Rise to learn and Act
Weak and oppressed! Rise my brother
Come out of living in slavery.
Manu-follower Peshwas are dead and gone
Manu’s the one who barred us from education.
Givers of knowledge –the English have come
Learn, you’ve had no chance in a millennium.
We’ll teach our children and ourselves to learn
Receive knowledge, become wise to discern.
An upsurge of jealousy in my soul
Crying out for knowledge to be whole.
This festering wound, mark of caste
I’ll blot out from my life at last.
In Baliraja’s kingdom, let’s beware
Our glorious mast, unfurl and flare.
Let all say, “Misery go and kingdom come!”
Awake, arise and educate
We’ll come together and learn
Slumber not but blow the trumpet
O Brahman, dare not you upset.
Give a war cry, rise fast
Rise, to learn and act.
Sunil Sardar and Victor Paul have translated this poem along with four other poems for a chapter in a lovely new book titled: A forgotten liberator: The life and struggles of Savitribai Phule. These poems were translated from M.G. Mali’s original marathi collection Savitribai Phule Samagra Wangmaya.
This book is a first of its kind in English on the social reformer and first woman teacher of India Savitribai Phule, by independent authors.
Indian history is not just porous and one sided but is often a naked lie for and about the large majority of people who were once forbidden any formal education under the caste system. It would have us believe that this vast humanity produced no thoughts and actions worthy of mention in its pages. Occasionally stray strands do get woven into this brutally selective reading of the past like the 9th century Saint Nandanaar and 13th century Janabai. These are names that have escaped and appear in literature inadvertently; perhaps a rare occurrence of negligence in the maintenance of tightly clamped literary facilities. The hegemonic majority treats any acknowledgement of original, radical thoughts and actions emanating from the lower castes akin to radiation leaks. It has to be avoided at all costs and they use every single resource they command to do so. However, when such histories are far too powerful to fall into the usual traps of appropriation and co-option, they have the strategy of just saying and writing nothing about it. Stonily waiting for the collective memory to erase itself over generations.
In the last century a small group of people from within the lower castes have emerged to retell Indian history. This they do by finally claiming and owning the alphabet, taking us to the ones who made it possible; Savitribai Phule and her husband Jyotirao Phule, the visionary educators and social reformers. How cruel and effective a system we face, when this lady who in the mid-late 1800’s sought English as a liberating tool for the masses, only now in the year 2009 an independent well researched book on her life and achievements gets published in English!! This effort has been done by a group of dedicated scholars and researchers on their own steam. To the marginalized these efforts come as iridescent showers of enlightenment connecting us to the vibrant ancestors and their vision of an egalitarian society, their compassion and empathy rooting us firmly back to this soil. We stop feeling like ahistorical entities as we begin reading about the life and struggles of Savitribai Phule. A feeling of sudden awakening grips and removes the hovering disconnectedness for members of the oppressed communities, to whom she dedicated her life!
The startling strength and razor sharp intellect of this pioneer leader taking on society’s myriad evil and unquestioned practices of inequality among humans and between men and women is stunning in its forcefulness and sincerity. We receive this rare and fantastic effort of bringing out a book on Savitribai Phule like a sparkling oasis to quench the thirst of a million throats, charging us with fresh energy to continue on with her legacy.
I chose this poem of the five in this book as it brings us closer to the multifaceted personality of a reformer whose engaged poetry weaves her politics into her verses. In them one gets a glimpse of the mind of a woman completely dedicated to education of the downtrodden. Her impatience to see them empowered, her conviction that knowledge alone is the ingredient for salvation of people caught in unending cycles of servitude and destitution speaks volumes. Her revolutionary call to shake of the mantle of ignorance and fear of scriptures can be grasped only in the background of a time when her husband and she were ostracized from their family and home as they feared a backlash against the couple’s move to educate women and untouchables.
The undisputed place Savthribai Phule holds as the pioneer in women and human rights movements in India at a glance below:
|Birth of SavitriBai.(Naigaon,Tha. Khandala Dist. Satara) Father’s name- Khandoji Nevse, Mother’s name- Laxmi.||3rd Jan.1831|
|Marriage with Jotirao Phule.||1840|
|Passed third and fourth year examination from Normal school.||1846-47|
|Started school with Sagunabai in Maharwada.||1847|
|Country’s first school for girls was started at Bhide’s wada in Pune and Savitribai was nominated as the first head mistress of the school.||1 Jan.1848|
|School for adults was started at UsmanSheikh’s wada in Pune. Left home with Jotirao for educating Shudra and ati Shudra’s .||1849|
|First public Til-Gul programme was arranged by Mahila Seva Mandal.||14 Jan.1852|
|Phule family was honoured by British government for their works in the field of education and Savtribai was declared as the best teacher.||16 Nov.1852|
|Infanticide prohibition home was started.||28 Jan.1853|
|Prize giving ceremony was arranged under the chairmanship of Major Candy.||12 Feb.1853|
|“Kavya Phule”-the first collection of poems was published.||1854|
|A night school for agriculturist and labourers was started.||1855|
|‘Lecture’s of Jyotiba’ was published.||25 Dec.1856|
|Orphanage was started.||1863|
|Opened the well to untouchables.||1868|
|Adopted son of Kashibai, a Brahmin Widow’s Child.||1874|
|Done important work in famine and started 52 free food hostels in Maharashatra.||1876 to 1877|
|Adopted son, Dr.Yashwant was married to the daughter of Sasane.||4 Feb.1889|
|Death of her husband Jotirao Phule .||28 Nov. 1890|
|Chairperson of Satya Shodhak Samaj Conference at Saswad.||1893|
|Again famine in Maharashtra. Forced government to start relief work.||1896|
|Plague epidemic in Pune.Had done social work during this hour.||1897|
|Died while serving the Plague paitents during plague epidemic.||10 March 1897|
|Centenary year in Maharashtra and National honour.||10 March 1997 to 98|
|Government of India honored her by publishing a postage stamp.||10 March 1998|
Source: A forgotten liberator: The life and struggles of Savthribai Phule. Page 66.
Braj Ranjan Mani
Update: A earlier NCERT book on the life of Savithribai Phule is also available.