Remembering The Legacy Of Mahatma Jotirao Phule


Mahatma Jotirao Phule was born into a lower caste Mali family in a Brahmin hegemonic society, about a decade after the British defeated the Peshwas in 1818. This may explain his lifelong resistance to caste and gender hierarchy, which was fuelled and given shape by his exposure to Western radical literature and missionary writings and his involvement in contemporary Indian reform movement in the Bombay Presidency. Convinced that only secular education could liberate the oppressed classes, he began a school for untouchable girls in 1848, an unprecedented social initiative, followed by several others for untouchable boys, girls of all castes and a night school for working class adults. His wife, Savitribai Phule, a well-known educationist in her own right, and several associates, including Brahmin friends, were an integral part of these radical interventions. He went on to run orphanages as well as a home for pregnant upper caste widows, who were victims of sexual abuse, often in their own homes. Phule’s praxis is reflected in his writings, where in a number of genres, both traditional and modern, including a play, powadas or ballads, short verse in the abhanga metre, polemical prose tracts, he attempted to create a body of subaltern narrative and historiography in order to establish an identity for the oppressed classes and mobilize them politically. Phule’s use of traditional oral forms for his polemic was strategic, given that his subaltern audience was largely unlettered and it made sense to infuse radical political views into indigenous cultural forms. It must also be remembered that Phule condemned devotional worship.

In the middle of the Brahmin renaissance in Pune, Mahatma Jotirao Phule was the sole voice of the voiceless Bahujans. For the first time in Indian history, Bahujan and Brahmin debated in public and in print. For the first time, a Bahujan published books attacking Brahminical rule. The media revolution launched by Mahatma Jotirao Phule and his supporters cannot be underestimated as it undermined the bogus moral and religious legitimacy of casteism. Jotirao Phule used his media revolution to attempt a cultural revolution by creating the utopia of Baliraja as opposed to Brahminical Ramrajya. Due to his very lack of western education, Jotirao Phule was able to outsmart and outthink his enemies in creative ways. He is the real mahatma, as he is the first modern Indian to propagate sama-samaja.

Mahatma Jotirao Phule’s remarkable influence was apparent during the dark ages when women and Shudras were denied their rights. His pioneering work in fields like education, agriculture, caste system, women and widow upliftment and removal of untouchability is remarkable.

By the age of 22, he was very well known not only throughout Pune but also in London! Court of Directors, London had acknowledged his work.

In 1889, Mahatma Jotirao Phule suffered a stroke, which rendered the right side of the body to stop functioning. But Jotirao Phule’s dedication towards Bahujans was so strong that he laboured hard with his left hand to finish Sarvajanik Satya Dharma Pustak (The Book of the True Faith) book.

Would it have been possible for Ambedkar to flourish if Mahatma Jotirao Phule wasn’t born? Maybe Ambedkar would have but Jotirao Phule prepared the ground for him to flourish.

If there was anyone in the 19th century who worked for the betterment of Bahujans in India, it was Phule couple. Jotirao Phule started his activism and work for the upliftment of Bahujans early and by the age of 22 years, Jotirao Phule was well recognised for his work.

He attacked all those people who were against equality and he was a well-known critic of the newborn breed of so-called reformist Brahmins. It is well known that Jotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule opened the first schools for the untouchables. They knew the importance of education.

He was greatly influenced by Thomas Paine’s ideas and had read with great interest Paine’s famous book ‘The Rights of Man’.

Jotirao Phule opposed the practice of donating money to Brahmins in Dakshina by the British government. In 1848-49, the amount of Dakshina was around Rs. 4000. Jotirao Phule, 22 years old, stood against this practice and demanded that the money should be allocated for the education of untouchables. Brahmins of the time were already angry that British government had lowered the amount and now 22 years of Shudra is challenging them. None till now had challenged Brahmins for their dominance. In the end, British government allocated a part of that Dakshina for the education! It can be said the first funding for the education of untouchables!

Gulamgiri (Slavery) was a hard-hitting, single-minded and pointed expression of a “non-Aryan” theory, and presaged what was to become a major and continuing theme of Bahujan analysis.

