Home English Articles Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Birth Anniversary: Visionary social reformer and advocate of equality

Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Birth Anniversary: Visionary social reformer and advocate of equality


Jotiba (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule) was the first Indian to start a school for the Untouchables and a girls’ school in Maharashtra. Mahatma Gandhi called him a real Mahatma, and Veer Savarkar described him as a social revolutionary.

Birth and background

His great-grandfather was a chaugula, an inferior village servant, at Katgun, twenty-five miles from Satara. Such inferior servants were assigned various duties. They served the village officers. The chaugula carried their records, assisted them in recovering land revenue, and accompanied them at crop inspection.

Later, Chaugula shifted his family to Khanwadi, a village in the Purandar Taluka of Poona District. There, a son was born to him, Shetiba. He had three sons, Ranoji. Krishna, and Govind. These boys made a name for themselves in their trade, so much so that they attracted the attention of the Peshwa, who utilised their services in his private capacity. They made flower mattresses, pillows, and some garments for the Peshwa. He conferred on these brothers thirty- five acres of land to appreciate their helpful, sweet, and scented services. They were now known as florists. So, the family assumed the name Phooley, and the original surname Gorhe gave place to the new one.

Meanwhile, the worthless, profligate Peshwa Bajirao II lost his throne. With this significant change, which upset the fates of thousands of families dependent upon Peshwa rule in the Deccan, the Phooley family also had to pass through a crisis. Being left in the lurch by their elder brother, Ranoji. Krishnaji, and Govind, they had to struggle. Naturally, Govind worked hard on the farm in the neighbouring village and set up a greengrocery at Poona to sell the product of that soil and improve his position. Sure of his stability now, he continued his flower shop in Poona and was content to lead a peaceful life. He married a Mali girl named Chimnabai, the daughter of one Zagade Patil of the Kavadi village near Poona. Chimnabai gave birth to two sons. The elder was Rajaram, and the younger was Joti, born in 1827. He was named Joti, which means a flame.

Education for women and sudras

After completing his education, Jotiba resolved to ring the bell of social reform in Maharashtra. He was barely twenty-one. He decided to emancipate Hindu women from their ancient thraldom. Jotiba’s school met at the house of one Bhide in Budhwar Peth. His friends Sadashiv Govind and Sadashiv Ballal Govande helped him run the school.

Modern schools were opened in India in the second decade of the nineteenth century. The first school for Hindu girls was opened in Calcutta in 1819 The American Mission started in Bombay in 1824 when the teacher had to go every day to the house of his pupils and bring them to the school. Every child was used to pay for attending the school. The teacher’s pay depended on the number of pupils he got to school. The American Mission started girls’ schools in the neighbourhood of Poona in 1840. There was a girls’ school in Poona run by the Scottish Missionaries. About ten girls attended it. As it was a Christian girls school it could not grow Jotiba was the first Indian to start a girls school

Jotiba’s school continued its work for five or six months His friend, Sadashiv Govande, sent books from Ahmednagar at his own expense. Jotiba worked in the school so untiringly that he could not find time for his meals and often went without food till evening. But he could not conduct the school any longer As his father drove him and his wife out of his house bag and baggage, he had to earn his living. He therefore had to close the school

Rebel Jotiba reopened the school at a place provided by Sadashiv Govande in Peth Joona Ganj, as no one left him for the school fotiba’s physical instructors, Lahuji Rangracot Mang and Ranba Mahar, enrolled many children of both sexes. Govande also provided the school with slates and a monthly subscription of Rs. 2. As the number of students increased a Brahmin teacher, Vishnupant Thatte, kindly assisted him in teaching the class.

With more than two years of experience in the education field, Jotiba boldly established another school for girls on July 3 1851 at Annasaheb Wasudeo Chiplunkar’s house in Budhawar Peth. Annasaheb Wasudeo Chiplunkar was a wealthy man and a friend of Keshavrao Bhavalkar, who took an enthusiastic interest in Jotiba’s schools in Poona

Jotiba worked gratuitously in this school for four hours a day and trained his wife, Savitribai, for the office of the schoolmistress.

Therefore, Jotiba placed his school under a Managirl ommittee which consisted of Jotiba. Jagannath Sadashiv, a surveyor in the Executive Engineer’s office, who became Secretary, and Keshav Shivram Joshi, a teacher in the Government Marathi School. The Committee also Included Anna Sahasrabudhe, a teacher in the Mission School. Vishnu Moreshwar Bhide, Assistant Head Teacher in Poona College. Bapoo Rawjee Mande, clerk in the office of the Commissioner. Krishnashastri Chiplunkar, Assistant Professor of Vernacular Literature in Poona College and Vishnooshastri Pandit, a student in Poona College who later became famous as a champion of widow remarriage.

