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Introduction: During the early modern period, the Indian women forced to practice certain social evils such

as Child Marriage, Purdah System, Sati system, Prohibition of Widows remarriage, etc. During this period, number of social and political thinkers started movement against such systems and methods. These thinkers aimed at upliftment of the status of women socially, economically, educationally and politically. Of these socio -political thinkers Mahatma Phule, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and such other have organized movement for striving equality for dalits, backward classes and women. As such, Mahatma Phule was an earliest leader, who strongly opposed gender inequality. The present paper examined the women emancipation activities of Mahatma Phule. Mahatma Jyotirao Phule (1827-1890): Jyotirao Govindrao Phule, also known as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule was an activist, thinker, social reformer and revolutionary from Maharashtra in the nineteenth century. His remarkable influence was apparent in fields like education, agriculture, caste system, women and widow upliftment and removal of unto uchability. He is most known for his efforts toeducate women and the lower castes. He, after educating his wife, opened the first school for girls in India in August 1848. In September, 1873, Jyotirao, along with his followers, formed the Satya Shodhak Sam aj (Society of Seekers of Truth) with Jyotirao as its first president and treasurer. The main objective of the organisation was to liberate the Shudras and Ati Shudras and to prevent their 'exploitation' by the Brahmins. For his fight to attain equal rights for peasants and the lower caste and his contribution to the field of education he is regarded as one of the most important figure in Social Reform Movement in Maharashtra.

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was born on April 11, 1827 in Satara district of Maharastra in a family belonging to Mali caste, an inferior caste. His father, Govindrao, was a vegetable vendor and his mother died when he was 9 months old. After completing his primary education, Jyotirao had to leave the school and help his father by working on the family's farm. He was married at the age of 12. His intelligence was recognised by a Muslim and a Christian neighbor, who persuaded his father to allow Jyotirao to attend the local Scottish Mission's High School, which he completed in 1847. The turning point in Jyotiba's life was in year 1848, when he was insulted by family members of his friend, a bridegroom for his participation in the marriage procession, an auspicious occasion. Jyotiba was suddenly facing the divide created by the caste system. Influenced by Thomas Paine books Rights of Man , Phule developed a keen sense of social justice, becoming passionately

critical of the Indian caste system. He argued that education of women and the lower castes was a vital priority in addressing social inequalities. On 24 September 1874, Jyotirao formed 'Satya Shodhak Samaj' (Society of Seekers of Truth) with himself as its first president and treasurer. The main objectives of the organisation were to liberate the Shudras and Ati Shudras and to prevent their 'exploitation' by the Brahmins. Through this Satya Shodhak Samaj, Jyotirao refused to regard the Vedas as sacrosanct. He opposed idolatry and denounced the chaturvarnya system (the caste system). SatyaShodhak Samaj propounded the spread of rational t hinking and rejected the need for a Brahman priestly class as educational and religious leaders. Phule was a member of Pune Municipality from 1876 to 1882. When Phule established the Satya Shodhak Samaj, Savitribai became the head of the women's section which included ninety female members. Moreover, she worked tirelessly as a school teacher for lowercaste girls. Deenbandhu publication, the mouthpiece of the Satya Shodhak Samaj, played an important role in SatyaShodhak Samaj's movement. After Jyotiba's death in 1890 his spirited followers went on spreading the movement to the remotest parts of Maharashtra. Shahu Maharaj, the ruler of Kolhapur princely state, gave a lot of financial and moral support to Satya Shodhak Samaj. In its new incarnation as non -brahmin party carried on the work of superstition removal vigorously. Jyotiba firmly believed that 'if you want to create a new social system based on freedom, equality, brotherhood, human dignity, economic justice and value devoid of exploitation, you will have to overthrow the old, unequal and exploitative social system and the values on which it is based'. Knowing this well, Jotiba attacked blind faith and faith in what is given in religious books and the so-called god's words. He tore to pieces the misleading myths that were ruling over the minds of women, shudras and ati-shudras. Yielding to god or fate, astrology and other such rubbish rituals, sacredness, god-men, etc. was deemed irrational and absurd. He also led campaigns to remove the economic and social handicaps that breed blind faith among women, shudras and ati-shudras. Jyotiba subjected religious texts and religious behaviour to the tests of rationalism. Phule wanted to abolish this blind faith in the first instance. All established religious and priestly classes find this blind faith useful for their purposes and they try their best to defend it. Phule concludes that it is untenable to say that religious texts were God-created. To believe so is only ignorance and prejudice. All religions and their religious texts are man-made and they represent the selfish interest of the classes, which

