Sunday, April 21, 2024

SavitriBai Phule: Eviscerator of Evil

SavitriBai defied the constraints of her time to become one of the foremost advocates for women’s rights and education in 19th-century India. Discover how she championed the cause of the oppressed, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of Indian social reform.

Having first appeared in Passions, Vol. 56, this article is now tailored for online consumption – exclusively on VOICE OF ASIA.

Such is the discrimination in India that there is a specific word – dalit – that describes some 166 million marginalised people. It translates to the derogatory ‘untouchable’ – an unthinkable label to apply a fellow human being. The silent majority throughout the nation conformed with this societal prejudice, but social reformer SavitriBai defied convention to touch the lives of the despised, embracing their potential and setting free their dreams.

The same majority threw stones at her as she went to teach at her school. They threatened and verbally abused her. A dalit herself, SavitriBai was a woman who empathised with her ‘sisters’ but wanted to protect and empower – rather than succumb with them, knowing she was strong enough to fend off the blows. She saw that her fellow women were being funnelled into a system of early marriage, with few prospects and at the risk of depraved men. The few who did receive schooling saw it snatched away, with the institutions for the lower classes closed down. In fact, they were denied necessities of life such as drinking water, which was reserved for the upper castes. These less-than-people were deemed unworthy of anything.

SavitriBai vehemently disagreed. She set up her first English school in 1847, and more soon followed. She was offering more than just learning – her sanctuaries represented a chance to spark social change, to infuse women with confidence and self-esteem about their looks and lives. An orphanage was added, for the ostracised to be part of her ‘family’, to find a home. SavitriBai fought discrimination, sexism, staved off the pain of plague in its sufferers, wrote inspiring poetry, blitzed stone-age approaches to humanity and, because of all this, is revered and respected, and has left a legacy that is beyond the reach of many… untouchable.

Poem by SavitriBai
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