The school started with eight girls on the roll, and soon the number rose to 48. Savitribai was made Head Mistress of the school.

On September 17 1851. Jotiba started another girls school under the Society at Rasta Peth and the third school on March 15 1852 at Vetal Peth

Change in the society

Thus, Jorida became known throughour Maharashtra as the champion of female education and the low-caste people. Major Candy. Head of Poona Sanskrit College, Erskin Perry, the President of the Board Commissioner Reeves and his friend Colonel Meadows Taylor from Hyderabad were all admirers of Jotiba. All good-natured Brahmins praised him

All good-natured Brahmins praised him. A native observer wrote in the Telegraph and Courier under the title Native progress that though the Brahinins were the greatest enemies of the lower castes, they were at that time beginning to feel the many injuries done to these people by their forefathers and were therefore, thinking of some redress for it.

There is a Brahmin” he observed, “named Baha Charya, who is at present a Government servant te and who though drawing a salary of Rs. 12 per month, yet on seeing a school opened for the instruction of the children of lower classes made a present of one month’s pay to Joti Govind Phooley for opening a way for the good of those people as an encouragement to others who may find ways for the welfare of those miserable people.”

From the above fact,” he continues ‘it appears that the Brahmins have commenced to think of doing good to their brethren.

Another insight of Jotiba

In February 1871, a benevolent gentleman built an independent house to shelter orphans and pregnant widows. Jotiba thus saved the widows from disgrace and perserution by society Out of the children delivered, a few survived. One of these children was a boy born in 1873 to a Brahmin widow named Kashibai in his Will, Jotirao says that this woman was living in the house of Kesopant Sindi in Ganja Peth Savitribai had cut his navel string, and Jotirao and his wite had performed the ceremony of naming the boy on the twelfth day after his birth. He was named Yashwant one who brings success Savitribai looked after the boy with the care and affection of a mother and brought him up very tenderly Jotirao and his wife both treated him as their son.

Men like Lokahitavadi, Vinayakrao Bhandarkar, trustees of the Prarthana Samaj, Madan Shrikrishna, who became a judge of the Small Cause Court, Mama Parmanand, Wasudeorao Babaji Nowrange. Tukaram Tatya Padval and others who were deeply interested in all social movements sincerely appreciated Jotirao’s work and held him in high esteem.

Upon arriving in Poona in 1871. Mahadev Govind Ranade became Jotiba’s admirer and showed great interest in his social activities. Impressed by Jotiba’s significant contribution to society and the success of his orphanage, Ranade and his friend Lalshankar Umashankar Trivedi established 1875 an orphanage in Pandharpur.

Widow remarriage – impact of Jotiba

The problem of widow remarriage, to which Jotiba wanted to give an impetus, was boldly taken up by Vishnu Shastri Pandit, who, in his student days, had supported Jotiba in his pioneering efforts to promote female education. He was a member of the Committee established by Jotiba to encourage girls education. On his resignation from Government service, Vishnu Shastri accepted the Indu Prakash editorship. Like the ‘Subodha Patrika of the Prarthana Samaj, it was a mouthpiece for the social reformers. He wrote fiery, thought-provoking articles on the subject. made emotional speeches at important centres in Maharashtra and published a chain of booklets on it.

Vishnu Shastri, founded on January 28 1866, was a society promoting widow remarriages whose branches sprang up at Ratnagiri, Ahmedabad, Poona and other places. Under the auspices of this society, the marriage of one Pandurang Vinayak Karmarkar with a widow girl named Venubai. daughter of Prabhakar Bhat Paranjpye, was celebrated amidst pomp and joy. The marriage invitation was issued over the signature of seven sage-like men. They were Gopal Hari Deshmukh, the grand champion of social retorms, Vishnu Shastri Pandit. Vishnu Moreshwar Bhide, Shrikrishnashastri Talekar, Vishnu Parashuram Ranade, Mahadeo Govind Ranade and Janardan Sakharam Gadgil. Vishnu Shastri had deposited in the name of Venubai a sum of Rs. 2,000 out of the society’s funds, and presents worth Rs. 3,000 were showered on the newly wedded couple.