are trying to pursue and protect their selfish ends by constructing such books. Phule was the only sociologist and humanist in his time that could put forth such bold ideas. In his view, every religious book is a product of its time and the truths it contains have no permanent and universal validity. Again these texts can never be free from the prejudices and the selfishness of the authors of such books. Phule believed in overthrowing the social system in which man has been deliberately made dependent on others, illiterate, ignorant and poor, with a view to exploiting him. To him blind faith eradication formed part of a broad socioeconomic transformation. This was his strategy for ending exploitation of human beings. Mere advice, education and alternative ways of living are not enough, unless the economic framework of exploitation comes to an end. After Jyotiba's death in November28, 1890, there was a period of lull, when the flame lit by Jyotiba waned. The SatyaShodhak Samaj movement was totally a social movement and nothing to do with the politics, but the members of SatyaShodhak Samaj dissolved Satya Shodhak Samaj and merged it with Congress party in 1930. Mahatma Phule had a favourable opinion about the British Rule in India at least from the point of view of introducing modern notions of justice and equality in Indian society and taking India into the future. He was however a Hindu. His akhandas were based on the abhangs of Hindu saint Tukaram. He believed that his teachings were the same of the Bhakti (without the racism). His own hero was Chhatrapati Shivaji, whom he connected to backward-caste heritage. Some of India's first modern feminists were closely associated with Phule, including his wife Savitribai Phule; Pandita Ramabai, a Brahmin woman who made waves in the atmosphere of liberal reformism; Tarabai Shinde, the nonbrahmin author of a fiery tract on gender inequality which was largely ignor ed at the time but has recently become well -known; and Muktabai, a fourteen-yearold pupil in Phule's school, whose essay on the social oppression of the Mang and Mahar castes is also now justly famous.
Women Emancipation by Mahatma Phule:

Women and Shudras have been the worst sufferers in Brahminically dominated Hindu society. Manu condemned women as inferior beings fit for doing manual and menial works. A woman by nature was regarded as a frail, untrustworthy, wicked, thoughtless, and lewd (indecent, lustful) person. It was believed that if a woman was educated she would elope with anybody, would easily be led astray, and would destroy happiness at home. Jyotirao realized that it was Brahmins who systematically developed and invented stories, legends and ideologies to

prevent women and Shudras (Untouchables) from seeking education with a view to keep them in ignorance so that their (Brahmins) hold could be successfully preserved. Jyotirao and his friends resolved to ring the bell of social reform in Maharashtra. Jyotirao decided to emancipate Hindu women from her slavery. Indian society had kept women and Shudras out of the pole of education. On 3rd July 1851, Jyotirao started a girl's school in Anna Chiplunkar's building at Budhwarpeth. The school first began with merely eight girls on the roll, soon their number rose to 48. Jyotirao became an important figure in the promotion of women's education. He opened a second school for girls in Rastapeth on 17th September 1851 and a third in Vithalpeth on 15 March 1989. The curriculum comprised of reading grammar, arithmetic, geography, history, map reading, etc. On 17th Feb. 1852, Jyotirao's school was publicly inspected. The officials passed the following remark. "It is a pity that the citizens of our country are not yet convinced of the need to educate women". A judge named Brown who was present on the occasion said, "Educating women will strengthen family happiness and utility of the institution of the family". Dadoba Pandurang Tarkhadkar, a government officer to supervise local government schools, after inspecting the first school set up by Jyotirao in Budhwarpeth on 16 October 1851 congratulated Jyotirao and the management running the school very successfully and efficiently. Inspired by the success of schools, Jyotirao set up a library for his students, since it was felt that a library was an important means of imparting education. The number of students in Jyotirao's school grew ten times more than that in government school (Joshi, 1996). In recognition of Jyotirao's services to promote education among women and backward castes, the then government on 16 November 1852 decided to felicitate Jyotirao. On behalf of the government, Jyotirao was honoured with a shawl - an honour hitherto conferred only on Brahmins. The movement to educate women began to spread to other regions of the country. A literary and scientific society for students was established in Bombay. The society set up eight schools in Bombay on 1st October 1849. These schools were open to children of all castes. British Governors and Judges visited the schools. Describing the conditions prevalent then, Lakahitvadi said: The Brahmins have monopolized learning through unfair means. They have decreed that other castes should not be educated. Today, the Brahmins have captured all the means of livelihood. The Brahmin Pandits have threatened to leave their profession rather than teach holy language Sanskrit to non-Brahmin students.

