Tag Archives: Mahatma Jotiba Phule

Reading Phule – Now No More Silences!

Written by – Subhash Gatade

“Lack of education lead to lack of wisdom,

Which leads to lack of morals,

Which leads to lack  of progress,

Which leads to lack of money,

Which leads to the oppression of the lower classes,

See what state of the society one lack of education can cause!”

  • Jyotiba Phule

..Most people do not realize that society can practise tyranny and oppression against an individual in a far greater degree than a Government can. The means and scope that are open to society for oppression are more extensive than those that are open to Government; also they are far more effective. What punishment in the penal code is comparable in its magnitude and its severity to excommunication? Who has greater courage—the Social Reformer who challenges society and invites upon himself excommunication or the political prisoner who challenges Government and incurs sentence of a few months or a few years imprisonment?..

(Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah, Address delivered by Dr Ambedkar on the 101 st birthday celebration of M G Ranade, 18 th January, 1943)


Jotiba Phule

Mahatma Jotiba Phule

Understanding or rereading a historical figure – whose life and times have impacted generations of scholars and activists – who has been subjected to praise as well scrutiny by best brains of our times becomes a challenging task.  One gets a feeling that whatever has to be said has already been said and perhaps there is not much novelty left. An added challenge becomes when you are face to face with scholars/activists who could be considered experts on the issue having done more detailed and through work on the subject.

Today when I begin my presentation I find myself in a similar quandary.

Would it be repetition of what the earlier scholar just spoke or a glimpse of what the coming activist is going to present? And to avoid the possible monotony of any such ensuing discussion – where all of us would be doing ‘kadam tal‘ (a lexicon used in NCC parades) around similar arguments and similar insights and would be lamenting in similar voices, I have decided to flag of few queries which have been bothering my mind since quite some time. It is possible that it would be considered rather blasphemous to raise such questions or they are so mundane that participants can just exchange smiles about their content. Anyway, whatever might be the outcome I would like to raise them with a sincere hope that they would possibly generate a conversation?

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Savitribai Phule: The Mother Of Modern Education

World humanity is going to celebrate 184th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Savitribai Phule-The liberator of women, Pioneer of Human Rights and the Greatest Humanitarian Revolutionary of the world. We were all shocked when Taliban shot a young girl Malala Yousafzai for defending the right of young girls to education. But if in today’s world girls can walk freely to school without being attacked it is because other young Malalas have braved criticism and struggled for education in their times.Most prominent among them was Savitribai Phule who not only fought for right education for girls but also for the right to dignity for widows,unwed mothers and women with unwanted pregnancies. She was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India. The world history has witnessed the agricultural revolution,industrial revolution, info revolution, bio revolution which has changed the “material world” of Human society. Human society has also largely been changed by “Western Enlightenment” viz. Scientific and Secular revolutions, French and Russian revolutions. The ‘Eastern world’ on the other hand also contributed to human history by Chinese revolution. All the above developments in the history of human civilisation has changed the “mental and material world” of humankind. But these revolutions could not abolish the human sufferings and end problems of human kind. If by ‘Revolution’ we mean Deconstruction of undesirable principles values and orders and establishment of desirable principles, values and orders, neither of the Enlightenments and revolutions could establish the principles of Equality-Liberty-Fraternity-Justice in reality. Thus, there is a greater revolution beyond this led by Savitribai Phule and her husband Jyotiba Phule, which contributed for the establishments of golden principles of humanity viz. Equality, Liberty, Fraternity and Justice.Women of the Indian society are not aware of the greatness of Savitribai Phule,who dared to pursue the noble profession of teaching in the ‘Dark Age’.The time when women were mere objects to be used,education for women was considered no less than a punishable crime;she dared to speak against the unpardonable boundaries imposed on women in Indian society, she ignited million lives, for which today’s women and everyone should be grateful to her. I have always wondered why the Teachers’ Day in India is not celebrated on the birthday of Savitribai Phule, the lady who started the first school for the downtrodden and was the first woman teacher of India.

Read also – Poems by Savitribai Phule



Savitribai was born on 3rd January,1831,in Naigaon of Satara district in Maharashtra. It was a common practice those days to marry a girl at an early age. In spite of her desire to study, she got married to Jyotirao Phule at the age of nine.Jyotirao being a visionary and with a firm belief that every woman must be educated, started teaching his wife at home. His firmness on educating women could be seen in this interview to Dyananodaya on 15th September 1853.He says-“It did occur to me that the improvement that comes about in a child due to the mother is very important and good. So those who are concerned with the happiness and welfare of this country should definitely pay attention to the condition of women and make every effort to impart knowledge to them if they want the country to progress. With this thought, I started the school for girls first. But my caste brethren did not like that I was educating girls and my own father threw us out of the house. Nobody was ready to give space for the school nor did we have money to build it. People were not willing to send their children to school but Lahuji Ragh Raut Mang and Ranba Mahar convinced their caste brethren about the benefits of getting educated”.

