The first English biography of Savitribai Phule by Braj Ranjan Mani and Pamela Sardar was called 'A Forgotten Liberator'. On her 187th birth anniversary today, the title remains apt as this pioneering educationist and social reformer is not as well known as she should be. Here are a few facets of Savitribai's revolutionary life.
Education for women
While being vocal about female education in Pakistan can get you shot, as Malala Yousafzai found in 2012, girls in India are slightly more privileged in this regard -- largely due to the efforts of Savitribai in the 19th century.
In a review paper in the International Journal of Innovative Social Science & Humanities Research, Dr Renu Pandey describes how "stones, mud and dirt were flung" at Savitribai on her way to Ms Mitchell's School in Pune after she became one of Maharashtra's first female students.
Born on this day in 1831, Savitribai was married at a young age to Jyotiba Phule who encouraged her to pursue her education. Later, she opened a school for girls which began with nine students.
Shelter for widows
Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha was a shelter created by Savitribai and Jyotiba for pregnant rape victims as well as young widows.
The shelter also became a nursing home which aimed to prevent infanticide. A baby boy named Yashwantrao was adopted by Savitribai and Jyotiba.
In addition to giving protection to widows, Savitribai also fought against the practice of shaving widows' heads. She began a strike encouraging barbers to protest against the practice.
She also introduced festivals and forums where women could raise issues affecting them.
"If you do not have knowledge or education
And do not have the thirst for it
Despite your intellect you don’t use,
Can you be called a human being?" - an excerpt from the book, 'Kavya Phule'
Savitribai was also one of the first female poets in the country, Two collections of her poetry have been published on subjects such as caste discrimination and child welfare.
There is also a collection of letters that the crusader sent to her husband, which is a heartwarming display of the mutual respect they had for each other. In the letters, Savitribai describes events in society that troubled her.
In one of her letters to Jyotiba in 1868, Savitribai describes how she stopped the stoning of an intercaste couple by villagers.
Here's an excerpt from the letter, taken from the book 'Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women's Testimonies' by Sharmila Rege: "When I got to know of this horrible incident, I rushed there and stopped the cruelty by scaring them with possible action by the British government. Sadubhau negotiated that the Brahman and Mahar woman should leave the village... I am sending the couple to you."
Savitribai and her husband also married off their son in an intercaste marriage, setting an example for others.