The newsletter Dnanodaya wrote: "It is hightime the Brahmins stopped entertaining such strange ideas". Between 1820 and 1825, a Brahmin Pandit from Pune Gangadhar Phadke, used to make a living by teaching Sanskrit to Europeans in Bombay. The Pune Brahmins ostracized him. Neelkanth Shastri Bhat and five other Pandits refused to teach Sanskrit to non - Brahmin students for which they were punished. Jotiba was a rebel. A rebellion was simmering in his blood. People thought he was out of step with the majority, with religion and society. And he was fervently, feverishly and fanatically so. His genius was in rebellion against the prevailing decayed customs and worn -out social traditions. The reign of superstitions had been long and severe, the wicked customs and prejudices were galling, sickening to humanity. Jyotirao condemned the degrading beliefs about women in the Vedas, Upanishads and Manusmriti. However, Jyotirao threw a challenge to the Manusmriti. He declared, "Follow me, falter not now, Down with Manu's injunctions. Education imparts you happiness, Jyotirao tells you with confidence" (Bakshi & Mahajan,2000). As Jyotiba did not conform to social traditions, the tradition mongers shouted: Orthodoxy is our doxy, our religion is in danger. Jyotiba is an enemy of society. He is nobody and a descendant of generations of nobodies". The Poona Brahmins hotly discussed this unfamiliar attack on their religion and regarded Jyotirao's work as a disgrace to the holy city. Their hatred for Jyotirao knew no bonds. They (Brahmins) threatened Jyotirao through his caste men with dire consequences. But threats were of no avail. Jyotirao stood strong and firm. He conquered the orthodoxy and released the forces of liberty, equality and humanity (Ghurye, 1979). Jyotirao's bold efforts to educate women, Shudras and the untouchables had deep effect on the values, beliefs and ideologies. His efforts unleashed the forces of awakening among the common masses. Education made women more knowledgeable. They became conscious of what is right and wrong in the light of science. Women began to question the age -old customs which degraded them. Similarly, Shudras became conscious of their caste identity and started claiming equality with higher castes in all areas of life. In short, Jyotirao liberated women and Shudras from the control of religious vested interests and laid the foundation for a Backward Class Movement in India. In the Sarvajanik Satya-Dharma, Jyotirao further observes: "All religious works are written by men and they do not contain trut h from beginning to end. Changes were made by certain obstinate men in these books to suit certain occasions and the requirements of the times. So religions have not become

equally helpful to all; and they give rise to divisions and cults full of hatred and envy". Mahatma Phule stated: "God created all things. He is kind and desires that all should enjoy human right. If the earth we inhabit is created by God why should the people of different countries be torn as under by enmity and the madness of patriotism, and why should religious bigotry prevail so much? When there are so many rivers in different countries how can particular people in a particular country become the most sacred? That most sacred river does not hesitate to carry with its water the droppings of dogs. All men possess the same kind of features and intellect. Nobody is sacred by birth. Everybody has his virtues and vices as a human being. God is unknowable, unreachable. Not even one direction towards him can be fully explored. The universe is limitless and boundless. Man should not cherish ambition to search for God. Man is insignificant. Man is not sure of his existence. He is weak; his knowledge is limited. Brahma who is supposed to have been born of the navel of an imaginary Vishnu could not have had a glimpse of the Almighty. God has created flowers and sweet-scented things for the use of man. So it is useless and meaningless to dedicate the flowers to God who is the creator of them. Flowers should be used for garlanding men who support their families by honest labour and liberate the poor from the clutches of selfish persons. Turning in mind countless times the name of the God is not worship of God. The closing of the eyes, the holding of the nose, and the burning of incense, the atmosphe re of a sanctuary and the mattering of mantras is not worship of God. One cannot support his old parents by mere worship of God. Those who take opium and live in idly on food given by the people are hypocrites. One should fear God, keep Him always in mind, and work honestly and sincerely. That is the worship of God. Right conduct is the true remembrance of God. To believe in japs is wrong. On account of this wrong belief gosawis, bairagis and recluses live idly like parasites on the society. Offering food to God is not the proper way of honouring Him. Those men of the society who serve the people and by chance become helpless in old age, should be supported, and the orphans and crippled children, should be maintained. The man whose conduct does not show discrimination, and who loves and serves all irrespective of caste or creed, be he a Brahmin, or a Red Indian or a Mahar, he should be entertained at dinner. There is no such thing as heaven. It is no part of the universe. Women are equal to men. One can repay the gratitude of all persons except the mother. She is the beauty of the home; she is the kind eye that guards all". Jyotirao remarked that "Woman is by nature weak. Man is greedy and bold. So he bent her to his will and kept her under his domination ver y selfishly by preventing her from acquiring worldly knowledge. Polygamy is cruel. Man is the source of greed, hatred and sin. The vices of a man visit his offspring and have bad effect upon them. Those who marry more than one wife at a time create a hell in their homes and catch vices and diseases. Those who cohabit

