It is unfortunate Savitribai’s work in the field of education has not received due recognition
In India, Teacher’s Day is celebrated on September 5, the birth date of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was an educationist, philosopher and politician. This celebration, in memory of the former president, is a tribute to him, who was believed to be an exemplary teacher. Not a single Teacher’s Day celebration will end without ever citing this teacher who taught ethics and values to students with dedication.
I often wondered why we didn’t choose January 3, the birthday of Savitribai Phule, to be celebrated as Teacher’s Day. This Teacher’s Day, I wish to pay tribute to Savitribai Phule, the first woman teacher and educationist, a woman of outstanding courage and grit.
She along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule, established the first school for girls and changed the very trajectory of Indian education.
In her journey of educating women, she faced countless abuses and obscenities from groups of orthodox men, who often followed her on the way to school. They pelted stones and threw cow dung and rotten eggs at her.
But nothing deterred her from emancipating women. Lalitha Dhara, a women activist, in one of her books on the Phules, writes how Savitribai would stop by the abusers and politely say to them, “My brothers, I am doing the noble job of educating your sisters. The cow dung and stones that you are pelting on me are not a deterrent but rather an inspiration for me. It is as if you are showering petals on me. While I vow to serve my sisters, I also pray, ‘May God bless you’.” Such was her determination and audacity to educate women despite the atrocities and abuses.
Savitribai, along with her husband Jyotirao, envisioned an education which was aimed at liberating people from all forms of discrimination and oppression.
They opened several schools for women and children from the downtrodden castes, including Mang and Mahar, who were considered outcasts. Their unceasing efforts in educating the oppressed conveyed that education is all about learning to live together and accepting diversity.
Such noble works of the Phule family inspired the British government to honour them for their contribution towards education.
Through education, Savitribai transformed individuals and society. If western revolutions changed the material world of human society, then the educational revolution led by Savitribai brought to the fore the human values of equality, liberty, fraternity and justice. We need to remember her with gratitude and honour her for igniting the lives of millions.
Savitribai was a revolutionary thinker and a visionary leader in education. She considered education as one of the basic needs besides food, clothing and shelter. It is unfortunate that her work in the field of education has not received due recognition, which probably has been the main reason for not giving her a prominent place in history.
It is imperative that we recognize this woman, who fought for women’s empowerment, her due place in history. We need to study her life and struggles, in fighting for the educational uplift of the masses.
Let this Teacher’s Day be an occasion to shower appreciation on the millions of unsung teachers across the world, who leave no stone unturned to provide quality education and play a crucial role in the education of the young.
(The writer is a member of the Society of Pilar and has a doctorate in Clinical Counselling Psychology from the Philippines)