Jyotirao Phule

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Jyotirao Phule, ज्योतिराव गोविंदराव फुले
Born (1827-04-11)11 April 1827
talu(bhiwani),,[1] Pune, British India (present-day Maharashtra, India)
Died 28 November 1890(1890-11-28) (aged 63)
Pune, British India (present-day Maharashtra, India)
Other names Mahatma Phule / Jyotiba Phule/ Jotiba Phule / Jotirao Phule
Spouse(s) Savitribai Phule
Era 19th-century philosophy
Main interests
Ethics, religion, humanism

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule[a] (11 April 1827 – 28 November 1890) was an Indian social activist, a thinker, anti-caste social reformer and writer from Maharashtra.[2][3]

His work extended to many fields including eradication of untouchability and the caste system, women's emancipation and the reform of Hindu family life. On September 1873, Phule, along with his followers, formed the Satyashodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) to attain equal rights for people from lower castes. Phule is regarded as an important figure of the social reform movement in Maharashtra He and his wife, Savitribai Phule, were pioneers of women's education in India. He is most known for his efforts to educate women and lower caste people.The couple were among the first native Indians to open a school for girls in India in August 1848.

Early life[edit]

Jotirao Govindrao Phule was born into a virtually illiterate family that belonged to the agricultural Mali caste. The original surname of the family had been Gorhay(गोऱ्हे).The ancestral village of the family was Katgun, in present day Khatav taluka of Satara District (now in Maharashtra state). Phule's great grandfather worked as chaugula, a village servant. Jyotiba's great granddfather had settled in Khanwadi in near Sawad in present day Pune district.. There a son was born, Shetiba, a grandfather of Jyotiba Phule and his grandfather prospered after starting a business of selling flowers, garlands and flower arrangements for religious and social events like weddings and their surname has been changed to Phule. [4] The family owned some farmland as well as a shop in the city. Since Phule's father and two uncles served as florists under the last of the Peshwas, whose patronage they enjoyed, the family came to be known as 'Phule' (flower-man).[5][need quotation to verify]

Phule's father, Govindrao, carried on the family business along with his brothers. His mother, Chimnabai, died when he was only nine months old, and he had one elder brother. The Mali community did not set much store by education, and after attending primary school to learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, Phule 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's High School run by Murray Mitchell.[6] Phule completed his English schooling in 1847. As per custom, he was married young, at the age of 13, to a girl of his own community, chosen by his father.[citation needed]

The turning point in his life was in 1848, when he attended the wedding of a friend, who was a Brahmin. 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.[citation needed]

Social activism[edit]

In 1848, Jyotiba visited the first girl's school in Ahmadnagar, run by Christian missionaries. It was also in 1848 that Young Jyotiba read Thomas Paine's book Rights of Man (1791), 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.[7]

To this end, Jyotirao at the age of 23 first taught reading and writing to his wife, Savitribai, and then the couple started the first indigenously run school for girls in Pune in 1848, for which he was forced to leave his parental home. When they were ostracised by their family and community, their friend Usman Sheikh and his sister Fatima Sheikh provided them their home to stay and helped them to start the very first girl's school in their premises.[8] Later they started schools for children from Dalit castes of Mahar and Mang.[9] In 1852, three schools established by Jyotirao were running. Unfortunately, by 1858, they had all stopped. Eleanor Zelliott 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 on the school curriculum.[10] He championed widow remarriage and started a home for pregnant brahmin widows to give birth in a safe and secure place in 1863.[11],[12] 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[edit]

Untouchable castes in Pune during Jyotiba's time were kept segregated from the rest of the society[13]. Jyotiba did not like this kind of discrimination. He also saw Rama, the hero of the Indian epic Ramayana as a symbol of oppression stemming from the Aryan conquest.[14] Phule's critique of the caste system began with his attack on the Vedas, the most fundamental texts of upper caste Hindus.[15] He considered them to be a form of false consciousness.[16]. He criticised the role of Brahmins in Hindu society and blamed the Brahmins as conspiring to keep the lower castes oppressed and suppressed. In his book, Gulamgiri, He openly thanks Christian missionaries and the British colonists for making the lower castes realise that they are worthy of all human rights too[17]

Phule believed in overthrowing the social system in which people had been deliberately made dependent on others, illiterate, ignorant and poor, with a view to exploiting them. To him blind faith eradication formed part of a broad socio-economic 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. His most famous poem reads: “Lack of education leads to lack of wisdom, / Which leads to lack of morals, / Which leads to lack of progress, / Which leads to lack of money, / Which leads to the oppression of the lower classes, / See what state of the society one lack of education can cause!”