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

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18th July (1880) in Dalit History – Mahatma Jyotiba Phule wrote against the widespread consumption of alcohol 

18 July 1880: Taking a serious note of widespread consumption of alcohol, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule wrote a letter to Plunket, president of Pune municipality’s acting committee.

Mahatma Jyotiba Phule was a member of the Pune municipality from 1876 to 1882.

The letter read:

The municipality has spent a vast amount of money on appointing staff and running the health department with the aim of maintaining public health. Pune city was not familiar with the sight of liquor shops. But now liquor shops are seen even in crowded areas, thus sowing the seeds of decline in public morals. This nullifies the municipality’s aim to maintain public health. With the opening of liquor shops, alcoholism has increased, and many a families destroyed. The vice of alcoholism has gripped the city. To control the spread of this vice, at least to a certain extent, I suggest that the municipality should impose a tax on liquor shops in proportion to the damage they do. I believe no municipality has imposed such a tax, though the central government has done so. The municipality should make enquiries about this. I shall be grateful if my resolution is placed before the general assembly.

The letter created a stir. Dnanprakash newspaper lauded Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and said following in his support: “The issue to which Jotirao for the first time has drawn the municipality’s attention is of great importance. He deserves to be congratulated for his action.”

Mahatma Jyotiba Phule received an acknowledgement for his letter from the president of the municipality. The letter was placed before the committee in the first meeting itself and the following resolution was passed:

The president should decide whether to put this before the committee or not. According to the resolution passed by the central government on 22 October 1877, no tax can be imposed on alcohol. But the assembly hopes that it will be possible to reduce the number of liquor shops in Pune.

The acting committee’s resolution and the original letter were handed to Mr Ritchnell, president of the municipality, who sent them on 27 July 1880 to Henry Dickson, an excise officer, for his comments. Dickson returned them on 30 July with the following comments:

We humbly state that during 1873-77 there were four liquor shops in Pune. Since 1877-78, six new ones have opened, bringing the number to ten. The District Governor had given permission to open new shops because where there are no liquor shops, illicit liquor is prepared. The action was taken to discourage brewing of illicit, harmful liquor in Pune. In 1874, 15617 gallons of liquor were sold. In 1879 the sale went up to 22912 gallons.

The District Governor was convinced that alcoholism in Pune was rapidly on the increase. On 8 August 1880, Ritchnell assigned the case to the public superintendent who sent the following reply, on 27th August:

The reason alcoholism is on the increase is that previously the rich were not addicted to it, but now they are. It however may not be true that they have their fill of country liquor.

Ritchnell sent all the correspondence to the Pune municipality with the remark: It cannot be claimed that alcoholism has increased on account of the increased number of liquor shops. The question is whether anything can be done to put a stop to the spread of this vice.

In its resolution regarding Jotirao’s letter, the municipality expressed the desire to put in effort to reduce this vice from spreading. He was not the first to protest against alcoholism in Maharashtra. In 1852 the people of Satara had sent an application to the government to close down all liquor shops. In 1869  an officer named C. W. Bell  published an account of the government’s excise policy, which stated:

Towards the end of the Peshwa regime, alcoholism had gone up. Taxes earned from it had increased. Offenders were sentenced to severe punishment.

Influence of Jotirao’s work and leadership began to be felt widely in Maharashtra. He became the mouthpiece for the grievances of the downtrodden. There was no leader quite like him. He paved the way for the new era of social activism.

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18th July (1883) in Dalit History – Mahatma Jyotiba Phule finished writing book Shetkarayacha Aasud

18th July (1883) in Dalit History – Mahatma Jyotiba Phule completed writing of the famous book ‘Shetkarayacha Aasud (Cultivator’s Whipcord)’

Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar describe the work as follows –

The work is in the form of a major critique of the joint exploitation of the Shudra and Ati-Shudra peasantry by the British and Brahmin alliance in the bureaucracy. The book is the most comprehensive of Phule’s work: it gives an account of the extortion by Brahmins in religious festivals throughout the year; of the Aryan defeat of the indigenous inhabitants (Phule was perhaps the first to turn the “Aryan theory” upside down and use it to explain Brahmanic control; though we should note that Dr. Ambedkar disagreed with him), then of the exploitation of “Shudra and Ati-Shudra farmers” by the British and Brahmin bureaucracy, then a minute description of the living standards of his farmers; then his own suggestions along with a condemnation of the swadeshi movement which was beginning at that time.

