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Jotirao Govindrao Phule biography

Jotirao Govindrao Phule

(1827-1890)

biography

Jotirao Govindrao Phule
Jotirao Govindrao Phule
      Jotirao or Jotiba was born in Pune. Though the date of his birth is uncertain, 1827 is generally accepted as the year of his birth. The family belonged to the Mali (gardener) caste. The original surname of the family was Gorhe, but as Govindrao, Jotirao’s father was engaged in the trade of florists and supplied flowers to the household of the Peshwa, the family came to be known as Phule.

    Jotirao started his education in a local Marathi school from where he completed his primary education (1834-38). Later, he was admitted to Scottish Mission School, Poona, from where he passed the Middle School Examination in 1847. It would be erroneous to say that he passed the matriculation examination, as the Bombay University which conducted this examination was founded only in 1857. While still a student, he was married to Savitribai in 1840, at the age of thirteen. By the time Jotirao completed his education, his father had become a successful building contractor, earning a considerable amount of money. Thus, Jotirao did not need a job. In school he must have acquired a pretty good understanding of the English language because he had started reading books like Rights of Man by Thomas Paine on his own. These left a lasting impression on the young mind. With financial support from his father, he decided to devote his life for social work aimed at the upliftment of shudras. The first step towards that end, he thought, should be education. He rightly believed that Brahmins were controlling the Hindu society through their knowledge of the scriptures which they acquired through education. He looked upon education as a liberating and revolutionizing factor for the downtrodden in society. His first preference was educating the girls of the shudras _ a very revolutionary idea at the time. As it was difficult t0 get women teachers, especially to teach shudra girls, Jotirao taught his wife, who was illiterate at the time of marriage, for several years. When she had learnt enough of the three Rs, they opened a school for shudra girls in the house of one Bhide in Budhwar Peth, Poona. His father Govindrao was shocked because he feared a backlash from the high caste people. There was a rift between father and son and Govindrao asked his son and daughter-in-law to leave his house. Jotiba was compelled to close the school and earn a living. But soon, he received encouragement and financial help from some prominent Indians and Europeans as well as from the Dakshina Prize Committee and he reopened the school. Soon, the school was well established, Encouraged by the response,Jotirao opened more schools, one in Budhwar Peth itself (1851), another at Rasta Peth (1851) and the third one at Vithal Peth (1852). The later schools were open to all castes as even the girls of high-castes did not have access to free education. Jotirao also believed that the girls per se werelike the shudras as many customs like polygamy, child marriage, agonizing widowhood etc. made their lives miserable. Along with emancipation the shudras, he also worked for the emancipation of women. Thus, hewas one of the first reformers who thought of the gender question along with the emancipation of shudras and the Untouchables. In 1852, hefounded the Native Library for the low-caste, neo-literate people sothat they did not forget what they had learnt in school.
    Enraged by his activities, many people, not only of high-castes butalso of low-caste, were against him. An attempt was made on his life in1856. Both the would-be assassins turned out to be of low caste. On the:other hand, the British government publicly recognized the noble effort of Jotirao and he was presented a pair of shawls at a public function as a token of recognition for what he had been doing.
    In 1854, he accepted a part-time job of a teacher in the Scottish MissionSchool, his alma mater. Here he came under the influence of Rev. Murray Mitchell, a free thinker, who encouraged him to read widely, including the books which discussed the deplorable side of the Hindu religion. But Jotirao was never tempted to convert to Christianity or Islam, as both the religions were revealed religions, depending on a prophet for revelation. As a freethinker and a rationalist, he could not wear such a straitjacket.
   In 1855, Jotirao started a night school for adults in his house. He and his wife imparted free education to farmers and their wives, majority of whom was low-caste, for two hours every night. It is difficult to say how successful the couple was in their new venture. But in 1857, the government granted Jotirao a plot of land measuring more than six acres for his school and other educational activities he had been undertaking with a missionary zeal. In 1860, Jotirao founded an orphanage, where widows of all castes could live with dignity and engage themselves in useful activities.