Notably he dedicated his book Gulamgiri ( slavery), a seminal on women, Caste and reform, to the African American movement to end slavery.[18] His akhandas were organically linked to the abhangs of Marathi Varkari saint Tukaram[19]

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.[20]

At an education commission hearing in 1884, Phule also 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[21]

Satyashodhak Samaj[edit]

On 24 September 1873, Phule formed Satyashodhak Samaj (Society of the seekers of truth), to focus on rights of depressed classes.[12][22] As the first president and treasurer, he opposed idolatry and denounced the caste system. Satyashodhak Samaj campaigned for the spread of rational thinking and rejected the need for priests. Savitribai became the head of the women's section, which included ninety female members.[citation needed] After Phule's death in 1890 his followers continued the Samaj campaign in the remote parts of Maharashtra.[citation needed].After Jyotiba and Savitribai, the activities of the samaj were supported by Chhatrapati Shahu, the Maratha ruler of Kolhapur State[23].


Apart from his role as a social activist, Phule was a businessman too. In 1882 memorial, he styled himself as a merchant, cultivator and Municipal Contractor.[24]

Jyotirao owned 60 acres of farmland at Manjri near Pune.[25] 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.[26].Apart from the dam, he also got contracts to provide labor for the construction of the Katraj Tunnel and the Yerawda Jail near Pune[27] One of Phule's businesses, established in 1863, was to supply metal-casting equipment.[28]

Phule was appointed Commissioner (Municipal Council Member) to the then Poona municipality in 1876 and served in this unelected position until 1883.[29]


According to Keer,[30] Phule was bestowed with the title of Mahatma on 11 May 1888 by another social reformer from Bombay, Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar.

Phule has been commemorated numerous times in Maharashtra as well as other parts of India. Universities (such as in Jaipur), museums (Pune), vegetable markets (Pune, Mumbai) have been named after him.

Court of Directors, London had acknowledged his work among so-called lower castes.[31]

Published works[edit]

Among Phule's notable published works are:[32]

  • 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


A statue of Jyotiba Phule in the town of Karad, Satara district

An early biography of Phule was the Marathi-language Mahatma Jotirao Phule yanche charitra (P. S. Patil, Chikali: 1927).[33] Two others are Mahatma Phule. Caritra Va Kriya (Mahatma Phule. Life and Work) (A. K. Ghorpade, Poona: 1953), which is also in Marathi, and Mahatma Jyotibha Phule: Father of Our Social Revolution (Dhananjay Keer, Bombay: 1974). Unpublished material relating to him is held by the Bombay State Committee on the History of the Freedom Movement.[34]

There are many structures and places commemorating Phule. These include:

Mahatma Phule inspired Babasaheb Ambedkar, the first minister of law of Republic India and the architect of Indian Constitution.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ There are numerous variant spellings of Phule's name. These include Jotirao, Jotibha, and Phooley.


