Manas is Ph-d in Hindi Literature from University of Delhi
and has been teaching at Satywati College, Delhi since
1999. Modern Hindi Poetry, Dalit Literature, Marxism and
Ambedkarism are the area of studies and interest for him.
He has Two Poetry Collections, One Short Story Collection
and One Text Book on Media to his name. He has also translated
Why I am not a Hindu a by Kancha Ilaiah and India
in transition by M.N. Roy. Editor.
THE FIRST WOMAN TEACHER OF INDIA
His contact is :
Associate Professor, Deptt of Hindi, Satywati College,
Ashok Vihar, Phase-3, New Delhi-52
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
of this country may feel proud that there is a day when they
are remembered with honor by the politicians, government officials
and the masses of India. They are remembered for their contributions
towards the mental, social and cultural development of Indian
Society. It is a different thing that this event of Teacher’s
day is celebrated on the birthday of such a person who have
nothing special to offer to make the education more learner
oriented and accessible to the marginalized communities of this
country who have been in a high need of education for their
progress. But the First women teacher of India who started first
ever school for the such marginalized communities and specifically
for girls and untouchables who always had been denied education
since centuries, is still an unknown figure in the history and
history books and usually not remembered by the majority of
Indian society for the pioneering role she played as a teacher
and a woman liberator in the second half of nineteenth century.
and how much do we know about the first woman teacher of India?
What different thing did she do for she should be called the
first women teacher of this country? This is rather a very unusual
question and has never been asked or addressed in any of our
school text books like other questions such as Who was the first
Prime Minister of India or who was the first Indian who touched
the surface of Moon? You may find a chapter about Jhansi ki
Rani Laxamibai who fought against British as per the history
written till now. There may be a chapter about Bachendri Pal
who recently marched to the top of the Mount Everest and even
a chapter on Aishwarya Rai, the Glamorous actress of Hindi films.
Surprisingly though, you don’t find even a mention if
not a special chapter about the first woman teacher of India.
This may be one of the reasons that we could not familiarize
ourselves with the revolutionary figure.
But why? But why is it so that we either know nothing or know
very little about the first woman teacher of India? One really
wonders that why she is missing from the school text books of
most Indian States. The curriculum makers and historians cannot
claim to say that they could not find information on her life
and work. Ample numbers of books till now have been published
in Marathi and English most of which depict her grand life and
mission in detail.
think that this is rather a simple case of Caste and Gender
biased mindset of the curriculum makers and historians. This
is all due to the patriarchal and brahmanical mindset and prejudices
deeply rooted in Indian society which claim that the most intellectual
personalities come from the caste Hindus and lower cast or marginalized
communities can never produce such extraordinary personalities
at all. However, the first woman teacher of India happened to
come from a lower caste and thus she remained unacknowledged
on the pages of school text books. Moreover, she has been continuously
mentioned mostly only as wife of social reformer Jotiba phule’s
and the account is more or less the same even in the history
of Dalit Movement also for so many years due to the patriarchal
mindset of dalit intellectuals.
from her identity as Jotirao Phule’s wife, The Modern
India’s first woman teacher, Savitribai Phule was a radical
advocator of female and untouchable’s education, a champion
of women’s rights, a milestone of trailblazing poetry,
a courageous mass leader who stood strongly against the forces
of caste and patriarchy certainly had her independent identity
for her contribution. Her life and struggle deserves to be appreciated
in a wider perspective. Thanks to Dalit Women Movement who brought
this woman to the main pages of history and present of dalit
movement and put her to the top of the list of Nation Builders
Phule worked not only for the girls and women of dalit community
but for the betterment and upliftment of the people of the whole
Indian society. She internalized and strived hard to implement
the thought of her husband Mahatma Jotirao Phule, the founder
of modern dalit movement and a great social activist in second
half of nineteenth century who worked for the upliftment of
dalits and women all through his life. Jotirao Phule and Savitribai
were the first in modern India who came out with first major
anti cast ideology and led a mass activism against anti-dalit,
anti-women Brahmanic casteist cultural and religious norms and
values of Indian society.