with women in menstruation get dangerous diseases like leprosy. Marriages of old men with young girls are prohibited by Brahmins, but old men are not prohibited from marrying in old age and ravaging the youth of girls. So girl widows, persecuted by their male relatives, fall a victim to their lust. Foolish goldsmiths and Kunbis are following the example set by Brahmins in not allowing young widows to remarry. In Vedic times a widow was allowed to cohabit with the brother of the husband and to produce children. There should not be discrimination between laws for men and women. One law should be applicable to both. A man is allowed to marry three women, but a woman marrying three persons is not tolerated. So, a man must not be allowed to marry more than one woman if his first wife is alive. Greedy men have adopted these selfish laws. There should not be one law for the Brahmins and another for the Shudras. British rule has introduced laws before which every man, Brahmin or non-Brahmin, is equal. When a man does not inflict pain, physical or mental, on any creature for his own selfish ends, it becomes his meritorious act. To exploit the poor in the name of religion and to give grand feast to lazy peop le is not virtue. To enjoy the company of prostitutes or to attend tea-party, or to feast on drink and mutton and then to observe untouchability in regard to one's coreligionist is no virtue".
Concluding Remarks: Due to the efforts of Mahatma Phule, education of girls is emphasized. Further, orthodox practices such as child marriage were controlled, widows' remarriage were allowed, Hindu Law was amended to protect the interests of women, by the efforts of both Mahatma Phule and later Dr. Ambedkar. As such after independence, there is considerable increase in education of women. Further, realizing the backwardness of the rural women Government of India and state governments have formulated socio-economic and political empowerment of women through Constitutional amendments and formulating the many programmes such as Stree Shakti, NREGA, etc. The women are also have took advantage of such welfare programmes and due to which now women are educated and employed in almost all professions such as law, police, medicine, engineering, banks, education, etc. Hence, it can be concluded that the contribution of Sociopolitical thinkers including Mahatma Phule is memorable for the emancipation of Indian women.

The status of women in India has undergone many great changes over the past few millenniafrom a largely unknown status in ancient times through the low points of the medieval period, to the promotion of equal rights in recent decades. In the ancient times, the primary duty of women was service to one's husband. Scholars, however, believe that in ancient India, women enjoyed equal status with men in all fields of life.

Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period. Rigvedic verses suggest that the women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their husband. Gargi and Maitreyi were notable women sages mentioned in scriptures such as Rig Veda and Upanishads. According to studies, the status of women began to decline with the Smritis, especially Manusmriti. The Islamic invasion and later Christianity curtailed women's freedom and rights. Although reformatory movements such as Jainism allowed women to be admitted to the religious order, by and large, the women in India faced confinement and restrictions. Sati, child marriages and a ban on widow remarriages became part of social life in India. The Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent brought the purdah practice in the Indian society. Among the Rajputs of Rajasthan, the Jauhar was practised. In some parts of India, the Devadasis or the temple women were sexually exploited. In many Muslim families, women were restricted to Zenana areas. In spite of these conditions, there were exceptions as some women excelled in the fields of politics, literature, education and religion. Prominent among them are Razia Sultana, Chand Bibi, Mirabai, Akka Mahadevi, Rami Janabai and Lai Ded. Some Bhakti sects and Guru Nanak preached the message of equality between men and women. During the British Raj, many reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyotirao Phule etc. fought for the upliftment of women. Raja Rammohan Roy's efforts led to the abolition of the Sati practice in 1829. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's crusade for the improvement in condition of widows led to the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856. Many women reformers such as Pandita Ramabai also helped the cause of women upliftment. Rani Lakshmi Bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal, were notable women who led the revolt of 1857. Women also played an important part in India's independence struggle. Some of the famous freedom fighters include Sarojini Naidu, Dr. Annie Besant, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani and Durgabai Deshmukh. Chandramukhi Basu, Kadambini Ganguly and Anandi Gopal Joshi were few of the earliest Indian women to obtain educational degrees. In modern India, traditions such as sati, jauhar, and devadasi have been banned and are largely defunct. However, the purd ah is still practiced by many Indian women, and child marriage remains prevalent despite it being an illegal practice under current Indian laws. Women now participate in all activities such as

education, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, s cience and technology, etc. The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women equality (Article 14), no discrimination by the State (Article 15(1)), equality of opportunity (Article 16), and equal pay for equal work (Article 39(d)). In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favor of women and children (Article 15(3)), renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women (Article 51(A) (e)), and also allows for provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief (Article 42). The feminist activism in India picked up momentum during 1970s, which forced the Government to amend the Evidence Act, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Penal Code and introduce the categ ory of custodial rape. Female activists united over issues such as female infanticide, gender bias, women health, and female literacy. Many women groups launched anti -liquor campaigns in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and other states. In 1990s, grants from foreign donor agencies enabled the formation of new women-oriented NGOs. Self-help groups and NGOs such as Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) have played a major role in women's rights. Many women including Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan) have emerged as leaders of local movements. The most prominent Indian women are Indira Gandhi, Pratibha Patil and Meira Kumar the trio hold the distinction of being the Prime Minister, President and Speaker of the Lok Sabha respectively. The steady change in the position of women can be highlighted by looking at what has been achieved by women in the country since Independence. In 1951, Prem Mathur became the first Indian women commercial pilot of the Deccan Airways. In 1959, Anna Chandy became the first Indian woman judge of a Kerala High Court. In 1972, Kiran Bedi became the first female recruit to join the Indian Police Service. In 1984, Bachendri Pal became the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest. In 1989, Justice M. Fathima Beevi became the first woman judge of the Supreme Court of India. In 1993, Priya Jhingan became the first woman to be commissioned into the Indian Army. In 1994, Harita Kaur Deol became the first Indian woman pilot in the Indian Air Force (IAF), on a solo flight. In 2000, Karnam Malleswari became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal. The year 2001 is seen as landmark as it was declared the Year of Women's Empowerment (Swashakti) by the Government of India. The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women was also passed the same year. Two states

Kerala and Mizoram have attained universal female literacy rates. In urban India, girls are nearly at par with the boys in terms of education. As regards workforce participation, contrary to the co mmon perception, a large per cent of women in India work. In urban India, women have impressive number in the workforce and are at par with their male counter parts in terms of wages and position at the work place. In fact, 30 per cent of the workforce in software industry is female. In rural India, agriculture and allied industrial sectors employ almost 90 per cent of the total female labor. In overall farm production, women's average contribution is estimated at around 60 per cent of the total labor. Wome n account for more than 90 per cent of total employment in dairy production in India. They also constitute 50 per cent of the total employed in forest-based small-scale enterprises. 1. Bakshi, S.R. and Lipi Mahajan (2000): Jyotirao Phooley. IN: Encyclopedi c History of Indian Culture and Religion: Vol. 5: Social Reformers. Delhi: Deep & Deep, 2000. 2. Bali, Devaraj (1973): Great Political Thinkers. 3. Ghurye, GS (1979): Caste and Race in India. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1979. 4. Joshi, TL. (1996): Jyotirao Phule. New Delhi: National Book Trust India, 1996. 5. Vora, Rajendra: Two Strands of Indian Liberalism: The Ideas of Ranade and Phule.