This is the story of Savitribai Phule- the first woman teacher in India.

The struggle for independent India created many female role models. Some fought with weapons, some fought with their wisdom, and some with words. One such prominent figure is Savitribai Phule, who is considered the mother of Indian feminism. She fought with her ideology. It was her efforts that gave birth to the future generations of female freedom fighters. 

Savitribai Phule was born in the small village of Naigaon, Maharashtra. She got married to Jyotirao Phule at an early age. At the time of her marriage, Savitribai was illiterate. Jyotirao started teaching Savitribai at home. Her advanced education came from Jyotirao’s friends named Sakharav and Keshav. Eager to teach more girls she enrolled herself in a teacher’s training program. She completed the course from Normal school, in Pune, and became the first woman teacher in India. She also goes on to become the first woman headmistress of India.

Her dreams of a reformed India were taking place. She started teaching girls in a school at Maherwada alongside her husband. A few years later they opened India’s first girl school in Bhide Wada. Tatya Saheb Bhide, a royal of Bhide Wada, was impressed by their work. He helped them build three more schools in subsequent years. The school curriculum included science, mathematics, and social science.

Phule introduced many western-influenced teaching methods in her school. As a result, the reputation of the schools grew. Soon the girls in Phule’s school outnumbered boys in Government schools. Phule also worked to reform the caste system. Her schools were breaking multiple stigmas of society as she inducted girls from lower caste into her schools.

All this achievement came with its fair share of troubles. Society resisted the idea of a school for lower castes. She and her family were verbally targeted. Until then both Phule and Jyotirao lived in her father’s house. But after being socially shamed her father let them out of the house. In her book, Phule mentions taking two pairs of saree with her en route to the school as the opposers often threw mud at her. Irrespective of the social resistance, she was determined to teach. She went on to open 18 more schools in her lifetime.

Her works on reformation were not limited to just schools and education. She was also a prolific writer. She wrote a collection of poems encouraging the oppressed women of society to break free. She also created Mahila Sabha, an organization to bring together women of society. The organization worked extensively on domestic violence, safe child delivery, and caste discrimination. They strongly opposed the practice of Sati Pratha as well.

In 1897 India faced the threat of Bubonic plague. She established a care centre for the affected on the outskirts of Pune. Upon hearing the news of an affected child in central Pune, she rushed for his aid. She carried him to the care centre on her back. As a result, she too got affected by the plague. Due to her elderly age, she could not recover and died on 10 March 1897.

The story of Savitribai’s life is full of courageous acts. It took courage to fight against society and educate herself. It took even more courage to spread her knowledge to thousands of other women. Even her death came as an outcome of a courageous act. She became a beacon of hope for oppressed women in a patriarchal society.

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