Mahatma Jotirao Phule in his seminal prose polemic, Gulamgiri (1873), Phule offered a re-reading of Indian history. Subverting the current 19th century hypothesis of the proto Indo-Aryan people and the discourse on the glory of ancient Indian Aryan civilization, Phule asserted that the invading Aryans were in fact Brahmin outsiders, who imported into the idyllic pre-Aryan India ruled by the fabled just King Bali, the social evils of caste and gender exploitation. In this text he offered a satiric retelling of the stories of Vishnu incarnations, deliberately reading this Hindu mythology as the history of Aryan/Brahmin oppression of the indigenous dwellers of India and the construction of an exploitative caste hierarchy.

Standing for the Freedom of Press – On 30th November 1880, the President of the Poona Municipality requested the members to approve his proposal of spending one thousand rupees on the occasion of the visit of Lord Lytton, the Governor-General of India. The officials wanted to present him an address during his visit to Poona. Lytton had passed an Act, which resulted in gagging the press, and Deenbandhu, the organ of the Satya Shodhak Samaj, had protested against the restrictions on the right to freedom of the press. Jotirao did not like the idea of spending the money of the taxpayers in honouring a guest like Lytton. He boldly suggested that the amount could be very well spending on the education of the poor people in Poona. He was the only member out of all the thirty-two nominated members of the Poona Municipality who voted against the official resolution.

Challenging the British Royal family –  Another incident also revealed his attachment for the poor peasant and his courage in drawing the attention of a member of the British royal family to the sufferings of the farmers in the rural area. On 2nd March 1888, Hari Raoji Chiplunkar, a friend of Jotirao, arranged a function in honour of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught. Dressed like a peasant, Jotirao attended the function and made a speech. He commented on the rich invitees who displayed their wealth by wearing diamond-studded jewellery and warned the visiting dignitaries that the people who had gathered there did not represent India. If the Duke of Connaught was really interested in finding out the condition of the Indian subjects of Her Majesty the Queen of England, Jotirao suggested that he ought to visit some nearby villages as well as the areas in the city occupied by the untouchables. He requested the Duke of Connaught who was a grandson of Queen Victoria to convey his message to her and made a strong plea to provide education to the poor people. Jotiba Phule’s speech created quite a stir.

In the year 1873, Jotirao Phule, who was soon to be given the accolade Mahatma, established the Satyashodhak Samaj (the Society of Truth Seekers), an organisation aimed to mobilize and represent all oppressed groups, including women and the marginalized castes. It must be noted that the name Phule chose for his association stressed the search for truth as a primary goal. Through this association, Phule wished to create a social and political solidarity of diverse working-caste groups: a subaltern collective which he termed shudratishudra. Phule conceived much like Marx was to do around the same time, of a two-tiered social hierarchy in all his writings and exhortations: the hegemony of the bhatbrahman exploiting the productive shudratishudra. The Satyashodhak Samaj soon had a real presence in the political and cultural affairs of the region not only during Phule’s times but well into the early decades of the 20th century and was the foundation of the non-Brahman peasant movement in Maharashtra. Phule and his associates toured the length and breadth of the region, setting up branches of the Samaj and holding meetings in mofussil and rural areas, transforming social critique into a full-fledged movement of the peasants and working castes. This movement had two major objectives: to resist Brahmin hegemony in social, educational and colonial institutions and, at the same time, to represent the case of the subaltern to British policy makers. From the 1880s onwards, the Samaj had tremendous support revealed in the real interventions it made in the mobilization of the peasants against Brahmin moneylenders and petty officials as well as in discarding the services of the Brahmin priests and instituting progressive Satyashodhak practices in all rituals including marriages.

Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule founded the Satyashodhak Samaj in 1873 to unite all oppressed, Sthree-Shudra-Atishudra, Adivasis, Muslims and other minorities under one banner of Bahujans to fight against discrimination based on birth. The highly successful Satyashodhak Samaj was however, after the death of Phule and Savitribai Phule, disintegrated. Most Shudras joined the Congress, Atishudras joined the Indian Labour Party of Ambedkar, while workers and economically oppressed joined the Communist parties. This vaccum created by the disintegration of the Satyashodhak Samaj has never been filled in the era of post-independence India, though contemporary social and political scenario calls for the involvement of precisely a Bahujan organisation like the Satyashodhak Samaj. Even today, Shudras constitute the largest chunk of the population but their presence in places of power, income and authority are negligibly low. Shudras have made the largest contribution to the building of India through their toil in the fields of agriculture and artisanship; they were the producers. The contribution of all other caste-groups pales in comparison with theirs. In terms of caste, the Indian society is divided into three broad sections – upper castes, Shudras and Dalit-Tribal communities. Identifiers of these communities are domination, contribution and pain, respectively. Shudras have complaints against the domination of the upper castes; they also have complaints against their contribution not getting due recognition. In addition, they have the complaint that almost nobody after Phule created an actual movement rather than mere reactions.

Sardar Gouthu Latchanna Introduced Mahatma Jotirao Phule to Andhra Pradesh (United) later Yangala Koteswararao (YK), (Usaa) U Sambasiva Rao, Naragoni and other activists in their articles and public meetings.

Towards the cause of spreading the ideology of Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule and so as to take forward their struggles & legacy, I (Tata.Sivaiah) founded the Mahatma Jyothirao Phule and Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Educational Circle on 10th October 2015 after six years of observation, reading, discussion with friends and contemplation. Since then, the Educational Circle has been concentrating on the following in its past one year of existence:

1.Creating awareness about the ideology, struggles and thoughts of Mahatma Jotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule.

2.Learning and imbibing from the life histories of Mahatma Jotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule

3.Ways and means through which we can contribute to the contemporary society by imbibing the thoughts and ideas of Mahatma Jotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule.

In the course of the past two years, under my Presidentship, the Educational Circle has managed to create its own name in the minds of people by its strategy of bringing together Bahujan leaders and their struggles from all strata of the society and from all nook and corners of the country. As the first and founding President, I have tried to use the dual tools of the information era through the usage of social media as well as reaching out to the masses through veteran Bahujan leaders. My activities have so far been centred especially among students in higher education institues like my own alma mater, the Central University of Hyderabad, where I have been meticulously involved in Bahujan struggles and student problems. At the same time, I and the Circle have also carefully managed to keep well away from chamchas who for their selfish motives, work for casteist communalist forces like Sangha Parivar. Devoted to the cause of spreading the ideology of Mahatma Jyothirao Phule and Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule, we strive to take forward their thoughts, legacies and idea to rural and urban areas and work towards social, gender, political and economic justice.

The Educational Circle is committed to analysing and understanding the universal views and thoughts of Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule. Both these leaders are our fore parents as well as inspirators and motivators in all walks of life. Their vision and mission are the guiding sources for the upliftment and betterment of depressed and oppressed sections of Indian society. Their guidelines and works have thrown light upon millions of Bahujans to overcome the chains and slavery from the discriminatory caste system. All the Bahujan leaders have taken inspiration from the life and struggles of both Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule.

The Educational Circle aspires to generate awareness and spread the ideology of Mahatma Jotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule among the masses. The ideas, thoughts and works of these great leaders have become the foundation stones for the cause of Bahujans. Their writings, speeches, and recommendations have strengthened the process of empowerment of downtrodden sections. Their life history, struggles, beliefs, and convictions are to be imbibed and upheld. Further, all the Bahujan leaders have worked towards generating awareness and spreading the ideology of Mahatma Jotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule.

The Educational Circle pledges to take forward the legacy of Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule by following their footsteps and prescribed ways and means. We shall strive to put forth the struggles and fights towards the emancipation and empowerment of Bahujans in both word and spirit. We have borrowed the term Bahujan which in turn was first brought to light by Buddha, then Mahatma Jotirao Phule and then Saheb Kanshi Ram. Thus, the Educational Circle in its whole will transform itself as an ideological, intellectual, cultural, and political platform for the struggle towards the upliftment of the downtrodden and depressed sections of society. In addition, it will uphold the universal argument pertaining to free, fair and open access to education for all as it is one of the tool for emancipation and upliftment for the excluded sections of the society.

