International Women’s Day traces back its origin in early 1900, the time of the socialist movement in the soviet union, focused on the struggle of women factory workers, the day was even declared as a national holiday in the Soviet Union, and was immediately followed by other socialist and communist countries such as China. Earlier its celebration was confined to socialist and communist countries, but in 1975 United Nations designated that year as ‘International women’s year,’ and following this in 1977 United nation also designated the 8th of march as the ‘International Women’s Day.’
After the 1980s women get momentum in India, and since then government and corporations have institutionalized this day to celebrate the struggles of women to highlight their contributions. It’s time to remember known names in our Indian History such as Savitribai Phule, Jijabai, Bhimabai Ambedkar, and Ahillyabai Holkar, etc.
Savitribai Phule and her contributions
Savitribai Phule was born on 3 January 1931 in Maharashtra, widely regarded as the mother of Indian Feminisms and women empowerment. She has been formally recognized as India’s first female teacher and a social reformer. She along with her husband Jyotiba Phule, led a social revolution in colonial India, and they have been known for their work in promoting women’s rights, education of girl child, and as well as for their work to strive towards casteless society. Jyotiba Phule was leading social reformation activity in and around Pune, in colonial India. Savitribai Phule was illiterates when married to Joyotiba Phule, because back in those days according to ancient scriptures, in conservative Indian society education of women was considered a sin. However, Jyotiba Phule recognized their lack of education as a direct cause responsible for their societal discrimination. After marring Savitribai Phule, he would go on to provide homeschooling to her and provide her with basic education, and later she also enters teacher training in an institute to formally became India’s first female teacher, in a legendary achievement.
They established one of the first Indian Girl Schools in Pune, and from 1948 to 1952 they opened around 18 schools for girl education across Maharashtra. The initial school they established, would go on to register the strength of 150 girl students, and at one point the number of girls students started outnumbering the number of boys students in the region. They adopted different syllabus and curriculum, and innovative teaching methods, and they considered far most superiors than the methods employed in Government schools. The couple ensures the value they were teaching girls would help in defeating the conservative values of Indian society.
They not only championed the cause of girl education but also fought against discrimination of all forms including gender-based discrimination, caste-based discrimination, etc. In 1873, they even established Satya Sodhaka Samaj, which was an interactive open platform for all sections of the society irrespective there caste, religion, sex, and class with a primary objective of promoting social equity in society. They even set up Satya Sodhaka Marriage, as a platform to overcome the hurdles of caste and religion concerning interfaith and intercaste marriage, and they predominantly used the platform to promote widow remarriage, which was again considered a sin in the society.
Through their social and educational activities, they fought against dowry, and the rights of untouchables, especially to access public water. By considering how discrimination against women was deep-rooted in society, they even took a firm stand against female infanticide and set up a center known as Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha which translated to child-killing prohibition homes, where they encourage pregnant women and even survivors of rape to carry out safe deliveries.
Savitribai Phule was also a well-known writer and poet, published Kavya Phule in 1854, and later in 1892, she has even written out ‘Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar.’ To promote the education of girl child she wrote a historic poem titled ‘Go, Get Education’ which became the mantra of the couple to push the conservative Indian society towards accepting the education of girl child. Savitribai Phule even established Mahila Seva Mandal to raise issues related to women’s rights, and to eliminate caste discrimination among women.
However, the path towards social reforms taken up by Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phula was not easy, and they had faced tough resistance from their own family and as well as from conservative elements in the Indian society, especially those from the upper caste. The conservative elements started targeting the couple and particularly Savitribai Phule met with both physical and verbal abuse.
This struggle of both makes them stand out amongst India’s social reformers, and hence now shouldn’t we celebrate the tenth march, to commemorate the struggles of Indian women because it marked the death anniversary of Savitribai Phule.
In the past year alone, Indian women have played a divine role in India’s narrative, such as the Sabarimala case, Shaheen bagh Protest against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, which was predominantly led by women of all religions. The global pandemic broke out than we realize how the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown could disproportionately affect the women around the world, especially the plight of migrant workers, and the disproportionate impact on women migrant workers. It triggered a debate about women’s rights in the country. As Work From Home became a norm around the world, the home became the center of attention and for the first time, the contribution of women in household work and in proving care at home started occupying the center stage of the debate.
In India’s patriarchal society, where women have been assigned the primary role for carrying out household work for providing care by default came into question, and it also breaks the men of the household and the government to take notice of the contribution of women within the household, but unfortunately, these debates and this attention didn’t yield anything substantial as far as women’s rights are concerned.
The state has failed to use this opportunity created by the pandemic to institutionalize household work. Further, the horrors of the lockdown became apparent when cases of domestic violence were going up and other violence against women, be it within the house or outside. As lockdown kept families confined to their home. Cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape continued around the country. If we look at the ongoing farmer’s protest women farmers have led from the front and they not only backed up their male counterparts but successfully managed to highlight how the right of women farmers could also be affected by the new farm laws.
It is time for India, to carry out a thorough introspection about its prevailing societal inequality concerning gender, and caste. They form a vicious cycle and feed on each other. India aspires to become a $ 5 trillion economy, and the Indian society reports the cases of female infanticides, dowry-related harassments and death, and even grave incidents of sexual assaults against women. In this context, one should remember and commemorate the phenomenal contribution of Savitribai Phule to women’s rights in India.
HAPPY WOMENS DAY
(Pictures from google)