The first time I read about Savitribai Phule was in my 8th or 9th std modern history book in a chapter about reformers of India. Actually her name was merely mentioned in a section about Jyotiba Phule. It’s really ironic that the writer managed to put her in the shadow of her husband even though this was what the couple fought against. In that list of reformers, which also included Ramamohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Dayanand Saraswati, she was the only woman. At first I thought she must have only played a supporting part in her husband’s reformist movement, the woman behind a man’s success kind as we were taught through various mediums. It was only later in my life, when I started to learn stuff on the internet, I found out how she was a hero in her own right and how the things that the textbook told us weren’t even an iota of her large contribution to our society.
The problem with the school textbooks is that they tend to portray a superficial and romanticized image of reality, especially when it comes to history. So when they teach about the reformers and reformist movements, they only give a sketchy detail about it. They don’t tell you how grim the situation was, what the reformists had to go through and what were their radical views about the then social structure. They hide all this because that picture contradicts the rosy image of the Indian history and culture that they made us believe into. That’s the reason that a young woman opening a school for girls in the 19th century India didn’t seem to be that big of a deal as it was. We weren’t told how her father-in-law threw her and her husband out due to the pressure of the upper-cast men, how they used to throw dung and stone at her, how young widows were made to live in hell and many such things against which the Phule couple fought.
We were also not told about the radical approach of Savitribai and Jyotiba and how it challenged the Brahminical social structure. They didn’t teach us the poems of Savitri ma which fearlessly call out the misogyny and casteism and encouraged so many deprived and oppressed men and women to rise against the tyrannical society.
To understand the importance of Savitribai’s work we need to know what she was fighting against. Our education system’s failure to do so is the reason that most of us are unaware of her contribution. We are still trying to convince parents to educate their girl child and this is because we, both citizen and government, forgot Savitribai and her radical methods. We wish to see the change in the grave situation in which the education for girls lies in our country but we are satisfied with the slow and gradual pace of the situation without realizing that this gradual change is costing the education of so many girls. This change has to be quick as we can’t wait for countless lives to get destroyed. This makes Savitribai relevant even after more than a century.