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About Jyotirao Phule [ 1827-1890 ] Biography & Life History Of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule

This eminent social reformer and thinker of the 19th century is believed to have launched the first school for girls from the lower strata of society. He also pioneered the anti-caste movement and promoted education for women.

About Jyotirao Phule | Biography & Life History Of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule
Jyotirao Phule/ image- the quint

Jyothirao Govindrao Phule
was born in 11 April 1827 into a family that belonged to the agricultural (Mali) caste, traditionally occupied as gardeners and considered to be one of the Shudhra varna in the ritual ranking system of Hinduism. The original surname of the family had been Gorhe and had its origins in the village of Katgun, in present day Satara District, Maharashtra. Phule's great-grandfather worked as a chaugula, a lowly type of village servant, in that village but had to move to Khanwadi in Poona district after exploitation by Brahmin with whom he had a dispute.

He prospered there but his only son, Shetiba, who was of poor intelligence, subsequently squandered what had been gained. Shetiba moved himself and his family, including three boys, to Poona in search of some form of income. The boys were taken under the wing of a florist, who taught them his trade. Their proficiency in growing and arranging became well known and they adopted the name of Phule (flower-man) in place of Gorhe.

Their fulfilment of commissions from the Peshwa, Baji Rao II, for flower mattresses and other goods for the rituals and ceremonies of the royal court so impressed him that he granted them 35 acres (14 ha) of land on the basis of the inam system, whereby no tax would be payable upon it. The oldest brother machinated to take sole control of the property, leaving the younger two siblings, including Jyotirao Phule's father, Govindrao, to continue farming and also flower-selling.

Govindrao married Chimnabai and had two sons, of whom Jyotirao was the younger. Chimnabai died before he was aged one. The Mali community did not set much store by education, and after attending primary school to learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, Jyotirao was withdrawn from school.

He joined the menfolk of his family at work, both in the shop and the farm. However, a Christian convert from the same Mali caste as Phule recognised his intelligence and persuaded Phule's father to allow Phule to attend the local Scottish Mission High School. Phule completed his English schooling in 1847. As was customary, he was married young, at the age of 13, to a girl of his own community, chosen by his father.

The turning point in his life was in 1848, when he attended the wedding of a Brahmin friend. Phule participated in the customary marriage procession, but was later rebuked and insulted by his friend's parents for doing that. They told him that he being from a lower caste should have had the sense to keep away from that ceremony. This incident profoundly affected Phule on the injustice of the caste system.

Younge Jyotirao Phule

Phule was a bright student at primary school, where he learned the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. It was not common for children from the Mali community to study beyond a certain point. So, Jyotirao Phule was taken out of school and began working with his father at their farm. Soon after, a neighbour convinced Phule’s father to let him complete his education.

In 1841, Phule was enrolled at the Scottish Missionary High School, where he completed education. Phule was married to Savitribai in 1840 when they were both in their teens. In 1848, he attended the wedding of one his friends from an upper caste. When relatives of the bridegroom insulted Phule over his social background, he left the venue, vowing to challenge the ills of the caste system.

Social reformer

Jyotirao Phule was influenced by Thomas Paine’s book titled The Rights of Man and believed that the only solution to combat the social evils was the enlightenment of women and members of the lower castes. In 1848, he taught his wife how to read and write, after which the couple opened the first indigenously run school for girls in Pune where they both taught. The school welcomed girls from diverse sections, religions and socio-economic backgrounds — to come and study.

Phule and his wife were ostracised. The couple was, however, welcomed by their friend Usman Sheikh at the latter’s home from where the girls’ school operated. By 1852, the Phules had established three schools but all of them had shut by 1858 due to the shortage of funds after the Revolt of 1857. Phule vehemently opposed child-marriage and supported widow remarriage. In 1863, he, along with his friend and wife, opened an infanticide prevention centre where pregnant widows could safely give birth and care for infants. They ran the centre until the mid-1880s.

Social activism

In 1848, aged 23, Phule visited the first girls' school in Ahmadnagar, run by Christian missionaries. It was also in 1848 that he read Thomas Paine's book Rights of Man and developed a keen sense of social justice. He realised that lower castes and women were at a disadvantage in Indian society, and also that education of these sections was vital to their emancipation.
Phule on a 1977 stamp of India
Phule on a 1977 stamp of India

To this end and in the same year, Phule first taught reading and writing to his wife, Savitribai, and then the couple started the first indigenously-run school for girls in Pune in his book Gulamgiri, Phule says that the first school was for brahmin and upper caste girls, however Phule's biographer says it was for low caste girls. osracised for this by their family and community, their friend Usman Sheikh and his sister Fatima Sheikh provided them their home to stay.

They also helped to start the school in their premises. Later, the Phules started schools for children from the then untouchable castes such as Mahar and Mang. In 1852, there were three Phule schools in operation but by 1858 they had all ended. Eleanor Zelliot blames the closure on private European donations drying up due to the Mutiny of 1857, withdrawal of government support, and Jyotirao resigning from the school management committee because of disagreement regarding the curriculum.

He championed widow remarriage and started a home for pregnant Brahmin widows to give birth in a safe and secure place in 1863. His orphanage was established in an attempt to reduce the rate of infanticide. 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.