Phule’s dearest dream was to see that the women of India
would be able to enjoy their full human rights. And in his opinion,
this was possible only through the power of education. He was
deeply convinced that education of a woman is certainly an important
tool if the downtrodden communities have to go forward. He was
quite determinant of the opinion that Female schools are more
necessary than male ones. This thought was later appreciated
by Dr. Ambedkar. Savitribai and Jotirao had a hard struggle
to implement the right to education for the women and dalits
in Maharashtra during the Peshwas rule in Maharashtra during
those days. It is appropriate to say that it was an era of darkness
in Maharashtra as far the education to women is concerned. In
that era of darkness, Savitribai and Jotirao flamed the torch
of education in Maharashtra. Savitribai was Jotirao phule’s
first and most important ally in the mission of Dalit women’s
was born on 3rd Jan, 1831, in Naigaon of Satara district in
Maharashtra. She was born on after the thirteen years of British
rule in India and end of Peshwa rule in 1818 in Maharashtra.
It was a common practice those days to marry a girl at the age
of early childhood. In spite of her desire to study, Savitribai
was married to Jotirao at the age of nine. She remained with
her parents because Jotirao was studying in a missionary school
at that time. Here one feels highly obliged to Christian missionaries
who opened up doors of education to untouchables though they
are being attacked by a particular religious – political
group now a days.
being a visionary and convinced of the opinion that every woman
must be educated, started teaching English and Marathi to Savitribai
when she came to live with him. At the age of twenty, Jotirao
passed the matriculation examination. By that day, Savitri became
very good at English and Marathi. She was still a teenager when
she got herself involved in her husband’s work. The Phule
couple decided to start a school for girls, especially from
the shudra and atishudra communities so that parents of girls
could send their daughters without bothering much. But there
were no women teachers at all. In 1846-47 Savitribai Studied
in a formal school in Ahmednagar and and got trained as teacher.
Jan14, 1848, Jotirao started a school for girls. This school
was opened in a corridor of a house at Budhwar Peth in Pune
which belonged to Mr. Bhide, a friend of Jotirao. This was the
first school which was opened especially for girls for the first
time in India. Savitribai was given the charge of the school
and hence, she became the first woman teacher of India. This
school had nine students in the beginning. Sadashiv Govinde,
another friend of Jotirao, sent books for students from Ahmednagar.
The school functioned for about six months and then had to be
closed down. Another building was found and the school reopened
a few months later.
it had been very difficult job for Jotirao, Savitribai and their
friends to establish the school but it was very difficult for
Savitribai to keep that school running during those days when
education for girls was understood as a sin. Since most of males
were against the very existence of kanyashala, so it became
very difficult for Savitribai to get a male teacher for the
same. She alone had to work hard to run the school. Moreover,
the patriarchal complex ridden people had been constantly creating
hurdles in her way. Many conspiracies were planned out against
her and the school. Leaving the house in the morning and going
to school was an ordeal for her. Whenever she went out of her
house, group of orthodox men would follow her and abuse her
in obscene language. They would throw rotten eggs, cow dung,
tomatoes and stones at her. She started taking an extra sari
with her to wear at school. This ordeal continued for a long
time till she had to slap a person who tried to molest her.
was very clear and determinant about her job. The first challenge
for her was to keep the girls coming to school. She started
distributing sweets among girls when they had to go back to
their homes. After knowing the fact that girls are being tired
at their studies, she started sports sessions. Further she started
short stories sessions to make learning more interesting and
fun filled. The girls took much interest in the short stories
because those were based on the conditions of women’s
lives, their desire to learn and to be free. She also started
composing and reciting poems for them. Her way of teaching was
simple, participatory and activity based. In a way she herself
created the methods which we may call now the alternative and
learner oriented methods of teaching. She also focused upon
the holistic development of girls. Education for her was not
merely an ability to read and write but a means of igniting
the mind and personality of women and dalits. What was the impact
of Savitri’s teaching upon girls can be seen in the essay
written by Muktabai - an eleven year old dalit girl. This essay
is about the grief of the two dalit communities-Mangs and Mahars.
