Savitribai Phule: An iconic reformer, educationist
There are souls for whom we have fewer apt words to describe their contributions in laying the foundation of a strong society and the nation. Savitribai Phule is one of them. Along with her husband, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, she fought bravely against untouchability, hegemonic, castetist, status quoist forces to ensure that girls from weaker sections of society, in particular those from backward, scheduled castes and tribes, have access to education. She opened schools for them and lit the light of hope in millions of lives at a time when they did not think of getting into schools for education.
It was truly a watershed moment towards the holistic empowerment of women in our society, and Savitribai Phule, who epitomized ‘Naari Shakti,’ was the harbinger of this great revolution, which has now become a principal focus of the Central and state governments. Women’s empowerment has now become a buzzword. I join the nation in paying my humble tributes to Savitribai Phule, India’s first woman teacher, on her birth anniversary (January 3).
Today her vision assumes more significance than ever before as we are building a new India – Ek Bharat, Shreshta Bharat, which cannot be realized without implementing the vision of Savitribai Phule. Her commitment to serve the poorest among poor, who were devoid of any right to access health and education facilities because of untouchability and the castes they were born in, is amply reflected in our Constitution, which is premised on the four pillars of equality, justice, fraternity and liberty.
Special efforts including affirmative measures are being initiated at every possible level to uplift poor women in a wholesome manner. ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Abhiyan’ (BBBPA) has proved a blessing in disguise. It has a great impact on improving child sex ratio. As per the latest available report of Health Management Information System, an improving trend of 19 points at the national level from 918 (2014-15) to 937 (2020- 21) has been observed. It is 927 in Haryana.
Our daughters are very efficient, and if provided with the right kind of support ecosystem, they will do wonders. Some of great women role models India has produced are Indira Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman, J Jayalalitha, Anandi Gopal Joshi, one of the first female doctors; Justice Anna Chandy, first female judge in India, Kalpana Chawla, first Indian woman in space; Abala Bose, known for her efforts in the advancement of women’s education; Anasuya Sarabhai, social worker who fought for women’s labour rights; Arati Saha, first Indian and Asian woman to swim across the English Channel in 1959, PV Sindhu, and Sain Nehwal, Saina Nehwal, an ace badminton player, Karnam Malleswari, weightlifter, to name a few.
If we talk of Haryana, there is no dearth of women talent. For example, Rani Rampal, captain of Indian women hockey team; Geetika Jakhar, wrestler; Deepa Malik, athlete; Sakshi Malik, freestyle wrestler; Phogat sisters; Krishna Poonia, an international gold-medalist Indian discus thrower; Manpreet Kaur, professional Olympic shot putter; and Santosh Yadav, first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest twice and the first woman to successfully climb Mount Everest from Kangshung Face.
So what I am trying to convey is the fact that we must not underestimate the talent of women. They have a huge potential for skills, arts, management, and concentration, discipline and determination of leadership to lead us on multiple fronts. What is needed is an ecosystem, which encourages them without any discrimination. Today we have five women led startups which have entered into the unicorn club. They are Upasana Taku led digital payments solution Mobiwik; Ruchi Deepak’s Acko Insurance; Ruchi Kalra’s OfBusiness, and Ghzal Alagh’s Mamaearth. As per the 6th Economic Census, we have 8.05 million women entrepreneurs in the country.
It is a matter of happiness that Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji has initiated a number of initiatives to empower women. The Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP) is NITI Aayog’s flagship initiative, a one-of-its-kind, unified information portal for women entrepreneurs. The National Education Policy-2020 prioritizes gender equity and equitable access to quality education to all students, with a special emphasis on socially and economically disadvantaged groups. Under the Swachh Vidyalaya Mission, all schools will have at least one functional toilet for girls. All stakeholders should join hands to provide toilet facilities for girls in every institution. Lack of toilets has been a major stumbling block for girls’ enrolment in schools in rural areas.
Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) aims to safeguard the health of women by providing them with clean cooking fuel and also from drudgery of collecting firewood. The total connections released under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana as on October 20, 2021 stand at over 8.48 crore. Similarly, under the National Rural Livelihood Mission, as of date, 6768 blocks have been covered under the programme with mobilizing 7.7 crore women into 70 lakh SHGs. From providing initial capitalization support to the SHGs are being credited to the tune of almost Rs 80,000 crore annually. They should also be provided with facilities to market their products. For this, private sector players should come forward and buy their products.
Triple Talaq law making ‘instant divorce’ a criminal offence and enhancing the age of marriage of girls to 21 are milestone steps. These progressive steps are in tune with the vision of Savitribai Phule and should be properly implemented. I am tempted to share a fact here. As the Chancellor, I was recently honoured 42 gold medalists at a university, out of which 36 were girls. It is a great signal. Women are coming forward in every field and they should be encouraged. Reservation and affirmative measures meant for them should be properly implemented and reviewed periodically. We should have a multi-pronged approach in bringing women of weaker sections of society and those in rural areas on par with others, which will be a true tribute to Savitribai Phule.
In a nutshell, the path shown by Savitribai Phule for women’s wholesome empowerment must be followed by all in its true letter and spirit. She fought for equality for women in all respects. Her vision of social reforms is aligned to education and economic empowerment of women. Today our mindset towards girl children has changed. Earlier, a girl child was seen as a burden but now as Maha Lakshmi. It is a good omen. Let us strive hard for all round development of women as envisioned by Savitribai Phule to realize the goal of inclusive growth.
(The views expressed are strictly of the author)