Mahatma Jotiba Phule:
– An Educational Philosopher –
Dr Rajni Bala & Navjoti Marwaha
Experiments of great thinkers and educationists can act as beacon light to guide our thoughts. One such thinker, teacher, educationist and social revolutionist we had in India was Mahatma Jotiba Phule. He lived and worked in Maharashtra. The purpose of this article is to look into his thoughts and ideas as an answer to the present challenges of education and inequality in India. His thoughts and ideas were revolutionary. His single aim was universalization of primary education. Mahatma Jotiba Phule concentrated on need of Primary education, the essential qualities of Primary teacher and the curriculum of Primary education. He gave importance to upliftment of lower castes and women education and took necessary steps for this at that time. His wife had the pride of being the first lady teacher. He was a very noble thinker, reformer, educationist and social revolutionary.
Among many thinkers and theorists, one comes across in the field of education, a very simple yet convincing, and impressive contribution of Mahatma Jotiba Phule. For him education was not just literacy. If we look at the phenomenon in totality it will be clear that for him education was for social change in real sense of the term. He was the forerunner of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar as far as education of the down trodden is concerned. That is why Dr. Ambedkar had accepted him as “Guru”. Mahatma Phule was thinking always about the type of education which can be a powerful device for eradication of social evils. It was his firm conviction that if social reforms are to be effective and lasting, the individuals at all levels should be educated. Therefore he laid emphasis on the conscious and deliberate efforts for proper education of the masses. Mahatma Phule is one of the prominent social reformers and that was his main trait. For this purpose he treated spread of education as his mission. It was his firm contention that backwardness of the masses was mainly due to lack of education. Nowadays the importance of the education is mainly due to lack of education. It is universally acknowledged and all out efforts are being made for universalization of education all over the world particularly in developing and under-developed countries. But during Phule's time it was not so. Education for women and untouchables was nothing more than a daydream. In such phenomena he struggled a lot for the education of women and low castes inspite of threats to his life. No doubt, he was the pioneer of revolutionary thinking. He was rightly called the "Father of Indian Social Revolution" in the modern age.
Birth and Life
Mahatma Jotiba Phule was born in 1827. His father Govind Rao was a vegetable vendor at Poona. Originally Jotiba's family known as Gorhays came from Katgun, a village in the Satara district of Maharashtra, His grand father Shetiba Gorhay settled down in Poona, Since Jotiba's father and two uncles served as florists under the last of the peshwas, they came to be known as Phules. Jotiba's mother passed away when he was hardly one year old. After completing his primary education, Jotiba had to leave school and help his father by working on the family's farm. Jotiba's marriage was celebrated when he was not even thirteen,
Impressed by Jotiba's intelligence and his love of knowledge, two of his neighbours one a Muslim teacher and another a Christian gentleman persuaded his father Govindrao to allow him to study in a secondary school. In 1841 Jotiba got admission in the Scottish Mission High school at Poona. Jotiba was greatly influenced by Thomas Paine's ideas and he read with great interest Paine's famous book Rights of Man. After completing his secondary education in 1847, Jotiba decided not to accept a job under the government.
An incident in 1848 made him aware of the inequalities of the caste system and predominant position of the Brahmins in the social setup. He was invited to attend a wedding of one of his Brahmin friends. As the bridegroom was taken in procession Jotiba accompanied him along with the relatives of his Brahmin friend. Knowing that Jotiba belonged to the Mali caste which was considered to be inferior by the Brahmins, the relatives of the bridegroom insulted and abused him .Jotiba left the procession and returned home. With tears in his eyes, he narrated his experience to his father who tried to pacify him. After this incident he decided to defy the caste system and serve the Shudras and women who were deprived of all their rights as human beings under the caste system.
Education of women and lower castes, he believed, deserved priority. Hence at home he began educating his wife Savitribai Phule and opened a girl's school in August 1848. The orthodox opponents of Jotiba were furious and they started a vicious campaign against him. He refused to be unnerved by their malicious propaganda. As no teacher dared to work in a school in which untouchables were admitted as students. Jotiba asked his wife to teach the girls in his school. Stones and brickbats were thrown at her when she was on her way to school. The reactionaries threatened Jotiba's father with dire consequences if he did not dissociate from his son's activities. Yielding to the pressure, Jotiba's father asked his son and daughter-in-law to leave his house as both of them refused to give up their noble endeavor.
But Mahatama Jyotiba Phule continued with his mission. On the 3rd July, 1851, he founded a girls' school in which eight girls were admitted on the first day. Steadily the number of students increased. Savitribai taught in this school also and had to suffer a lot because of the hostility of the orthodox people. Jotiba opened two more girls' school during 1851-52. In a memorial addressed to the Education commission (popularly known as Hunter Commission) in 1882, he described his activities in the field of education.
Jotiba was aware that primary education among the masses in the Bombay Presidency was very much neglected. He blamed the British government for spending profusely a large portion of revenue on the education of the higher classes. According to him, this policy resulted in the virtual monoply of all the higher offices under the Government by the Brahmins. Jotiba boldly attacked the stranglehold of the Brahmins, who prevented others from having access to all the avenues of knowledge and influence.