She writes, “Oh, the mahars and mangs, you are poor and
sick. Only the medicine of knowledge will cure and heal you.
It will take you away from wild beliefs and superstitions. You
will righteous and moral. It will stop your exploitation. People,
who treat you like animal, will not dare to treat like that
anymore. So please work hard and study.”
was very careful and kind hearted towards her students. She
used to help the girls and their parents in many ways whenever
she found them in need. Now days, we see that all the time the
parents are running to the schools to know the position of their
ward. But Savitribai used to visit their parents at their house
to tell them about the learning experience that the girls were
having at school. In the situation that any of the girls was
not coming to the school, she used to go to her home. In case
any girl was found to be ill, she used to arrange for the doctor
and medicines. She became the most famous and respectful women
very soon in the area. Gradually People started sending their
girls to the school themselves. There were twenty five students
in the school in the end of the year out of which were ten brahmin,
six Maratha, two chamar, two mahar, one matang, one gadaria,
one julaha, one Sali and one mali castes. The number of girls
increased from twenty five to seventy during 1849-1850. It was
a great number indeed during those days.
that school, Savitribai, Jotirao and their friends opened up
many more schools in Pune city and nearby villages. More information
about these schools is available in volume seven of Pune education
gazette. On first May, 1852 Jotirao started a school for the
children of untouchables. There had been no tradition of education
among untouchables during those days. In fact, there were no
schools for untouchables. The Brahmins never allowed them any
right to education. Moreover, over the centuries the Brahmins
taught them that education was a sin for them and the act of
sending their children to schools could have brought more atrocities
from Brahmins to them. So they developed a tendency to be reluctant
and indifferent towards education. Savitribai had to struggle
a lot to get their children to the school. This school happened
to be the first school of India which was opened up for the
untouchables. In his book Mahatma Phule Aani Sansodhan (Phule
and Social reforms) Dr. Mangoolkar wrote, “This was the
first effort for the upliftment of untouchable in the history
of India.” In the issue of May 29, 1852, the Pune Observe
took notice of this school. It says:
person, mali by caste, has started a school for untouchables
on his own expenses. This is a great news for social reformers
of India. Being situated at Vetal Peth, here the children of
castes like Mahar, mang and Pakhari are taught in this school.”
jurisdiction of a teacher’s work is not limited to a school
only but one has to take whole of the society as the field of
his/her work. Savitribai Phule was mainly a teacher but she
did not confine herself to a limited role and scope of a teacher.
She took her role in a wider and comprehensive sense. In this
sense, Savitribai was not only a good teacher but had been great
social activists too. Untouchability was a very common and cruel
practice during those days all over India. But it was much deeper
in Pune than any other city of India. Untouchables were not
allowed to take water from the wells situated in the upper cast
muhallas. Untouchable women had to wait long hours and to keep
on requesting the upper caste women for water. Seeing this,
Savitri invited all the women to her private well and said,
“Take water as much as you can. It’s your own well
now from today. You may come at any time and take water anytime.”
realizing the cast discrimination prevailing among women, she
started organizing meetings and Til-Gur Festivals. In these
meetings and festivals women of any caste could participate.
Thus she provided a platform where women of all casts could
have an effective sharing of views and discussions about their
problems with each other. This was the first kind of effort
to unite the women on their issues and problems. Later on Savitribai
realized that collecting women together is not enough. She came
to the conclusion that the plight and worse condition of women
is due to patriarchal values and mindset of the people. Thus
women should be organized in a manner that one should feel the
power of collectiveness and could fight against the atrocities
done to her in the society. It was due to her efforts that a
Mahila Mandal (women’s association) was formed in Pune
in 1852. It was a very hard task indeed during those days. This
Mahila Mandal started working for the empowerment and liberty
of the women. As a leader of this Mahila Mandal, Savitribai
organized several cultural and social programs where the patriarchy
and Brahmanism were used to be attacked in several ways.