After the death of his father in 1868, Jotirao began to supervise the contractor business of his father which added to his income enabling him to undertake his social and educational activities on a better footing
By 1873, he had gained enough confidence to start a new religion, Sarvajanik Satya Dharma, based on truth and equality, free from superstition, bigotry, exploitation by priesthood etc. He also founded the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society for Finding Truth) for the propagation of this new religion. There were several such organizations or sabhas working towards the same end such as Prarthana Sabha, Brahmo Samaj, Sarvajanik Sabha and Arya Samaj. Phule’s achievement was that he widened the very idea of a social organization, which Bombay and Calcutta had restricted to an upper-caste bhadralok, or to use the Marathi word pandharpesha. Phule and the Samaj began their activity at the lower end of the social spectrum. Phule’s vision, and the scope of the Samajs activity, was broad and sweeping. There was virtually no aspect of social life that did not engage his attention. It is, however, not true that Jotirao ridiculed or considered the efforts of the Brahmin social reformers like Ranade of little consequence. He was a friend of Ranade and had great respect for him, which was reciprocated by Ranade. Jotirao Phule also showed appreciation for Dayanand as a reformer by walking alongside Ranade in a procession in honour of the swami in Poona (1875). This procession was threatened, and in fact disrupted by a rival procession organized by the opponents (orthodox Hindus) causing some injuries to the participants. Jotirao’s men had joined the procession in large numbers to give protection to the social reformers."
To propagate his views, Jotirao started a Marathi weekly Dinabandhu, the editorship of which was later transferred to N.M. Lokhande, his close associate in the Satya Shodhak Samaj, who also worked among the labourers. Phule also visited villages in the Poona district and delivered speeches to the rustic audiences. Unlike his contemporaries, Phule used the Marathi dialect, the language of the people, to convey his ideas. At times, he did not care for decency and quite often he used inappropriate language. Even his close associates criticized him for using such offensive language. To cite an example, Phule’s book, Cultivator’s Whipcord (Shetkaryacha Asud), was being serially published in Dinabandhu. After the second chapter, Lokhande refused to publish the remaining chapters, as he found the language as well as the contents, offensive. The reason for Phule’s unbecoming language was that he had a scanty knowledge of Sanskrit and Maratha etymology His understanding and appreciation of the scriptures must have suffered as a result. This led him to many unworthy and distorted conclusions. In fact, Phule had not prepared himself well for the task he had undertaken. His sense of history was also rather inadequate.
From 1876-1882, Jotirao was a member of the Poona Municipality In 1882, he gave evidence before the Hunder Commission and pleaded for the education of women and people belonging to lower castes. In 1888, at a huge gathering of his followers in Bombay, Jotirao or Jotiba was honoured with the title ‘Mahatma’. Phule wrote extensively mainly in Marathi. Some of his works are: Tritiya Ratna (The Third Eye), a play (1855); PowadaChhatrapati Shivajiraje Bhosala Yancha (Ballad of Shivaji) (1869); Brahmanache Sasab (The Craftiness of Brahmans) (1869); Gulamgiri (Slavery) (1873); Shetkaryacha Asud (Cultivators Whipcord) (1883); On Infant Marriage and Enforced Widowhood (Comments on Malabari’s Notes) (1884); Satsar (The Essence of Truth, No. 1 and 2) (1885); Ishara (Warning) (1885); Religious Rites for the Satyashodhaks (1887); Sarvajanik Satya Dharma Pustak (The Book of the True Faith). The last was posthumously published in 1891 and gives the essence of his views on society, religion and political economy. Some of his works are in dialogue form. He also wrote some poetry of indifferent quality.
Phule did not take part in the freedom movement because he was an admirer of the British rule. He felt that the British had given protection to the shudras from the evil designs of the Brahmins and high casteHindus.
Late in life Phule argued for the ban on cow-slaughter because the poor farmers were so economically, rather than religiously, dependent on the Cows and oxen.
Early in 1890, Phule had a paralytic attack on his right side. He continued giving finishing touches to his book Sarvajanik Satya Dharma Pustak. But before he could finish, he died on 28 November 1890 in Pune.

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