ELIXIR OF FRIENDSHIP – SAVITRI BAI PHULE AND FATIMA SHEIKH - TIRELESS EFFORTS FOR GIRLS EDUCATION
Some friendships are priceless and they go down in the pages of history and become immortal. One such friendship existed between Savitri Bai Phule and Fatima Sheikh. Though both women were fiery and committed to the cause of educating girl children, for some reason, historians have totally sidelined Fatima Sheikh’s contribution. Here is an imaginary conversation between the two women. Let us fold our hands with respect to these selfless ladies. If, as women, we are thinking and expressing ourselves to this extent, we owe it to them. This is my tribute to the two wonderful women who have served tirelessly for this cause.
Savitri Bai Phule: Who doesn’t know me? I am Savitri Bai Phule, the first woman educator of modern India. Along with my dear husband Jyotirao Phule, I started the first school in India for women way back in 1848.
I want to tell you about my dear friend FATIMA SHEIKH, without whose support we could not have done this much. When we were thrown out of the house by my own father-in-law, she gave us place in her home, and supported my dream of giving education to girls, especially dalit girls. She was very committed and enthusiastic towards this cause. Together we would teach in our school.
Fatima Sheikh: Thank you Savitri. Your friendship inspired me and that’s when I too decided to join your movement. They say that I am the first muslim woman teacher in India. Do you remember how we used to carry extra saree to our school?
Savitri Bai Phule: Yes my dear, we would carry an extra saree to work, because the saree which we wore would be totally drenched with muddy water and cowdung and all trash that would be thrown at us. Sometimes sharp sticks and stones also would be hurled at us, to prevent us from going to school and teaching girls.
Fatima Sheikh: Yes, the opposition was more for me because I am a muslim woman. I remember how I used to go to every house and convince the mothers to send their daughters to school and how they would close the door when they see me coming towards them. Oh! Thank you for taking my suggestion to introduce mathematics, social studies and science in the syllabus and not what was traditionally taught in schools about our scriptures. I wanted women to be empowered and basically to start thinking.
Savitri Bai Phule: I must congratulate you for heralding the first joint struggle of dalits and muslims in India. It is not a mean achievement . For me, after a while people started noticing me and it was comparatively easier. When I started the intercaste marriage movement or when I started the shelter for rape victims, I got good cooperation, but not the case with you, Fatima, they just forgot you totally.
Fatima Sheikh: Savitri, historians initially sidelined you too, but later on, they had to accept your contribution. Whew! gender bias exists even in this! Yes, I had to face hardship from my own kin. However, thank you for acknowledging my contribution.
Savitri Bai Phule: Thank you for supporting me all through, Fatima Sheikh. I wish people remember you as much as they remember me. I was surprised that our Prime Minister mentioned only my name but forgot yours.
Fatima Sheikh: It is ok Savitri, I value our friendship and when I see so many muslim women reaching great heights, I feel my purpose is served. Kudos to our friendship. I am proud that the girls are now empowered and are reaching great heights.
- Asha Murali 22.10.2020
Pic credit and info from internet. Special note: please also see post by @hannaabideen on this subject.
Today I write about the legendrary Savitribai Phule ji whose 190th Birth Anniversary falls today, January 3rd.
She is a lady who is much less discussed in history that we read in schools (much like other women of importance).
She was born in Shudra Caste and was married off at age 10. She suffered at the hands of society all life due to caste-class-gender discrimination.
Despite all limitations placed by the society on her, she opened the First School for Girls in India along with her husband, Sri Jyotiba Phule.
She is India’s First Female Teacher and Headmistress, at a time when women were not only deprived of education but also considered unfit for all things outside home.
She was self-educated (later trained for teaching) and an immensely talented poet. She was a staunch feminist. She even handed out stipends to girls so that they are not compelled to leave studies due to poverty.
She started educating Untouchable kids at a time when they were treated as sub-humans.
