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Biography of Jyotiba Phule, Social Reformer Who Dedicated His Life To Dalit

Biography of Jyotiba Phule: Jyotiba Phule, born on April 11, 1827, in present-day Maharashtra, India, was a prominent social reformer, thinker, and activist during the British colonial rule. He dedicated his life to challenging the prevailing caste-based social order and advocating for the rights of marginalized communities, especially Dalits and women.

Phule vehemently criticized the oppressive caste system, untouchability, and gender discrimination. He established schools for girls and lower-caste children, promoting education as a means to empower the oppressed. Through his writings and speeches, Phule inspired a social awakening and fought for social justice, equality, and the upliftment of the oppressed masses in India.

Early Life of Jyotiba Phule

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule, born in 1827 in the Satara district of Maharashtra, India, hailed from a marginalized community known as the Malis. Originally called the “Gorhay” caste, the Malis were considered inferior by the Brahmins and faced social exclusion. After the early loss of his mother, Jyotirao’s family struggled financially, forcing him to discontinue his studies and work on their farm.

However, a neighbor recognized his intelligence and convinced his father to send him to school. In 1841, Jyotirao enrolled in the Scottish Mission’s High School in Poona and completed his education in 1847. During his time at school, he developed a lifelong friendship with Sadashiv Ballal Govande, a Brahmin. At the young age of thirteen, Jyotirao married Savitribai.

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Jyotiba Phule as a Social Reformer

Jyotirao Phule was deeply influenced by Thomas Paine’s book, “The Rights of Man,” which inspired him to fight against social injustices. He strongly believed that the key to addressing these issues lay in empowering women and marginalized communities. In 1848, Phule took the ground-breaking step of teaching his wife, Savitribai, how to read and write. Together, they established the first indigenous school for girls in Pune, where they provided education to girls from different backgrounds and religions.
However, their progressive initiatives faced opposition, and they were ostracized by society. Thankfully, their friend Usman Sheikh welcomed them into his home, which became the operating base for the girls’ school. By 1852, the Phules had established three schools, but due to financial constraints after the Revolt of 1857, all of them had to be closed by 1858. Phule strongly opposed child marriage and advocated for widow remarriage.
In 1863, Phule, along with his wife and friend, established an infanticide prevention center. This center provided a safe space for pregnant widows to give birth and care for their infants. They dedicatedly ran the center until the mid-1880s, tirelessly working to uplift marginalized sections of society and challenge regressive customs and beliefs.

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Foundation of Satya Shodhak Samaj by Jyotiba Phule

Jyotiba Phule founded the Satya Shodhak Samaj, also known as the Society of Seekers of Truth, in 1873. This organization aimed to challenge and dismantle the prevailing caste system and promote equality in society. Phule conducted a systematic critique of historical ideas and beliefs, particularly denouncing the ancient Hindu texts known as the Vedas. He traced the origins of Brahmanism and accused the Brahmins of enforcing oppressive regulations to maintain their social dominance while suppressing and exploiting the lower castes.
Phule coined the term “Dalits” to encompass all those considered lower caste and untouchable by the Brahmins. The Satya Shodhak Samaj welcomed individuals from all castes and classes, even extending an invitation to Jews to join. By 1876, the Samaj had gathered 316 members who shared the vision of eradicating caste prejudice and empowering the marginalized lower castes.
To demonstrate his inclusive mindset and egalitarian values, Phule built a communal bathing tank outside his home in 1868. This gesture symbolized his willingness to interact and dine with people of any caste, breaking the barriers imposed by the discriminatory caste system.

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Jyotiba Phule’s Contribution to Women Education

Jyotiba Phule was a strong advocate for women’s education and empowerment, and he found a valuable ally in his wife, Savitribai Phule. Despite the prevailing social norms of the time, Savitribai became one of the few educated women of her generation, thanks to Jyotiba’s tutelage.
In 1851, Jyotiba took a significant step by establishing a girls’ school and entrusted Savitribai with the responsibility of teaching the girls. This marked the beginning of their efforts to provide education to girls, an opportunity that was scarce at the time. Inspired by their success, Jyotiba went on to establish two more schools for girls and an indigenous school specifically catering to the marginalized lower castes, particularly the Mahars and Mangs.
Recognizing the dire conditions faced by widows in society, Jyotiba took up the cause of widow remarriage.

He established an ashram to provide a safe haven for young widows and became a vocal proponent of the idea. During this period, society was deeply patriarchal, and women, especially widows, faced immense hardships. Female infanticide and child marriages were prevalent, with young girls being married off to much older men. To address these issues, Jyotiba founded an orphanage in 1854, offering refuge to these vulnerable children and shielding them from the cruelties of society.
Jyotiba Phule’s efforts in the realms of education, women’s rights, and social reforms were groundbreaking for his time. He and Savitribai tirelessly worked to challenge the prevailing norms and bring about positive change, leaving a lasting impact on the lives of countless individuals.

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Death of Jyotiba Phule

Jyotiba Phule’s relentless efforts in championing social reforms took a toll on his health, both physically and mentally. He faced considerable opposition and criticism from conservative sections of society, particularly the upper castes who vehemently opposed his progressive ideas. Despite the challenges, Jyotiba remained steadfast in his mission until his untimely death.
Tragically, Jyotiba Phule passed away on November 28, 1890, at the age of 63. His demise was a significant loss to the social reform movement in India. His relentless fight for equality, education, and justice had earned him both respect and adversaries.
Jyotiba Phule’s legacy lived on through the organizations he had founded, such as the Satya Shodhak Samaj, which continued to advocate for social justice and equality. His ideas and teachings inspired generations of social reformers who carried forward his vision.
Although Jyotiba Phule may have left this world, his ideas and principles continue to resonate even today. He remains an icon of social reform, remembered for his unwavering commitment to dismantling social hierarchies and uplifting the oppressed. His contributions to the empowerment of marginalized communities and the pursuit of social justice have left an indelible mark on the history of India.

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Who was Jyotiba Phule?

Jyotiba Phule was a renowned social reformer in India who fought against social injustices and worked towards the upliftment of marginalized communities, particularly Dalits.

When and where was Jyotiba Phule born?

Jyotiba Phule was born in 1827 in Satara district, Maharashtra, India.

What was the Satya Shodhak Samaj?

The Satya Shodhak Samaj was an organization founded by Jyotiba Phule in 1873. Its aim was to challenge caste-based discrimination, promote equality, and empower marginalized communities.

What were some of Jyotiba Phule's beliefs?

Jyotiba Phule believed in the importance of social equality, women's rights, and the need to challenge oppressive social structures such as caste-based discrimination.

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