tended to educate Brahmins and the higher classes only, and to leave the masses wallowing in ignorance and poverty. I summarised the views expressed in the book in an English preface attached thereto, portions of which I reproduce here so far as they relate to the present enquiry:

”Perhaps a part of the blame in bringing matters to this crisis maybe justly laid to the credit of the Government. Whatever may have been their motives in providing ampler funds and greater facilities for higher education, and neglecting that of the masses, it will be acknowledged by all that injustice to the latter, this is not as it should be. It is an admitted fact that the greater portion of the revenues of the Indian Empire are derived from the ryot’s labour from the sweat of his brow. The higher and richer classes contribute little or nothing to the state exchequer. A well informed English writer states that our income is derived, not from surplus profits, but from capital; not from luxuries, but from the poorest necessaries. It is the product of sin and tears.”

Check also – Books by Mahatma Jotiba Phule

Mahatma Jotiba Phule

Mahatma Jotiba Phule

”That Government should expend profusely a large portion of revenue thus raised, on the education of the higher classes, for it is these only who take advantage of it, is anything but just or equitable. Their object in patronising this actual high class education appears to be to prepare scholars who, it is thought would in time vend learning without money and without price. If we can inspire, say they, the love of knowledge in the minds of the superior classes, the result will be a higher standard, of morals in the cases of the individuals, a large amount of affection for the British Government, and unconquerable desire to spread among their own countrymen the intellectual blessings which they have received.”

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