Mahatma Jyotirao Phule

Mahatma Jyotirao Phule – 11 April, 1827

Jyotirao ‘Jyotiba’ Govindrao Phule was a prominent social reformer and thinker of the nineteenth century India. He led the movement against the prevailing caste-restrictions in India. He revolted against the domination of the Brahmins and struggled for the rights of peasants and other low-caste people. Mahatma Jyotiba Phule was also a pioneer for women education in India and fought for education of girls throughout his life. He is believed to be the first Hindu to start an orphanage for the unfortunate children.

Childhood & Early Life

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was born in Satara district of Maharastra in 1827. His father, Govindrao was a vegetable-vendor at Poona. Jyotirao’s family belonged to ‘mali’ caste and their original title was ‘Gorhay’. Malis were considered as an inferior caste by the Brahmins and were shunned socially. Jyotirao’s father and uncles served as florists, so the family came to be known as `Phule’. Jyotirao’s mother passed away when he was just nine months old.

Jyotirao was an intelligent boy but due to the poor financial condition at home, he had to stop his studies at an early age. He started helping his father by working on the family’s farm. Recognising the talent of the child prodigy, a neighbour persuaded his father to send him to school. In 1841, Jyotirao got admission in the Scottish Mission’s High School, Poona, and completed his education in 1847. There, he met Sadashiv Ballal Govande, a Brahmin, who remained his close friend throughout his life. At the age of just thirteen years, Jyotirao was married to Savitribai.

Social Movements

In 1848, an incident sparked off Jyotiba’s quest against the social injustice of caste discrimination and incited a social revolution in the Indian society. Jyotirao was invited to attend the wedding of one of his friends who belonged to an upper cast Brahmin family. But at the wedding the relatives of the bridegroom insulted and abused Jyotiba when they came to know about his origins. Jyotirao left the ceremony and made up his mind to challenge the prevailing caste-system and social restrictions. He made it his life’s work to hammer away tirelessly at the helms of social majoritarian domination and aimed at emancipation of all human beings that were subjected to this social deprivation.

After reading Thomas Paine’s famous book ‘The Rights of Man’, Jyotirao was greatly influenced by his ideas. He believed that enlightenment of the women and lower caste people was the only solution to combat the social evils.

Efforts Towards Women Education

Jyotiba’s quest for providing women and girls with right to education was supported by his wife Savitribai Phule. One of the few literate women of the time, Savitribai was taught to read and write by her husband Jyotirao.

In 1851, Jyotiba established a girls’ school and asked his wife to teach the girls in the school. Later, he opened two more schools for the girls and an indigenous school for the lower castes, especially for the Mahars and Mangs.

Jyotiba realised the pathetic conditions of widows and established an ashram for young widows and eventually became advocate of the idea of Widow Remarriage.

Around his time, society was a patriarchal and the position of women was especially abysmal. Female infanticide was a common occurrence and so was child marriage, with children sometimes being married to men much older. These women often became widows before they even hit puberty and were left without any family support. Jyotiba was pained by their plight and established an orphanage in 1854 to shelter these unfortunate souls from perishing at the society’s cruel hands.


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