It’s the birth anniversary of honourable Jotirao Phule. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and it strongly reminds us of the time when his wife and a great social reformer Savitribai Phule selflessly helped people during 1897’s plague epidemic and later succumbed to it. That was true sacrifice, many say, and I agree. But he was long gone before that plague pandemic.
I am not here to count Savitribai and Jotiba Phule’s social contributions or achievements; people have been doing that quite efficiently. I am just a nobody who wonders how and why they were what they were. How they could function the way they did, while in today’s era I am yet to find an example with even an ounce of similarity. I do think about this a lot, because the very fact that I am sitting in front of my laptop, writing, that too in English, is because these two rebeled against centuries of oppression of women and the marginalized and gave them the torch of education.
Crazy, is one word I can think of, when I think of them and countless other humans who were way ahead of their respective times. May it be Siddhartha who went on exile to prevent his family’s exclusion from Saakya clan because of his anti-war stance, or may it be Yuang Chwang’s (Xuanzang) 4 years of deadly venture through the desserts to communicate Indian Buddhism with that of Chinese, or may it be Maharshi Karve’s Periodical “Samaaj Swasthya” to create awareness about sexual health or Dr. Ambedkar’s firm stances on every issue concerning humanity (including his resignation in support of Hindu code Bill that was supposed to be women’s legal liberator, or his support for LGBTQ rights and the case he fought for Karve’s Samaaj Swasthya)..
Can you, dear men, wrap your head around the fact that Savitribai lit Jotiba’s pyre in 1890 when most of you still don’t allow women to even visit the cremation in 2020..? Can you understand how ahead of their time they were when Jotiba asked the Brahmins if Brahma menstruated through his mouth (along with other three parts from where other castes originated) since they so enthusiastically claim that they’re high because they originated from his mouth?
Can you dare to ask these questions even today? Can you even think of these queries today in 2020? Do you even acknowledge them fully? Can you sleep after limiting them to their specific castes/religions and pretending that they don’t bother you? How does it feel to look them in the eyes-though in photographs-while garlanding them on their birth/death anniversaries? So many of you sing praises of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s bravery and welfare state, how many of you know that Jotiba Phule had found his tomb and initiated celebration of his birth anniversary? How many of you can claim with evidence that you follow them to the fullest? How many of you know that his name was Jotiba/Jotirao and not Jyotiba/Jyotirao (“Joti” meaning plough, a peasant/labouring caste metaphor) ? Today’s elite Marathi women remember Raja Rammohan Roy, Agarkar, Tilak, etc when it comes to male social reformers; do they remember that Jotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule must have helped the past widows in their families who were victims of abuse? Do they remember that Tilak was opposed to the idea of women’s education and ridiculed the work of Jotiba and Savitribai?
Can you imagine yourself sharing every resources and opportunities you got with your wives like Jotiba Phule did? Can you tolerate your wife having her individual existence like Jotiba Phule promoted his wife to have, so that she could help rise countless other women and the future generations? Can you imagine sharing your dreams, your interpretation of the world with your wife to have a common existence to uphold the society?
Can you notice the stark contrast that Jotiba and Savitribai founded Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha (infant/child-murder Prohibition Home) for pregnant rape victims to help deliver and save their children, while we still have to impose ban in 2020 on sex determination of foetuses to prevent female foeticide AND the politicians still win elections by promising suspension of this ban? (The authorities have found a new excuse of the pandemic and suspended the ban for two months at least, without taking the possible misuse of it into account. Funny, isn’t it?) Can we pause for a minute and think how brave of them it was to question the British power back then; while we, in 2020, mutely accept that our leaders continue enduring all the bullying by the so called superpowers?
You, who impose that women should cover their body in front of male ‘family members’; you, who still wrap menstrual hygiene products in a paper and insist that women should smuggle it from room to room as if it’s heroin or cocaine; you, who simply glorify women’s suffering instead of making the society equal for all; you, who deliberately overlook the statistics of the overall oppression and exploitation of women while repeatedly disbelieving their complaints; you, who resort to illogical whataboutary and violence when anyone questions or threatens the irrational existence of your authority, you can never ask these questions.
A friend of mine said once that love for a person and love for the society cannot be mingled. He strongly believes that once you fail/are denied love from a person, then you go on a ‘spiritual mode’ and start believing in the love for the society and help the society. I DON’T agree. Look at Jotirao and Savitribai; Jotirao unlearned all the norms and stereotypes enforced by the society and shared his dreams and passions with Savitribai. Savitribai took it further, and together, they made a beautiful world-no matter how surreal it seems even today-that keeps motivating those who seek it. It’s impossible to study their social and personal existence separately. If they could do it, we have no excuse..