Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Who was Fatima Sheikh (1831-1900)?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Fatima Sheikh

Mains level: Pioneers of girl child education in India


Teaching pioneer Fatima Shaikh was recently honoured with a Google Doodle on her birthday.

Fatima Sheikh

  • Fatima Sheikh was an educator and social reformer, who was a colleague of the social reformers Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule.
  • She is widely considered to be India’s first Muslim woman teacher.
  • Fatima Sheikh was the sister of Mian Usman Sheikh, in whose house Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule took up residence.
  • One of the first Muslim women teachers of modern India, she started educating Bahujan children in Phules’ school.

Association with Phules

  • Under pressure from upper castes, Jyotirao’s father evicted Savitribai and Jyotirao from the family home in the late 1840s.
  • With nowhere else to go, the Phules would find shelter at the house of Mian Usman Sheikh, where they would live till 1856.
  • As many from their own community abandoned them, Fatima Sheikh and her brother stood strongly with the Phules and the mission to educate girls and bahujans.
  • Sheikh met Savitribai Phule while both were enrolled at a teacher training institution run by Cynthia Farrar, an American missionary.
  • She taught at all five schools that the Phules went on to establish and she taught children of all religions and castes.
  • Sheikh took part in the founding of two schools in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1851.

Determined amidst opposition

  • In Pune, a conservative bastion of culture and tradition, the very act of trying to educate the underprivileged caused uproar.
  • It is said that the two women would often have stones and pieces of dung thrown at them while walking in the streets.
  • Fatima specifically is said to have borne the wrath of both upper-castes and radical orthodox sections.


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