  1. ^ Garge, S. M., Editor, Bhartiya Samajvigyan Kosh, Vol. III, Page. No. 321, published by Samajvigyan Mandal, Pune
  2. ^ Culture, Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy, and (2006-04-17). Political Ideas in Modern India: Thematic Explorations. SAGE. ISBN 9780761934202. 
  3. ^ REGE, SHARMILA (2010). "Education as "Trutiya Ratna": Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice". Economic and Political Weekly. 45 (44/45): 88–98. 
  4. ^ Keer, Dhananjay (1974). Mahatma Jotirao Phooley: Father of the Indian Social Revolution (1. publ. ed.). Mumbai [Mumbai]: Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd. p. 295. ISBN 81-7154-066-X. 
  5. ^ P.G. Patil, Collected Works of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Vol. II, published by Education department, Govt. of Maharashtra
  6. ^ O'Hanlon, Rosalind (1985). Caste, conflict, and ideology : Mahatma Jotirao and low caste protest in nineteenth-century western India (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press. p. 110. ISBN 0521266157. 
  7. ^ O'Hanlon, Rosalind (1985). Caste, conflict, and ideology : Mahatma Jotirao Phule and low caste protest in nineteenth-century western India (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press. pp. 110–113. ISBN 0521266157. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  8. ^ Mohan, Siddhant. "Remembering Fatima Sheikh, the first Muslim teacher who laid the foundation of Dalit-Muslim unity". Two Circles. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  9. ^ What 22 Years Old Jotiba Phule Was Doing? http://velivada.com/2017/04/02/what-22-years-old-jotiba-phule-was-doing/
  10. ^ Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi; Zelliot, Eleanor (author) (2002). Education and the disprivileged : nineteenth and twentieth century India (1. publ. ed.). Hyderabad: Orient Longman. pp. 35–37. ISBN 9788125021926. Retrieved 18 February 2017. 
  11. ^ Keer, Dhananjay (1997). Mahatma Jotirao Phooley : father of the Indian social revolution ([New ed.]. ed.). Bombay: Popular Prakashan. p. 87. ISBN 9788171540662. 
  12. ^ a b O'Hanlon, Rosalind (2002). Caste, conflict, and ideology : Mahatma Jotirao Phule and low caste protest in nineteenth-century western India (New e. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 135. ISBN 9780521523080. Retrieved 18 February 2017. 
  13. ^ Rao, M.S.A., Bhat, C. and Kadekar, L.N., 1991. A reader in urban sociology. Stosius Inc/Advent Books Division.[1]
  14. ^ Sharad Pawar, the Making of a Modern Maratha By P. K. Ravindranath
  15. ^ Hanlon, Rosilind (1985). Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and low caste protest in nineteenth-century Western India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 147–149. ISBN 0-521-52308-7. Retrieved 11 August 2016. 
  16. ^ Figueira (2002), p. 149
  17. ^ Souza, ed. by Teotonio R. de (1994). Discoveries, missionary expansion and Asian cultures (1. publ. ed.). New Delhi: Concept Publ. Co. pp. 110–111. ISBN 8170224977. 
  18. ^ Foole, Mahatma Jyatorao (2007). Gulamgiri (in Hindi). Gautam Book Center. ISBN 9788187733737. 
  19. ^ Thakkar, Usha (Editor); Kamala Ganesh,, Kamala (Editor); Bhagwat, Vidyut (Author) (2005). Culture and the making of identity in contemporary India. New Delhi: Sage Publications. p. 169. ISBN 9780761933816. 
  20. ^ Nisar, M.; Kandasamy, Meena (2007). Ayyankali — Dalit Leader of Organic Protest. Other Books. p. 8. ISBN 978-8-19038-876-4. 
  21. ^ Kumar, Ravinder (2004). Western India in the Nineteenth century (Repr. ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 307–308. ISBN 978-0415330480. 
  22. ^ Bhadru, G., 2002, January. CONTRIBUTION OF SHATYASHODHAK SAMAJ TO THE LOW CASTE PROTEST MOVEMENT IN 19TH CENTURY. In Proceedings of the Indian History Congress (Vol. 63, pp. 845-854). Indian History Congress.
  23. ^ Hansen, Thomas Blom (2001). Wages of violence : naming and identity in postcolonial Bombay. Princeton, N.J. [u.a.]: Princeton Univ. Press. p. 32. ISBN 9780691088396. 
  24. ^ Keer (1974), p. 172
  25. ^ Michael, S.M. (Editor); Gavaskar, Mahesh (Author) (1999). Untouchable : dalits in modern India. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner. p. 45. ISBN 9781555876975. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  26. ^ Michael, S.M. (Editor); Gavaskar, Mahesh (Author) (1999). Untouchable : dalits in modern India. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner. p. 94. ISBN 9781555876975. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  27. ^ Bhadru, G., 2002, January. CONTRIBUTION OF SHATYASHODHAK SAMAJ TO THE LOW CASTE PROTEST MOVEMENT IN 19TH CENTURY. In Proceedings of the Indian History Congress (Vol. 63, pp. 845-854). Indian History Congress.
  28. ^ O'Hanlon, Rosalind (1985). Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in nineteenth century Western Maharashtra. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 135. ISBN 0521-266157. 
  29. ^ Keer (1974), p. 143
  30. ^ Keer (1974), p. 247
  31. ^ What 22 Years Old Jotiba Phule Was Doing? http://velivada.com/2017/04/02/what-22-years-old-jotiba-phule-was-doing/
  32. ^ Mahatma Phule
  33. ^ O'Hanlon (1992), p. 107
  34. ^ Sarkar (1975), pp. 32-33, 40
  35. ^ "Life As Message". Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 24. 16 June 2012.