Mahatma Jyotirao Govindrao Phule
Mahatma Jyotirao Govindrao Phule, also known as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule was an activist, thinker, social reformer and revolutionary from Maharashtra in the nineteenth century. His remarkable influence was apparent in fields like education, agriculture, caste system, women and widow upliftment and removal of untouchability. He is most known in society for his efforts to educate women and the lower castes. He, after educating his wife, opened the first school for girls in India in August 1848. In September, 1873, Jyotirao, along with this followers, formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) with Jyotirao as its first president and treasurer. The main objective of the organisation was to liberate the Shudras and Ati-Shudras and to prevent their 'exploitation' by the Brahmins. For his fight to attain equal rights for peasants and the lower caste and his contribution to the field of education he is regarded as one of the most important figure in Social Reform Movement.
Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was born in Satara district of Maharastra. His father, Govindrao, was a vegetable vendor, and his mother died when he was 9 months old. After completing his primary education, Jyotirao had to leave the school and help his father by working on the family's farm. He was married at the age of 12. His intelligence was recognised by a Muslim and a Christian neighbor, who persuaded his father to allow Jyotirao to attend the local Scottish Mission's High School, which he completed in 1847. Influenced by Thomas Paine books Rights of Man, Phule developed a keen sense of social justice, becoming passionately critical of the Indian caste system. He argued that education of women and the lower castes was a vital priority in addressing social inequalities.
Mahatma Phule portrayed Aryans as invaders and Lower caste people as original inhabitants of India, and described Aryan culture along with caste system as alien to these original people whom he termed Bahujan Samaj.Phule called these invaders Brahmins and brave original inhabitants Kshatriya . On 24 September 1873, Rashtrapita Mahatma Jyotirao Govindrao Phule formed the 'Satya Shodhak Samaj' (Society of Seekers of Truth) with himself as its first president and treasurer. The main objectives of the organisation were to liberate the Shudras and Ati Shudras and to prevent their 'exploitation' by the Brahmins . Through this SatyaShodhak Samaj, Mahatma Phule refused to regard the Vedas as sacrosanct. He opposed idolatry and denounced the chaturvarnya system (the caste system). According to SatyaShodhak Samaj, existence of God was replaced by Nirmik, the creator. SatyaShodhak Samaj propounded the spread of rational thinking and rejected the need for a Brahman priestly class as educational and religious leaders. Phule, in an attempt to explain caste oppression, turned the Aryan theory of race upside down. According to this inverted theory, the Aryans were indeed of foreign origin, but were far from superior compared to the race they conquered. "They were cruel and violent invaders who had overturned an originally prosperous and egalitarian society." Brahman rule, supported by state power and religious hegemony, was seen as the root cause of oppression for the lower-caste indigenous masses. When Phule established the SatyaShodhak Samaj, Krantijyoti Savitribai became the head of the women's section which included ninety female members. Moreover, she worked tirelessly as a first women school teacher for India. On his death bed Phule is rumored to have turned to his wife and said "You must carry on our work with the same determination and spirit." Deenbandhu, the mouthpiece of the Satya Shodhak Samaj, played an important role in SatyaShodhak Samaj’s movement. After Mahatma Phule's death in 1890 his spirited followers went on spreading the movement to the remotest parts of Maharashtra. Soon Shahu Maharaj, the ruler of Kolhapur princely state, gave a lot of financial and moral support and Satya Shodhak Samaj in its new incarnation as non-brahmin party carried on the work of superstition removal vigorously. Two instances from the lives of two devoted leaders of Satya Shodhak Samaj in this period can be cited at the outset. The first of these relates to the life of Bhaskarrao Jadhav, the veteran non-brahmin leader. When Shahu Maharaj, who was humiliated in the Vedokta controversy, had set up Kshatra Jagatguru, Bhaskarrao opposed the move. On top of it, when all leaders including Shahu Maharaj saluted kshatra Jagatguru, Bhaskarrao boldly declared that being a Satya Shodhak he could not bow his head before any religious leaders. Ideas of Satya Shodhak Samaj defy not just Brahmin preists of religion, but also the whole institution of priesthood and the caste system based on inequality by birth. This is because at the root of the caste system is the superstition that sponsors the feelings of superiority of higher castes and the feelings of inferiority of lower castes. The second instance relates to a strong and successful worker of Satya Shodhak Samaj, Once Shahu Maharaj had called Baburao Yadav for some work but he was very late in turning up. Naturally Maharaj asked him about the delay. Baburao took Maharaj to the balcony and from that balcony he pointed the bullock-carts resting at a distance. Maharaj could not understand the point. Soon, however Maharaj saw that Baburao Yadav's bullock cart was full of red coloured stones of different sizes. Maharaj further asked Yadav to explain how his late coming was related to those stones. Then Yadav explained, " Sir I was delayed in reaching your palace because on the way I collected all these stones anointed with red sindhur, as these so called gods sitting on the boundaries of the village farms were responsible for converting villagers into stones! I collected all of them in my cart. That is why I was delayed in reaching here." These two instances reveal how Satya Shodhak Samaj had created the psyche against blind faith from top to bottom of the movement. Jotiba firmly believed that if you want to create a new social system based on freedom, equality, brotherhood, human dignity, economic justice and value devoid of exploitation, you will have to overthrow the old, unequal and exploitative social system and the values on which it is based. Knowing this well, Mahatma Phule attacked blind faith and faith in what is given in religious books and the so-called god's words. He tore to pieces the misleading myths that were ruling over the minds of women, shudras and ati-shudras. Yielding to god or fate, astrology and