Even Bal Gangadhar Tilak opposed her actions as he had the backward and oppressive mentality that opening schools for girls and Untouchables was loss of nationalism.
As she used to travel from home to school and back each day, cow dung, stones and garbage were thrown at her by brahmins and other upper castes for daring to teach the oppressed castes and girls. But she persisted daily.
She had opened night schools too for farmers and the aged.
She fought against shaving of heads of widows, fought for widow remarriage, and against child marriage, against caste system, and for girls’ education, all her life. And in immense poverty due to lack of funds fof all her activities.
Serving children suffering from bubonic plague, she died from the disease aged 66.
Despite her tremendous contribution to Indian Education, we chose the birthday of a Male Brahman as Teacher's Day. Because of patriarchy. Let's try to remember her for her mission.
Also if you are a girl and studying or have had an education then it's because of the fight she has fought. Let's thank her.
And to everyone...I am working so due to work commitments, will be writing on Sundays only...hope you all don't mind....you are my Angels esp the younger sisters I have here, they are the future and I love them over and above anything else in the world.
BG. From my favorite website FII (Feminism In India) (www.feminisminindia.com)
പേരിന് പോലും ഒപ്പം ആരുമില്ലന്ന തോന്നലുള്ള മനുഷ്യരുണ്ട്. തോന്നൽ മാത്രമല്ല ആർക്കുമാർക്കും അവരെ അറിയണമെന്നില്ല. പുറത്തുള്ള മുഖമുടുപ്പുകളും,ചിരികളും കവിഞ്ഞു അവരെ ആരും ചേർത്ത് പിടിക്കണമെന്നില്ല. പേരിന് പോലും എനിക്കൊരു സുഹൃത്തില്ല എന്ന് പറയുമ്പോഴൊക്കെ ചിലപ്പോൾ അത്ഭുതം തോന്നാം. ലോകത്ത് ഇത്രയും മനുഷ്യർ ഉണ്ടായിട്ട് ഒരാൾക്കു മറ്റൊരാൾ കൂട്ടില്ലെന്ന് പറഞ്ഞാൽ അമ്പരപ്പ് തോന്നാതെ മറ്റെന്താണ് തോന്നുക.....? പക്ഷേ അങ്ങനെ ചില മനുഷ്യർ ഭൂമിയിലുണ്ട് അവരുടെ അകം വേദനകൾക്ക് പങ്ക് വയ്ക്കലിന്റെ പാരമ്പര്യം ഉണ്ടാകില്ല അവരുടെ ഒഴിവ് നേരങ്ങൾക്ക് വർത്തമാനങ്ങളുടെ ശീലം കാണില്ല അവരുടെ മുറിവുകൾക്ക് മറ്റൊരാളുടെ ചേർത്ത് പിടിക്കലിനെ പരിചയം ഉണ്ടാകില്ല. അവരുടെ നടത്തങ്ങൾക്ക് ഒഴിഞ്ഞ തെരുവുകളും അവരുടെ വാ അനക്കങ്ങൾക്ക് അവരും മാത്രമേ പങ്കാളികളായി ഉണ്ടാവുകയുള്ളൂ. പക്ഷേ സത്യമായും ഞാൻ രേഖപ്പെടുത്തട്ടെ? ഭൂമിയിലെ ഏറ്റവും കരുത്തരായ മനുഷ്യർ അവരാണ് ഭൂമിയിൽ ആർത്തിയോടെ സ്നേഹിക്കാൻ അറിയുന്നവർ അവരാണ് എപ്പോഴെങ്കിലുമൊക്കെ ദുർബലമായി പോകുമെങ്കിലും ജീവിതം മുന്നോട്ട് നടന്നു കയറാൻ കരുത്തുള്ളവർ അവരാണ് എനിക്കറിയാം ആ മനുഷ്യർക്ക് മറ്റ് മനുഷ്യർക്കൊന്നുമില്ലാത്തൊരു ഒറ്റ യുടെ ബലമുണ്ട്.
I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.