Savitri Bai Phule

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.

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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

Smash traditions-liberate!

We’ll come together and learn

Policy-righteousness-religion.

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

 

Full Stop.

Until a few years ago, I used to be very judgemental towards suicide. I think most of us are, at some point. No, I’m not insinuating a lack of sympathy for the victims- all I’m saying is that we tend to think, “I could never do that! It’s cowardly, escapist, not a solution”. Well, the “I could never do that” part is true for quite a number of people, because they’re made that way. It is equally true that some people are not made that way. As with most things, I stopped sneering at suicide the day it hit me that I wanted to end my own life- I hate judging myself, don’t you?

What I’m trying to focus on is the interpretation of events in light of the recent suicide of a student in my country. This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened. I’m still struggling to fully understand the intricate dynamics of caste issues in India- it is evident that there is a problem, a serious one at that, one that has existed for generations and needs to be acknowledged and dealt with. It is very important to impartially examine the circumstances of this death and charge the real culprits who instigated such an occurrence. However, what I’m somewhat apprehensive about is the way the incident is being tinged with the caste flavour, in an unhealthy way.

It seems that the agenda is dominated by what caste the deceased belonged to, rather than the fact that a promising young student was compelled to take his own life. Would we not have risen in protest had the victim not belonged to a socially disadvantaged group? A young mind and spirit has been lost forever, one of the thousands who are supposed to nurture India.  Forgive me for the use of the adjective ‘beautiful’ but there is no other way to describe Rohit’s last words, where it is made amply clear that this is beyond religion, caste and region. This is about us as individuals, rational, thinking minds, who dream of stardust and the Universe. This is about people who still believe in the goodness of human effort, and are trying their best not to lose faith in a civilization that has let them down far too often. It is about those who are trying to convince others not to divide themselves over boundaries created by some men. And those who have admitted defeat and joined forces with the blindness, in a bid to survive.

To those who will tell me that I really don’t understand, maybe I don’t. But then,  perhaps you don’t either. The discrimination you go through every moment is ugly, and I stand with you against it. But I implore you to realize that for every day that you hold on to an “us against them” attitude, there will be more deaths. On both ‘sides’. On only one side. Humanity.