were the days when women irrespective of their cast and class
were very much oppressed in all fields of life. There were many
patriarchal and brahmnical traditions, values and rituals which
were atrocious to the women especially dalit women. To resolve
the dowry problem, she started organizing simple group marriages
for which she had to bear the opposition from all sides. But
she never gave up. When woman at any age happened to be widow,
she was forced to have her head shaved so that she could easily
be identified as a widow. Savitribai was moved by the plight
of widows. In this regard, she met the people of barber community
and persuaded them not to shave the heads of widows. After a
long pursuance, she along with Jotirao and friends could organize
a strike of barbers. This was the first strike of its kind.
The upper cast communities got infuriated with Savitribai due
to the step taken by the barbers.
were a large number of widows in the Pune and the nearby villages
during days. The number of Adolescents and young girls were
more among widows. It was very common with these widows that
they used to be victimized very easily by the males of the society
in terms of sexual exploitation. So they had to be harassed
for the reason which they had not been responsible for Most
of the time, they happened to be pregnant due to lack of contraceptives
or other measures. Women had to lose their life due to unhealthy
ways of abortion. Many a times they had to leave their homes.
On Jan.28, 1853 Savitribai started Balhatya pratibadhak griha
- a delivery home for such women and their illegitimate children.
In this delivery home, they could give birth to their children
and leave them there. Sixty six women gave birth to their children
in that shelter up to 1873. This was a great historical work
that Savitribai did at that time. Later on this delivery home
started working as a full fledged hospital. Savitribai did not
remain as one who served to widows but she went further in this
regard. She adopted a child from this delivery home and thereby
gave a message to the progressive people of the society. This
adopted child was Yashwant Rao who later became a doctor.
many people know that Savitribai Phule was a trailblazing and
intensely committed poet of modern Marathi. Her poetry and her
letters to Jotirao bring out her sensitive and revolutionary
mind. Savitribai’s greatest literary contribution is her
collection of poems titled Kabya Phule (Poetry’s Blossoms)
which she published in 1854. This pioneering work has value
as a historical document of her thought and struggle. This collection
covers subjects as varied as education, nature and, most importantly,
the caste system, where the poet becomes more creative in form
and revolutionary in content. Savitribai followed this up with
another anthology in 1891 Titled Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar
(The Ocean of Gems), this collection is a biography of Phule
that reiterates his critique of the brahmanical constructs of
the times. Savitribai’s essay on debt, ‘Karz’,
deserves special mention. She condemns the practice of incurring
loans to celebrate festivals, due to which the borrower is caught
in a debt trap.
much Savitribai imbibed the radical vision of her husband and
what was her own orientation in regard to social change, is
clearly visible in the three letters that she wrote to Jotirao
when she was away from him. The letters reveal that Savitri’s
spousal love was inseparable from the larger commitment to the
salvation of the downtrodden through education. She says: “There
are many idiots here, as in Pune, who poison people’s
minds and spread canards against us. But why should we fear
them and leave this noble cause we have undertaken? It would
be better to engage with the work instead. We shall overcome,
and success will be ours in the future. The future belongs to
There was a great famine in Maharashtra during 1875-77. People
were dying due to hunger and thirst. Savitribai put out all
her energies to serve the victims of famine. Satyshodhak volunteers
helped famine–affected people in the leadership of Savitribai.
She started 52 free food hostels in western Maharashtra.
sudden demise of Mahatma Phule in 1890 at the age of sixty three
was a great shock to Savitribai. She was left alone. But she
did not give up the battle. She worked intensely during another
famine in 1896 in Maharashtra. she also put pressure on British
government to start relief camps. After famine, it was plague
which attacked on Pune in 1897. Plague victims were treated
like animals by the British. Savitribai could not bear this.