other such rubbish rituals, sacredness, god-men, etc. was deemed irrational and absurd. This was explained by giving innumerable examples. He also led campaigns to remove the economic and social handicaps that breed blind faith among women, shudras and ati-shudras. Mahatma Phule subjected religious texts and religious behavior to the tests of rationalism. He characterised this faith as outwardly religious but in essence politically motivated movements. He accused them of upholding the teachings of religion and refusing to rationally analyse religious teachings. He maintained that at the root of all calamities was the blind faith that religious books were created or inspired by god. Therefore, Mahatma Phule wanted to abolish this blind faith in the first instance. All established religious and priestly classes find this blind faith useful for their purposes and they try their best to defend it. He questions " if there is only one God, who created the whole mankind, why did he write the Vedas only in Sanskrit language despite his anxiety for the welfare of the whole mankind? What about the welfare of those who do not understand this language?" Phule concludes that it is untenable to say that religious texts were God-created. To believe so is only ignorance and prejudice. All religions and their religious texts are man-made and they represent the selfish interest of the classes, which are trying to pursue and protect their selfish ends by constructing such books. Mahatma Phule was the only sociologist and humanist in his time that could put forth such bold ideas. In his view, every religious book is a product of its time and the truths it contains have no permanent and universal validity. Again these texts can never be free from the prejudices and the selfishness of the authors of such books. Phule believed in overthrowing the social system in which man has been deliberately made dependent on others, illiterate, ignorant and poor, with a view to exploiting him. To him blind faith eradication formed part of a broad socioeconomic transformation. This was his strategy for ending exploitation of human beings. Mere advice, education and alternative ways of living are not enough, unless the economic framework of exploitation comes to an end. After Mahatma Phule's death in 1890, there was a period of lull, when the flame lit by Mahatma Phule waned. The SatyaShodhak Samaj movement was totally a social movement and nothing to do with the politics, but the members of SatyaShodhak Samaj dissolved SatyaShodhak Samaj and merged it with Congress party in 1930. Mahatma Phule had a favourable opinion about the British Rule in India at least from the point of view of introducing modern notions of justice and equality in Indian society and taking India into the future. He was however a Hindu. His akhandas were based on the abhangs of Hindu saint Tukaram. He believed that his teachings were the same of the Bhakti (without the racism) His own hero was Chhatrapati Shivaji, whom he connected to backward-caste heritage.
He was assisted in his work by his wife, Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule, and together they started the first school for girls in India in 1848, for which he was forced to leave his home. He initiated widow-remarriage and started a home for upper caste widows in 1854, as well as a home for new-born infants to prevent female infanticide. Mahatma Phule tried to eliminate the stigma of social Untouchability surrounding the lower castes by opening his house and the use of his water-well to the members of the lower castes. He formed Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) on September 24 1873, a group whose main aim was to liberate the social Shudra and Untouchables castes from exploitation and oppression. Mahatma Phule was a member of Pune municipality from 1876 to 1882.
Some of India's first modern feminists were closely associated with Mahatma Phule, including his wife Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule; Pandita Ramabai, a Brahmin woman who made waves in the atmosphere of liberal reformism; Tarabai Shinde, the non-brahmin author of a fiery tract on gender inequality which was largely ignored at the time but has recently become well-known; and Muktabai, a fourteen-year-old pupil in Mahatma Phule’s school, whose essay on the social oppression of the Mang and Mahar castes is also now justly famous.
The extreme fertility of the soil in India, its rich productions, the proverbial wealth of its people, and the other innumerable gifts which this favored land enjoys, and which have more recently tempted the cupidity of the Western nations, no doubt, attracted the Aryans, who came to India, not as simple emigrants with peaceful intentions of colonization, but as conquerors. They appear to have been a race imbued with very high notions of self, extremely cunning, arrogant and bigoted. Such self-gratulatory, pride-flattering epithets as 'arya' , 'bhudev' etc., with which they designated themselves, confirm us in our opinion of their primitive character, which they have preserved up to the present time, with, perhaps, little change for the better. The aborigines whom the Aryans subjugated, or displaced, appear to have been a hardy and brave people from the determined front which they offered to these interlopers. Such opprobrious terms, as Shudra 'insignificant,' 'Mahari' - 'the great foe' atayanj, chandal etc. with which they designated them, undoubtedly show that originally they offered the greatest resistance in their power to their establishing themselves in the country, and hence the great aversion and hatred in which they are held.
My object in writing the present volume is not only to tell my Shudra brethren how they have been duped by the Brahmin, but also to open the eyes of Government to that pernicious system of high-class education which has hitherto been so persistently followed and which statesmen like Sir George Campbell, the present Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, with broad and universal sympathies, are finding to be highly mischievous and pernicious to the interests of Government.
It is no less the duty of such of my Shudra brethren as having received any education to place before Government the true state of their fellowmen and endeavor to the best of their power to emancipate themselves from Brahmin thralldom. Let there be schools for the Shudras in every village; but away with all Brahmin school-masters! The Shudras are the life and sinews of the country.
- Mahatma Jyotirao Phule
[PREFACE by Mahatma Phule himself to his work `SLAVERY']
Click to view PREFACE to his work `SLAVERY' by Mahatma Phule