Admirer of Chatrapati Shivaji

Jotiba was the first leader and port in Maharashtra under British rule to sing the glory of Shivaji. known in modern India as a symbol of courage, self-respect, patriotism, and heroism. A liberator and founder of an Empire, he has been a source of great inspiration to numerous Indian patriots and revolutionaries. Jotiba, the poet, describes the invasion of india by the hoards of Muslim fanatics as follows:

Leaves Kabul, dips in Sindhu,
Wears a beard, harasses Hindus,
Shaves Brahmin tuft, cuts off organs,
Breaks Shiva images, hammers temples
Eats beef, leaves pig
Destroys paintings ruins sculptures
Uproots idols, sends to Kabul
Thrashes Hindus, rails at religion
Imprisons kings, flays bodies.
Destroys temples, builds towers

Jotiba, the poet, sings patriotically about Shivaji, assisted by his faithful, fearless, brave lieutenants and inspired by his mother, unfurling the flag of Hindus

Then, Jotiba depicts Shivaji’s thrilling life as a glorious battle for a holy cause. He pays glowing tribute to Shivaji’s cautious nature, daring deeds, peerless character regarding his female captives, insight into the human mind, and foresight in establishing a Maratha Navy Shivaji accepted Ramdas as his preceptor, Jotiba adds, to win the people’s affection

Satya-Shodhak Samaj

A revolutionary leader like Jotiba required an institution, an authoritative philosophy, and a platform to propagate his ideals During the previous fifteen years, he had been propagating his views, preaching in public meetings through leaflets and booklets, the importance of education, and encouraging the lower castes to educate their children and redeem themselves from evil customs.

Accordingly, Jotiba convened on 24 September 1873, a meeting of all his admirers and disciples at Poona. About sixty men from many vital centres of Maharashtra assembled. He made an Impressive introductory speech and impressed upon his followers the necessity of a central institution to guide the tile movement. After some discussion and other speeches, they agreed to form an institution. There was much enthusiasm among the chosen lieutenants of Jotiba. They decided to organise the mission and spread the message of the movement. Jotiba named this Institution Satya-Shodhak Samaj-Truth-Seeking Society

It must be noted that Jotiba’s three Brahmin friends, Vinayak Bapuji Bhandarkar. Vinayak Bapuji Dengle, and Sitaram Sakharam Datar, helped Jotiba and his colleagues establish the Satya- Shodhak Samaj.

Membership of the Samaj was extended to all castes, including Brahmins, Mahars, and Mangs, and even Jews and Muslims were members in its early stages. The subjects discussed were the necessity of temperance and compulsory education, encouragement of Swadeshi goods, performing marriage at minimum expenses, and freeing men from beliefs in astrology, ghosts, and demons. The main attack was upon the caste system.

Lesson for Indian National Congress

The earlier leaders of the Indian National Congress openly said they wished to make British rule permanent in India. On the contrary, Jotiba, who had opposed the Poona Municipality spending money on the decoration of the city and on the Address to be given by British Governor-General Lytton on the occasion of his visit, believed that British rule would someday end.

On November 30 1880, the President of the Poona municipality sent a circular letter to the members requesting their sanction-for-an-expenditure of Rs 1,000 to decorate the city on the occasion of the Viceroy’s visit. Out of thirty-six members, Jotiba was the only member who dared to vote against the proposition. He said that instead of spending money on the decoration and Address to be given to the Viceroy, it should be spent on the poor citizens education.

Anti-liquor drive

Jotiba again clashed with the government. The government was thinking of increasing the number of liquor shops in Poona to cope with the situation arising from the growing illicit liquor business. In 1880, the government permitted some new liquor shops to open. So, their number could increase. Jotiba, who was against the evil of drink, protested against this policy of the government and wrote to Plunkett, the Chairman of the Managing Committee of the Municipality, on 18 July 1880, said, “The Poona Municipality has at a high cost kept a large sanitary establishment and is also maintaining a department, especially to preserve the health of the inhabitants

However, the existence of many liquor shops in the middle of the city, which were altogether unknown to it a few years ago and are sowing over the land the seeds of every kind of fatal disease, is not calculated to ensure this object. It will be readily admitted by all that these liquor shops are not only harmful to the morality of the inhabitants but highly dangerous to their health. Since the opening of these liquor shops, drunkenness has increased to such an extent that many families have been utterly ruined, and it has now become almost an established vice in the city

Birth of Indian National Congress and Jotiba

The year 1885 is a landmark in the history of modern India. It witnessed the birth of the Indian National Congress However, Jotiba had no faith in the Congress’s leaders. He said it could not be national until its leaders showed genuine interest in the welfare of the Mahars, Mangs, and farmers and respected their human personalities.