Finally, Mahatma Jotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Educational Circle will struggle towards achieving social, gender, political, and economic justice through the annihilation of the caste. And it proposes to do so through an actual movement and not just a mere reaction. The agenda of our initiative is bringing together Bahujan intellectuals and transforming them into a conscious capable Bahujan class of intellectuals guided by the immortal principles of Phule and pay back to the society. Our present positions and private standings in our lives are the results of our forefathers’ struggle and their unmatched and untold sacrifices. Whatever we owe personally is in direct proportion to our debt of the community that must be paid back by all of us in whatever form possible. It is our firm resolve to hand over better prospectus and viable social environment for our posterity and free them from the historical bondage of servitude in our own life time.

We intend to facilitate and intensify the on-going Bahujan movement in its entirety including political empowerment paradigm. The social transformation and economic emancipation remain the immediate ideological contours of our initiative for endurable cultural change in the society. Our initiative further intends to strengthen the socio-economic off-shoots of the society ushering an era of enlightened culture with democratic political institutions guided by the humanitarian ideology of Phule and epitomised by the Indian constitution. Formation of the Bahujan unity and annihilating the graded caste hierarchy manufactured by the privileged castes for their own interest and against the vast Bahujan humanity and transforming it into an egalitarian and enlightened society with outcastes’ stewardship, is the natural and logical course of action and strategical objective of the initiative and permanent themes for the campaign. Autonomous, independent, dynamic and vibrant Bahujan movement is the only righteous course of action for ossifying and consolidating permanent structure of unity and strength of the Bahujan unity discarding all clutches, treating privileged castes’ pretentions of right, left or centrist orientation with the disdain they deserve.

In this regard, let’s also not fall prey to the tranquilising deception of the politically hyperactive chamchas among ourselves who for their selfish motives work for casteist communalist forces like Sangha Parivar. In order to avoid the above pitfall, we at the moment try to keep away from political or parliamentary aspirations of any sort but continue our work in the ideological realm spreading Phule’s ideology. With no organisational aspirations immediately, the Phule Circle single-mindedly intends to accelerate ideological consolidation of Bahujans with methodological symmetry and conceptual clarity by reinforcing the Bahujan paradigm of social reality in India.

However, it will not shy away from the responsibility of political interference if circumstances demand so in the future. It is our firm conviction that political consciousness determines the social standing of the community. Political indifference had played havoc with Bahujans humanitarian and compassionate propensities in the past. A community bereft of political acumen makes no sense in a democracy and in India, where numerical preponderance of Bahujans makes it the natural claimant of political power with significant bearing on the over-all development of the community.

Hundreds of Bahujan revolutionaries sacrificed their lives to bring this movement of dignity and self-respect where it is seen today, and we remain indebted to them all for their contribution to the social goal. However, to maintain the historical continuity of the movement it is our unbounded conviction to reiterate our profound organic allegiance and commitment to Phule’s ideology. Bahujan intellectuals including academicians, lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, administrators, writers, artists, researchers, employees, labourers and social activists who wish to make meaningful contributions as scourge and scavengers and building blocks of the society, guided by the social obligation and ready to submerge their individual identity into a collective common, having sufficient strategic resources i.e. time, talent, and technology are welcome to be the organic part of the initiative and shoulder the historical responsibility of bringing greatness and glory to the Bahujan community under the ideology of Phule, lest posterity perceives us as indifferent onlookers at a time when the destiny of the country was being re-written.

Over the past two years (10th October 2015 to till today), we have shown our commitment and hard work towards the cause of Bahujan unity. We make a call to all Bahujan organisations and individuals to come forward under the common banner of Phule’s ideology to achieve Bahujan unity.

Now P M Sundara Rao come up with a biopic movie Mahatma Jotirao Phule in Telugu. On behalf of Mahatma Jotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Educational Circle we requesting everyone to support and help to release the movie.

Tata Sivaiah, Founder & President, Mahatma Jotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Educational Circle [email protected]

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