170 years ago, India’s first school for girls was set up at Bhide Wada, Pune, in January 1848. Savitribai Phule, a pioneering Indian social activist, founded this school along with her husband Jyotirao Phule. Though she faced opposition and abuse from a lot of people, as the idea of girls receiving education was unheard of, she was steadfast in her approach and unwavering in her commitment to drive change.
Today, the school stands in ruins. Many of the locals are not even aware of the history of this site. While the Dagadusheth Halwai Ganpati Temple located nearby attracts thousands of tourists daily, there are no visitors to the school complex. In fact, the school has not even been recognised as a heritage structure.
To sensitise our youth to the contribution made by Savitribai Phule to education, we recently organised an exposure visit for 28 of them. At the school, we discussed how girls’ education in India has been severely contested, what are the limitations even now and how we can try to find solutions to some of these problems today.
Savitribai Phule set up multiple schools in her lifetime, pioneering education initiatives. Her schools brought people of different castes and faiths together, illustrating the power of collective action. Fatima Sheikh and Mukta Salve became one of the first few students of her school. While Fatima went on to teach in the school in time to come, Mukta Salve, granddaughter of the social reformer Lahuji Salve, emerged as one of the first Dalit feminists.
‘This is such a historical site. Yet seeing it in such a dilapidated condition is depressing. While Jyotirao Phule’s statue has existed for years, it was only in 2010 that Savitribai Phule’s statue was unveiled at Phulewada. Why are we so late in recognising women icons?’ wondered Asma, one of the youth attending the event.
Her friend Pooja was equally shocked. ‘I had heard about this school before, but never realised that I would find it in this state. I expected the school would be maintained as a museum, but it’s nothing of the sort’, she said.
The exposure visit was organised to help the youth better understand realities outside their communities. While discussions on education, gender equality and other important issues keep happening in the community, the visits help the youth grasp on-ground realities. It will also help them draft the constitution of their youth group, the Malwani Yuva Parishad, which works on a range of value-based issues, with the core values including social justice, gender justice, democracy and secularism.
Blog Editor, with inputs from Sachin Nachnekar (Project Coordinator, YUVA)