Mahatma Jyotirao Govindrao Phule
Jyotirao ‘Jyotiba’ Govindrao Phule was born in 1827 into a family that belonged to the agricultural (Mali) caste, traditionally occupied as gardeners and considered to be one of the Shudhra varna in the ritual ranking system of Hinduism. The original surname of the family had been Gorhe and had its origins in the village of Katgun, in present day Satara District, Maharashtra. Jyotirao’s father and uncles served as florists, so the family came to be known as `Phule’. Jyotirao’s mother passed away when he was just nine months old. after attending primary school to learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, Jyotirao was withdrawn from school. He joined the menfolk of his family at work, both in the shop and the farm. However,
a Christian convert from the same Mali caste as Phule recognised his intelligence and persuaded Phule’s father to allow Phule to attend the local Scottish Mission High School.
The turning point
In his life was in 1848, when he attended the wedding of a Brahmin friend. Phule participated in the customary marriage procession, but was
later rebuked and insulted by his friend’s parents for doing that. They told him that
he being from a lower caste should have had the sense to keep away from that ceremony. This incident profoundly affected Phule on the injustice of the caste system. He made it his life’s work to hammer away tirelessly at the helms of social majoritarian domination and aimed at emancipation of all human beings that were subjected to this social deprivation.
In 1848 School Visit
In 1848, aged 23, Phule visited the first girls’ school in Ahmadnagar, run by Christian missionaries. It was also in 1848 that he read Thomas Paine’s book Rights of Man and developed a keen sense of social justice. To this end and in the same year, Phule first taught reading and writing to his wife, Savitribai, and
then the couple started the first indigenously-run school for girls in Pune. As was customary, he was married young, at the age of 13,
to a girl of his own community, chosen by his father.
Christian missionaries and the British colonists for making the lower castes realise
that they are worthy of all human rights. Ostracised for this by their family and
community, their friend Usman Sheikh and his sister Fatima Sheikh provided them
their home to stay. They also helped to start the school in their premises. Later, the
Phules started schools for children from the then untouchable castes. In 1852, there
were three Phule schools in operation but by 1858 they had all ended.
He championed widow remarriage and started a home for pregnant Brahmin
widows to give birth in a safe and secure place in 1863.