March 10th, 2017
Women have now become active participants in all walks of life. They are not only homemakers now but are also influencing the course of social change in the community. But this position did not come quickly. They had to fight to reclaim their rights. It was not very long ago that women faced infanticide, sati, child marriage and other biased practices.
One woman defied all these obstacles. Savitri Bai Phule identified the grievances of women in India and fought the injustice against them.
The First Indian Feminist Savitribai Phule
Savitribai Phule was born into a family of farmers in Naigaon, Maharashtra. Since the practice of child marriage was prevalent in the 19th century, she was married off at the age of nine. Her husband who himself was a social activist taught her to read and write. After she was was literate, she participated in her husband’s in social reform movements, teaching young girls. She endured a lot of comments and abuses for her work and idea to educate young girls.
It was a period when mortality rate was high; many young girls became widows even before attaining puberty. The little girls were forced to shave their heads and wear a simple red sari and live a life of austerity. It would pain Savitri to see women leading a life like this. She gathered her courage and organised a strike against the barbers to persuade them to stop shaving heads of the young widows. Her husband was her support through this movement.
The condition of women worsened with time. Girls were exploited sexually and became objects of lust for men. These girls were abandoned by the men when they became pregnant. Some girls would commit suicide while few got an abortion due to fear of being ostracised from society. Moved by the plight of these women, Savitribai opened a care centre. “Balhatya Pratibandhak Giha” was started for pregnant rape victims to help them deliver children.
She and her husband also adopted a son who was born to a widow. Savitribai had challenged the questions of gender in isolation and also highlighted the issues of women.
Savitribai and her adopted son Yashwant also opened a clinic to treat those who were suffering from the bubonic plague. She served the patients wholeheartedly. She also contracted the disease while caring for the patients. Even with the disease weakening her body, her spirit remained vibrant. She continued helping other patients.
She died on 10 March 1897. Phule was one of the first contemporary Indian feminists.