Savitribai Jyotirao Phule (January 3, 1831 – March 10, 1897) was a social reformer, who, along with her husband, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, played an important role in improving women's rights in India during the British Rule. They pioneered the campaign for women’s education, starting the first school for girls at Pune in 1848. Savitribai was the first female teacher of the first women's school in India and also considered as the pioneer of modern Marathi poetry. In 1852 she opened a school for Untouchable girls. Stones would be thrown at her and she would be orally abused but still she continued teaching. When she was hurt, she would be encouraged by her husband, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule.
Savitribai Phule was born in Naigaon village in Satara district to her mother LaxmiBai and father Khandoji Navse Patil. Her father was the village chief. Savitribai was just nine years old when she was married to JyotiRao Phule (age thirteen) in the year 1840 Savitribai’s husband Mahatma Jyotirao Phule lost his mother at a very young age. His maternal cousin sister Saguna nurtured him. SagunaAau worked as a nanny for a British officer’s son. She therefore understood and was able to converse in English. She used this knowledge to inspire JyotiRao. JyotiRao was thus attracted towards education.
SavitriBai set up a school for SagunaAau on May 1, 1847in a backward community. This was their first school. SagunaAau started teaching there happily and enthusiastically. An year later when a school was started in Bhide Wada in Pune. The first school had stopped working abruptly due to lack of acceptability for education for lower caste people in those days.
Widow remarriage:The next step was equally revolutionary. Savitri realised that along with education it was necessary to work on other social fronts, to build up the self-esteem and confidence of women.Many girls who were married off young would be widowed by the age of twelve – thirteen. After the death of their husbands, either they would have to take Sati or their head would be clean shaven to make them ugly and unattractive to other men. These helpless women, with no rights to denial, would be easy targets for depraved men. The resultant pregnant widows would be scared of being ostracized by the society and the suppression that the child would have to suffer, and would resort to suicide or killing the new born.
To counteract this situation, JyotiRao started a home for the pregnant widows and orphaned children to stop this carnage. Savitri ran the home capably. She considered all the children in the orphanage like her own. Savitribai and Jyotirao were moved by the plight of such widows and castigated the barbers. They organized a strike of barbers and persuaded them not to shave the heads of widows.
Social reforms: Savitribai was not only involved in educational activities of Jyotirao but also in every social struggle that he launched. They also fought against all forms of social prejudices. They were moved to see the untouchables who were refused drinking water meant for the upper caste. Both Jyotirao and Savitribai opened up their reservoir of water to the untouchables in the precincts of their house.
Once Jyotirao stopped a pregnant lady from committing suicide, promising her to give her child his name after it was born. Savitribai readily accepted the lady in her house and willingly assured to help her deliver the child. Savitribai and Jyotirao later on adopted this child who then grew up to become a doctor. This incident opened new horizons for the couple. Many women were driven to commit suicide by men who had exploited them to satisfy their lust and then deserted them. Therefore, Savitribai and Jyotirao put boards on streets about the "Delivery Home" for women on whom pregnancy had been forced. The delivery home was called "Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha".
In 1868 she welcomed untouchables to take water from her well. She also was the first woman to light her husband's pyre in the history of India.
Savitribai Fought plague: The phule family had done valuable work during plague.Savitribai Phule and Dr Yashwant Phule’s work during the epidemics. Savitribai Phule and her son opened a clinic and treated people. Savitribai Phule told Yashwant to start a clinic at Sasane Mala, Hadapsar, which was out of the city and free of infection. Savitribai took patients there and Yashwant treated them.There is an interesting anecdote about Savitribai carrying Pandurang Babaji Gaikwad, a 10-year-old boy, from Mundhwa to the clinic. After treatment, he beat the infection but Savitribai got infected, and this led to her death. Savitribai Phule worked hard to keep plague patients alive. In fact, she was so involved that she died due to the infection on March 10, 1897.