A word about Phule’s language: it is raw, powerful, not simply colloquial Marathi but very cutting, so much that RSS-wallas even today have called it “obscene.” But his use of language is excellent and his vocabulary extensive. Even more, his power of description is often extremely minute; as the description of peasant households given in chapter 4 will show.

18th July5

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10th July (1887) in Dalit History – Infanticide Prevention Home was started by Phule couple

10th July 1887 in Dalit History – Mahatma Jyotiba Phule’s letter reveals Savitribai Phule’s initiative to start Home for the Prevention of Infanticide for Brahmin widows.

Mahatma Jyotiba Phule’s wrote a letter to Under Secretary, Government of Mumbai. The letter significantly reveals that Home for the Prevention of Infanticide started by Savitribai-Jyotiba in 1863 was only for Brahmin widows and Savitribai had taken the initiative for it.

A young Brahmin widow named Kashibai used to work as a cook at the home of Jyotiba’s Brahmin friend, Govande. Kashibai was a poor, young, beautiful, honourable Brahmin widow from a good family. A scheming Shastri from the neighbourhood took advantage of this illiterate widow and as a result, she became pregnant. When all efforts at abortion failed, she gave birth to a beautiful baby. Since the Shastri refused to take up any responsibility, Kashibai was in a quandary. Fearing that society will not let her live, she killed the innocent baby by slitting its throat. She threw the body in the well in Govande’s compound, where it was later discovered. The Police filed a case against Kashibai and she was sentenced for life imprisonment in the Andamans. The incident took place in 1863. It was the first time a woman had been sentenced to such severe punishment.

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Savitribai and Jyotiba were very upset and saddened by this trial and the turn of events. During that time, their own income was very limited. They were having trouble surviving but their heart was full of compassion and generosity. They immediately started a shelter home for such Brahman widows in their own house at 395, Ganj Peth, Pune. Others merely kept discussing this trial, which resonated throughout   the country but Jyotiba and Savitribai actually started work for these exploited widows.

This brings out the difference between them and others of their times. They put up advertisements all over the city and at places of pilgrimage announcing it as a way to avoid kalapani (life imprisonment in the Andamans) and thus, the information about the shelter home spread. By 1884, 35 Brahmin widows had come to them from different places. Savitribai would herself help in the delivery of their children and take care of them

In 1874, another exploited Brahmin ‘Kashibai’ came to them and they adopted her son. They brought up this child and educated him to become a medical doctor. Later, he grew up to continue the work started by them.

On the same day i.e 10 July 1887, Jyotiba made his will and got it registered at the office of the Upanibandhak (Deputy Registrar). In that, he notes with pride that Savitribai would take care of all these women as if they were her own daughters.

10th July 2


On 10th July, 1887, Mahatma Jotiba Phule made his will and noted that after his death Savitribai Phule would take care of all these women as if they were her own daughters. It was unusual at that time to appoint wife so but Mahatma Jotiba Phule always challenged the Brahmins’ ideology of discrimination.


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3rd July (1851) in Dalit History – Mahatma Jyotiba Phule founded a girls school in Chipplunkarwada, Pune

3 July 1851: Mahatma Jyotiba Phule founded a girls school in Chipplunkarwada, Pune in which eight girls were admitted on the first day. This was India’s second formal school for girls. The first one was also founded by the Phule couple.

Today, thousands of young Indian girls study to be doctors, engineers and architects. But in the 19th century, the idea of girls being taught to read and write was scandalous.[1] Jyotiba Phule started a girls’ school in Anna Chiplunkar’s mansion at Budhwar Peth, where he taught for four hours daily without taking any salary. He set up an acting committee and handed over the management of the school to the committee, which comprised of Keshav Shivram Bhavalkar, Anna Sahastrabuddhe, Bapuraoji Mande, Vishnu Bhide, Krishnashastri Chiplunkar and Vishnushastri Pandit. Vishnushastri Pandit later became famous as the supporter of widow remarriage. The school first began with merely eight girls on the roll; soon their number rose to forty-eight. Since the financial position of the school was not very sound, Jyotirba’s wife Savitribai Phule began teaching on an honorary basis; she also became its principal.[2]

Penniless and on the street, Jyotiba, in an article published in an Ahmednagar newspaper (Dyanodaya), wrote, “I had to take up a job and Savitri Phule went in for a teacher-training course, so the school (first school at Bhidewada in Pune) was shut down for some time. We later re-started the school in Chipplunkarwada in 1851″

3rd July

3 July 1946: Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel wrote a letter to Mavlankar (who was supposed to be elected as Chair of Consituent Assembly in framing the constitution of India after Dr. Ambedkar ceased to be the member of constituent assembly after partition) where he reiterated this position in which he noted that “everybody wants [Dr. Ambedkar] now” in the constituent assembly for framing the constitution of India.[3]

3 July 2007: Mayawati joined as member of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council after elected unopposed in the by-election for the upper house of the state legislature. [5]

Mayawati declared that she chose to become MLC as she wishes to concentrate on the development of all the 403 assembly constituencies of state assembly rather than my constituency only.