Widow Remarriages were banned and child marriage was very common among Brahmins and other upper castes in the Hindu society. Many widows were young and not all of them could live in a manner in which the orthodox people expected them to live. Some of the delinquent widows resorted to abortion or left their illegitimate children to their fate by leaving them on the streets. Out of pity for the orphans, Jotiba Phule established an orphanage, possibly the first such institution founded by an Indian, Jotiba gave protection to pregnant widows and assured them that the orphanage would take care of their children. It was in this orphanage run by Jotiba that a Brahmin widow gave birth to a boy in 1873 and Jotiba adopted him as his son and he was named as Yashwant Phule. On September 24, 1873, Jotiba convened a meeting of his followers and admirers and it was decided to form the Satya Shodhak Samaj (society of seekers of truth) with Jotiba as its first president and treasurer. The main objectives of organization were to liberate the shudras and atishudras and to prevent their exploitation by the Brahmins. The membership was open to all. In 1876 there were 316 members of the Satya Shodhak Samaj. Jotiba refused to regard the Vedas as sacrosanct. He opposed idolatry and denounced the chaturvarnya. In 1876, Jotiba was nominated as a member of the Poona Municipality. He tried to help the people in the famine-stricken areas of Maharashtra when a severe famine in 1877 forced people in rural area to leave their villages. Throughout his life, Jotiba Phule fought for the emancipation of the downtrodden people and the struggle which he launched at a young age ended only when he died on November 28, 1890. It is very clear that he had very revolutionary ideas and he expressed his ideas through his books. He had written many books namely Tritya Ratna(1855),Brahmanache Kasab(1869) , Gulamgiri(1873), Shetkaryancha Asud(1883), Satsar Vol.1(1885), Satsar Vol. 2(1885), Ishara(October 1,1885), saravajanik Satyadharma Pustak( this book was published posthumously). So in all, he worked for whole the life for achieving his motives i.e. compulsory universal education, women education and uplifting of lower caste people.
Educational Philosophy of Mahatma Jotiba Phule
Mahatama Jyoti Rao Phule stated,
Vidya bina mat gayi
Mat bina gati gay
Gati bina niti gayi
Niti bina sampati gayi
Sampati bina shudra dbast huye
Itna sara anarth ek avidya se huya
Mahatma Jotiba Phule was fully conscious about the importance of education. He knew that education can only be the powerful instrument of social revolution. Education can only bring social equality and social justice in the society. The essence of the educational philosophy of Mahatma Phule -was to be educated is a human right. Mahatma Phule emphasized on education to all. He was the sponsor of concept of universalization of education. Universalization of education means to accept and extend facilities of education to all irrespective of caste, creed, religion, sex and physical or moral disability, the article 45 of Indian constitution is the symbol of victory of the philosophy of equality of education propounded by Mahatma Phule. He also worked for women education. Through his activities and undaunted efforts he tried to build foundation of woman education in particular and education for all and especially the non-established class of society. For achieving his aims, he opened a girl's school in 1848 at Budhwar Peth in the residential building of Tatya Sahib Bhide. He opened two more schools in 1851 among which one school was for girls of backward class. He wrote many books and through these books he expressed his revolutionary views and awakened the people about their rights. He had revolutionary ideas about different aspects of education which have been explained in this article.
Salient features of educational philosophy of Mahatma Jobiba Phule
1. Individuals being equal, it is necessary to provide facilities to more and more individuals and the monopoly in education should be stopped.
2. While educating individuals, religion, race, caste and sex should not be considered. Education should develop values for humanism.
3. The Principle of universalization of education should be followed and to same extent education should be made compulsory.
4. Women, the neglected and those who are deprived of education for long should be given top priority in educational facilities and thus social justice should be established
5. Education should be based on equality because such education binds the society together. It does not destruct the society hence it is beneficial for the welfare of the country.
6. Mahatma Jotiba Phule expressed great concern for primary education and primary teacher, He was of the view that primary teacher should be a trained person and sufficient salary should be paid to primary teacher.
7. He argued that curriculum should be utilitarian and practical so as to cover the needs of the society. Preliminary knowledge about agriculture and health should be included in the curriculum. He said that there should be demarcation between the curriculum of rural and urban area.
8. Permanent values like freedom, equality and fraternity should be developed through education. Personality should be developed and social equality should be established.
9. Along with advancement in knowledge, the values of inculcation of devotion to nation, self respect, internationalism, universal fraternity and kind heartedness should be developed.
10. Professional ability and efficiency should be developed so that knowledge may be properly linked.
11. The down trodden filtration theory advocated by Lord Macaulay is not philosophically sound as it ignores the common masses and non established individuals for their progress.
12. Practical knowledge is superior to bookish knowledge hence primary knowledge in Modi (a special marathi script) accounts, history, grammar, agriculture ethics and health should be imparted.
13. Jotiba Phule said that quantitative growth in primary school is important but it should not be at the cost of qualitative growth.
14. He was of the view that government should formulate the scheme of scholarships and rewards for the needy and deserving students.
To conclude with, we can say that he was the first Indian educationist whose pragmatic views on education were honoured by British rule in India. In spite of the fact that he was a great critic of the system of education laid down by Lord Macaulay. He was the most practical man with profound philosophical background. The Indian educationists of his period and after his period were profoundly impressed by the richness and originality of his thoughts. But some contemporary leaders and reformers in education could not appreciate him in his times as they were in the grip of traditionalism. His educational ideas and principles especially in the field of women education and universal, free and compulsory primary education are most welcome in the modern Indian society as elsewhere. There is no gain saying the fact that the history of woman education in India will be just incomplete without reference to the contribution of Mahatma Jotiba Phule. He is rightly called Mahatma. For his subtle and substantial contribution he is regarded as Martin Luther of Maharashtra.
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ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2011, All