Views on religion and caste

Phule recast the prevailing Aryan invasion theory of history, proposing that the Aryan conquerors of India, whom the theory's proponents considered to be racially superior, were in fact barbaric suppressors of the indigenous people. He believed that they had instituted the caste system as a framework for subjugation and social division that ensured the pre-eminence of their Brahmin successors.

He saw the subsequent Muslim conquests of the Indian subcontinent as more of the same sort of thing, being a repressive alien regime, but took heart in the arrival of the British, whom he considered to be relatively enlightened and not supportive of the varnashramadharma system instigated and then perpetuated by those previous invaders. In his book, Gulamgiri, he thanked Christian missionaries and the British colonists for making the lower castes realise that they are worthy of all human rights. The book, whose title transliterates as slavery and which concerned women, caste and reform, was dedicated to the people in the US who were working to end slavery.

Phule saw Rama, the hero of the Indian epic Ramayana, as a symbol of oppression stemming from the Aryan conquest. His critique of the caste system began with an attack on the Vedas, the most fundamental texts of upper-caste Hindus. He considered them to be a form of false consciousness.

He is credited with introducing the Marathi word dalit (broken, crushed) as a descriptor for those people who were outside the traditional varna system. The terminology was later popularised in the 1970s by the Dalit Panthers.

At an education commission hearing in 1884, Phule called for help in providing education for lower castes. To implement it, he advocated making primary education compulsory in villages. He also asked for special incentives to get more lower-caste people in high schools and colleges.

Sathyashodhak Samaj

On 24 September 1873, Phule formed Satyashodhak Samaj to focus on rights of depressed groups such women, the Shudra, and the Dalit. Through this the samaj he opposed idolatry and denounced the caste system. Satyashodhak Samaj campaigned for the spread of rational thinking and rejected the need for priests.

Phule established Satyashodhak Samaj with the ideals of human well-being, happiness, unity, equality, and easy religious principles and rituals. A Pune-based newspaper, Deenbandhu, provided the voice for the views of the Samaj.

The membership of the samaj included MuslimsBrahmans, and government officials.However,non-Brahman castes dominated. Phule's own Mali caste provided the leading members and financial supporters for the organization.


Apart from his role as a social activist, Phule was a businessman too. In 1882 he styled himself as a merchant, cultivator and municipal contractor.[24] He owned 60 acres (24 ha) of farmland at Manjri, near Pune. For period of time, he worked as a contractor for the government and supplied building materials required for the construction of a dam on the Mula-Mutha river near Pune in the 1870s. He also received contracts to provide labour for the construction of the Katraj Tunnel and the Yerawda Jail near Pune. One of Phule's businesses, established in 1863, was to supply metal-casting equipment.

Phule was appointed commissioner (municipal council member) to the then Poona municipality in 1876 and served in this unelected position until 1883.

Books, Legacy

Phule was also a merchant, author as well as a municipal council member. In 1863, one of his businesses was to supply metal-casting equipment to construction sites. He was appointed commissioner to the Poona municipality and served in the position until 1883. He was also a reputed author. His well known books include Gulamgiri (Slavery) and Shetkarayacha Aasud (Cultivator’s Whipcord). Dhananjay Keer, the author of Phule’s biography, said that the title of Mahatma was bestowed on Phule by fellow reformer from Bombay, Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar.

Death of Jyotirao Phule

In 1888, Phule suffered a stroke which left him paralysed. Although he passed away on November 28, 1890, he and his work continue to inspire several of the country’s youth even today.

Interesting facts of Jyotirao Phule

1.Phule is credited with introducing the Marathi word dalit (meaning broken, crushed) to describe those outside the varna system. In the 1970s, the term was made popular by the Dalit Panthers.

2.Phule inspired BR Ambedkar, India’s first law minister and architect of our Constitution. Ambedkar not only acknowledged Phule as one of his three gurus but also drew inspiration from him.

3.In 1884, at a hearing of the education commission, Phule demanded compulsory primary education in villages and incentives for the socially underprivileged in schools and colleges.

4.After many years of marriage, when Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai did not have children. In 1873, the couple adopted the son of a widow who came to their infanticide prevention centre for delivery.

5.He started the Satyashodhak marriage system which involved marriage rituals and alternative verses that contained egalitarian content. The Bombay HC later recognised this system.

Published works

Phule's akhandas were organically linked to the abhangs of Marathi Varkari saint Tukaram.[28] Among his notable published works are:

  • Tritiya Ratna, 1855
  • Brahmananche Kasab,1869
  • Powada : Chatrapati Shivajiraje Bhosle Yancha, [English: Life Of Shivaji, In Poetical Metre], June 1869
  • Powada: Vidyakhatyatil Brahman Pantoji, June 1869
  • Manav Mahammand (Muhammad) (Abhang)
  • Gulamgiri, 1873
  • Shetkarayacha Aasud (Cultivator's Whipcord), July 1881
  • Satsar Ank 1, June 1885
  • Satsar Ank 2, October 1885
  • Ishara, October 1885
  • Gramjoshya sambhandi jahir kabhar, (1886)
  • Satyashodhak Samajokt Mangalashtakasah Sarva Puja-vidhi, 1887
  • Sarvajanik Satya Dharma Poostak, April 1889
  • Sarvajanic Satya Dharmapustak, 1891
  • Akhandadi Kavyarachana
  • Asprashyanchi Kaifiyat

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