[1] Hemali Chhapia and Anahita Mukerji, Educating Sita article in The Times of Indianewspaper, 9 October 2010

[2] Tarkateertha Laxmanshastri Joshi, Traslated by Daya Agarwal, Jotirao Phule essay

[3] Vallabhbhai Patel, Manibahen Patel, Sardar’s Letters, Mostly Unknown: , pt.1-2. Years 1947-’48 (2 v.) book

[5] http://www.bspindia.org/kumari-mayawati.php accessed on 3 July 2013

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11th June in Dalit History – Mahatma Phule Vastu Sangrahalaya, Pune came into picture

11 June 1968: The Mahatma Phule Vastu Sangrahalaya, Poona, Act, 1968 was enacted as Maharashtra Act No XVIII of 1968.

As per the Act Lord Reay Maharashtra Industrial Museum at Poona was renamed as the Mahatma Phule Vastu Sangrahalaya. The Act extends to the activities of the Museum to make better provision for the management and maintenance.

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11th June in Dalit History – Mahatma Jyotiba Phule wrote letter to the conference of Marathi authors

11 June 1885: Dyanodaya newspaper published letter by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule to the conference of Marathi authors.

The second annual Marathi literary conference was held on 24 May 1885 in the Sarvajanik Hall in Pune (Maharasthra), under the president ship of Krishnashastri Rajwade, and attended by nearly 300 litterateurs. Justice M G Ranade, the organizer of the conference wrote to Mahatma Jyotiba Phule requesting him to participate in the plenary session. Mahatma did not. But he sent a reply to Ranade, Some 43 letters from those who could not attend were read out among which Mahatma Jyotiba Phule’s letter came first. Mahatma’s letter clearly expressed his ideology in short, succinct words. Hitherto a discussion on the problems of the poor had rarely been awarded an important place in Marathi literature.[1] The letter was subsequently published in Dyanodaya newspaper of 11 June 1885. The letter is as follows:

Dear Sir,

I acknowledge the receipt of your letter regarding the proposed conference of the (Marathi) authors and I was delighted to receive your request that I should participate in this conference. But then esteemed sir, the conferences and the books of those who refuse to think of human rights generally, who do not concede them to others and going by their behavior are unlikely to concede them in future, cannot make sense to us, they cannot concur with what we are trying to say in our books. The reason is that their ancestors, with the view to taking revenge on us, included in their pseudo-religious texts an account of how they turned us into slaves and thus gave our enslavement religious authority. Their dated and decadent texts are witness to this phenomenon. These upper-caste authors who are forever miles away from reality and who can only make ceremonial and meaningless speeches in big meetings can never understand what we the shudras and atishudras have to suffer and what calamities we have to undergo. All this is not entirely unknown to the high-caste founders of various conferences and organizations. They pretend to be modernists as long as they are in the service of the British government. The moment they retire and claim their pensions, they get into their brahmanical touch-me-not attire, become caste chauvinists, incorrigible idol worshippers and, what is worse, treat the shudras and atishudras as lowly and contemptible. If they happen to be in their touch-me-not ritual dress they would not even touch paper notes as if that were a blasphemy! How can these Arya brahmans improve the lot of this unfortunate land? Be that as it may. We shudras do not any longer wish to trust these people and their specious and dishonest stories, for they cheat us and eat off our labor. In a word, we shudras have nothing to gain by mixing with such people. We must think about our situation and how we should relate to these upper-caste people. If these leaders of men are genuinely interested in unifying all people they must address themselves to the discovery of the root of eternal love of all human beings. Let them discover it and may be formulate and publish it as a text. Otherwise to turn a blind eye to the divisions among the human beings at this hour is simply futile. Of course, they are free to do what they like. I would nevertheless be thankful if my short letter is placed before your conference for consideration. In any case accept the salute of this old man.

Your friend

Jotirao. G. Phule.  

This is another example of how Phule always related to all problems keeping in mind what in his view was the main contradiction in contemporary society. His use of this kind of language would certainly have shocked the contemporary brahmins.

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