Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Who was Savitribai Phule?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Savitribhai Phule

Mains level: Not Much


Recently, 192nd birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule, w/o Jyotiba Phule (the pioneer of Satyashodhak Samaj) was celebrated.

Who was Savitribai Phule?

  • A Dalit woman from the Mali community, Savitribai was born on January 3, 1831, in Maharashtra’s Naigaon village.
  • Married off at the age of 10, her husband Jyotirao Phule is said to have educated her at home.
  • Later, Jyotirao admitted Savitribai to a teachers’ training institution in Pune.
  • Throughout their life, the couple supported each other and in doing so, broke many social barriers.

Pioneering first school for girls in India

  • At a time when it was considered unacceptable for women to even attain education, the couple went on to open a school for girls in Bhidewada, Pune, in 1848.
  • This became the country’s first girls’ school.

Opposition to Phules’ schools

  • The Phules opened more such schools for girls, Shudras and Ati-Shudras (the backward castes and Dalits, respectively) in Pune.
  • This led to discontent among Indian nationalists like Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
  • They opposed the setting up of schools for girls and non-Brahmins, citing a “loss of nationality”, and believing not following the caste rules would mean a loss of nationality itself.
  • Savitribai herself faced great animosity from the upper castes, including instances of physical violence.
  • When serving as the headmistress of the first school in Bhide Wada, upper-caste men often pelted stones and threw mud and cow dung on her.

Phule’s role as a social reformer, beyond education

  • Infanticide prevention: Along with Jyotirao, Savitribai started the Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha (‘Home for the Prevention of Infanticide’) for pregnant widows facing discrimination.
  • Child adoption: The Phules also adopted Yashwantrao, the child of a widow, whom they educated to become a doctor.
  • Reforms in marriages: Savitribai Phule also advocated inter-caste marriages, widow remarriage, and eradication of child marriage, sati and dowry systems, among other social issues.
  • Denouncing Brahmanical ritualism: As an extension, they started ‘Satyashodhak Marriage’ – a rejection of Brahmanical rituals where the marrying couple takes a pledge to promote education and equality.
  • Bubonic plague mitigation: Savitribai became involved in relief work during the 1896 famine in Maharashtra and the 1897 Bubonic plague. She herself contracted the disease while taking a sick child to the hospital, and breathed her last on March 10, 1897.

Savitribai’s literary works

  • Savitribai Phule published her first collection of poems, called Kavya Phule (‘Poetry’s Blossoms’), at the age of 23 in 1854.
  • She published Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar (‘The Ocean of Pure Gems’), in 1892.
  • Besides these works, Matushri Savitribai Phulenchi Bhashane va Gaani (Savitribai Phule’s speeches and songs’), and her letters to her husband have also been published.


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