She worked hard to serve the plague victims in all ways. By
a strange and cruel irony, she herself got infected by the fatal
disease while nursing a sick child and died on 1897.
struggle encouraged and inspired a whole generation of outstanding
campaigners for gender justice in Maharashtra. Dr. Anandibai
Gopal Joshi, Pandita Ramabai, Tarabai Shinde and many others
have been inspired by her efforts. She played a revolutionary
role during the era of darkness in Maharashtra and gave a message
for the whole Nation that how intelligent and brave could be
a women of dalit community. She was not only the first women
teacher but the first women social activist of India too. Her
poems and other writings still hold a message of inspiration
to us. On March 1998, a stamp was released by Indian post to
honor her far-reaching contribution to Indian society. In order
to honor her, the 10th March is celebrated as Indian women’s
day every year by the National Federation of Dalit Women in
some parts of the country.
paper is dedicated to Rajni Tilak and her friends who strived
hard to build up Dalit Women movement in Delhi)
Pehali Bhartiya Shikshika Savitribai Phule, (The first Indian
woman teacher-Savitribai Phule) Phulwantabai Zodge, Ed-Rajni
Tilak, Cadam, Delhi, 1999.
Women Pioneers in India’s Renaissance, Ed-Sushila Nayar,
Kamla Mankekar, National book Trust, Delhi, 2002.
A Forgotten Liberator, Ed-Brij Ranjan Mani, and Pamela Sardar,
Mountain Peak, Delhi, 2010
by Savitribai Phule
Go, Get Education
self reliant, be industrious
Work - gather wisdom and riches.
All gets lost without knowledge
We become animals without wisdom.
idle no more, go, get education
End misery of the oppressed and forsaken.
have got a golden chance to learn
So learn and break the chains of caste
Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast.
to Learn and Act
and oppressed, Rise my brothers
Come out of living in slavery.
Peshwas are dead and gone
Manu is the one who barred us from education.
of knowledge-the English have come
Learn, you have had no chance in millennium.
will teach our children and ourselves learn
Receive knowledge, become wise to discern.
upsurge of jealousy is in my soul
Crying out for knowledge to be the whole.
festering wound, mark of caste
I will blot out from my life at last.
Bali raj’s kingdom, let’s beware
Our glorious mast, unfurl and flare.
all say, “misery go and kingdom come”
arise and educate
Smash traditions, liberate.
will come together and learn
Policy, righteousness, religion.
not but blow the trumpet
O Brahman, dare not you upset.
a war cry, rise fast
Rise, to learn and act.
Brief chronology of Savitribai phule’s life
3rd Jan.1831 Birth of Savitribai in Naigaon, Satara district
Marriage with Jotiba Phule.
Begins informal education at home.
Passed third and fourth year examination from Normal school.
trained as a teacher from Ahmednagar.
Country's first school for girls was started at Bhide's Wada
in Pune and Savitribai was nominated as the first head mistress
of the school.
helps Jotirao and his friends in establishing more schools at
Pune, Satara. Ahmednagar.
School for adults is started at Usman Sheikh's Wada in Pune.
Left home with Jotirao for educating Shudra and Ati Shudra's
Establishes two more schools.
1852 Gets Model Teacher’s award.
Organizes First Public Til-Gul Programme in the name of Mahila
First school of the country for untouchables is opened.
28-01-1853 Starts Infanticide prohibition home-Delivery Home.
Prize giving ceremony is arranged under the chairmanship of
Publishes “Kabya Phule”, her collection of poetry.
Establishes a night-school for workers and peasants.
Edits and publishes a collection of Jotirao’s speeches
1868 Opens the household water-tank to untouchables.
Actively participates in the foundation of Satyshodak Samaj.
Adopts Yashwant, the son of a Brahman widow.
Leads Satyshodhak volunteers to help famine–affected people
and started 52 free food hostels in western Maharashtra.
Death of Jotirao
Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar, her verse collection is published.
Takes over leadership of Satyshodhak Samaj, elected its president
in the conference held at Saswad
Works intensely during another famine
Dies while serving plague-affected people
Posted on March 1, 2011