They say television is inspired from reality, although a large proportion of our Indian TV shows might compel us to believe otherwise. Many members of the audience who have gotten teary eyed whilst watching “Balika Vadhu” might not know of the real-life personality who went from being a child bride to one of the most prominent social reformers of her time.
Described by Tiffany Wayne as one of the “first-generation modern Indian feminists” Savitri Bai Phule was born in Maharashtra in 1831. Like many others of her generation, she was married off to twelve year old Jyotirao Phule when she was merely nine years old. Taught to read and write by her husband, it marked the beginning of a tough but remarkable journey for the nine-year old girl who went on advocate the social rights of women, especially in education.
Source: India Today
She was the first female teacher of the first girls’ school in India, standing up for widows, unwed mothers, and untouchables, segments of society that were treated worse than dirt by the upper-caste patriarchal system. In what must have been at the time, a mammoth rebellion against conservative mindsets, she founded a care centre for pregnant rape victims. Facing severe ostracism from orthodox members of society, she refused to give in. She was supported in her endeavours by her husband who was a visionary himself and believed in equal rights for women. It was owing to Savitri bai’s efforts that a Mahila Mandal (Women’s Association) was founded in Pune in the 1850s. She died while caring for underprivileged victims during the Third Bubonic plague pandemic in India.
Rise, to learn and act
Weak and oppressed! Rise my brother
Come out of living in slavery.
Manu-follower Peshwas are dead and gone
Manu’s the one who barred us from education.
Givers of knowledge– the English have come
Learn, you’ve had no chance in a millennium.
We’ll teach our children and ourselves to learn
Receive knowledge, become wise to discern.
An upsurge of jealousy in my soul
Crying out for knowledge to be whole.
This festering wound, mark of caste
I’ll blot out from my life at last.
In Baliraja’s kingdom, let’s beware
Our glorious mast, unfurl and flare.
Let all say, “Misery go and kingdom come!”
Awake, arise and educate
We’ll come together and learn
Slumber not but blow the trumpet
O Brahman, dare not you upset.
Give a war cry, rise fast
Rise, to learn and act.
Savitri Bai Phule