|Jotiba was born in Poona
in 1827 in a Kshatriya Mali caste. The original
name of the family was Gorhe. But because Jotibas
father, Govindrao, and his two brothers followed
the trade of florists and supplied flowers, garlands,
etc, to the Peshwas household, the family
came to be called Phule.
Jotiba attended a local Marathi school run by
an old type of teacher known in Maharashtra as
Pantoji. Intelligent and hard working,
the boy was making rapid progress in his studies.
But just at this time, some orthodox persons poisoned
his fathers mind against education, pointing
out to him that his son would become unfit work
and turn out an irreligious person. Therefore,
Govindrao removed his son from the school, and
for some time Jotiba had to take the pick-axe
and work in the garden.
Fortunately, Govindraos neighbours, Gaffhar
Baig and Legit, impressed upon him value of education
and prevailed upon him to send his son to a Scottish
Mission School. Jotiba completed his English course
in 1847.Jotibas colleagues were Sadashiv
Ballal Govande, Moro Vithal Walvekar and Sakharam
Yeshwant Paranjpe. They were his helpmates in
all his undertaking. Inspired by the lives of
Shivaji and Washington, they thought of emancipating
their motherland and acquired proficiency in military
Jotiba was also greatly influenced by Thomas Paines
Rights of Man He was convinced that
as we were all children of the same God, we all
had equal rights, irrespective of caste or creed.
About this time, an incident took place which
seriously affected his whole outlook on life.
While attending the marriage procession of one
of his Brahmin friends, he was scolded and insulted
by a Brahmin for his audacity in joining a Brahmin
procession. From that day, Jotiba took up the
cudgels against Brahmin supremacy.
Realising that the real progress of the country
was impossible without the education of women
and of the lower classes, Jotiba, instead of working
for a living decided to devote his life to the
cause of the uplift of women and the poorer classes
of the society. In 1848 he opened a Girls
school for the low-caste people in the house of
one Bhide in Budhwar Peth. As it was difficult
in those days to secure the services of women
teachers, Jotiba first taught his wife Savitribai
and then appointed her as a teacher in his school.
This revolutionary act aroused the wrath of the
Brahmins and the upper-class non- Brahmins of
the society, and yielding to their pressure, Govindrao
asked Jotiba and Savitribai to quit the house.
Jotiba was compelled to close the school and earn
a living. But soon finding himself in better circumstances,
he reopened the school which received financial
assistance from some prominent European and Indian
gentlemen and the Dakshina Prize Committee.
When this school was well established, Jotiba
started other Girls schools, one in Budhwar
Peth (1851), another in Rasta Peth (1851) and
the third in Vital Peth (1852).
About the same time, Jotiba founded the first
Native Library for the low-caste people.
No wonder that the Government should publicly
recognize Jotibas efforts in the field of
education by presenting him with a pair of shawls
worth Rs. 200/-.
In 1854 he accepted a job as a part-time teacher
in the Scottish Mission School. Here he came under
the influence of the Rev. Murray Mitchell, a free-thinker,
and had the opportunity to read books in which
men like Professor Wilson and Sir William Jones
had convincingly pointed out the defects in the
Hindu religion. Jotiba realised how the Brahmins,
under the pretext of religion, had tyrannized
the ignorant people and turned them into their
slaves. Yet he was never tempted to embrace Christianity.
In 1855 Jotiba started a Night School for adults
at his house and he and his wife imparted free
education to farmers and their wives for two hours
Enraged at Jotibas activity and jealous
of his success, the reactionaries planned to assassinate
him. But the two assassins, both low-caste men,
turned into his staunch devotees (1856).In 1857
the Government granted a plot of land measuring
6 acres and 33 gunthas known as Bhokarwadi to
accommodate the school started by Jotiba for promoting
the education for Mahars and Mangs.
In 1860 Jotiba founded an orphanage where widows,
especially Brahmin widows who had gone astray,
could secretly come either for delivery or for
keeping their babies. The widows were thus saved
from committing suicide or from killing their
children or from
embracing the Christian faith. Jotiba and
his wife adopted one of these children, born
of a Brahmin widow, as their son.
After the death of his father in 1868, Jotiba
had to undertake contracts from the Government
to earn his livelihood as well as to meet the
expenses of his various activities.In 1873 Jotiba
founded the Satyashodhak Samaj (Truth
Seeking Society) with the object of securing
human rights and social justice for the low-caste
people and the untouchables. The membership
was open to all castes, even to Jews and Muslims.
From 1876 to 1882 Jotiba was a Member of the
Poona Municipality and performed his duties
In 1882 Jotiba gave evidence before the Hunter
Commission. It showed his solicitude for the
education of women and of the lower classes.
At a reception held in Poona in 1888 in honour
of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, Jotiba
warned their Highnesses not to be misled by
the glitter of the assembled audience, for the
major portion of Queen Victorias Indian
population resided in the villages and was penniless,
foodless, shelterless and shoeless.
In the same year, at a huge gathering of his
followers in Bombay, Jotiba was honoured with
the title of Mahatma. Sayajirao
Gaikwad, Maharaja of Baroda, had proposed that
the title of Booker Thomas Washington
be conferred upon Jotiba.
At last his sturdy constitution gave way and
he suffered an attack of paralysis. Two years
later, he died in 1890.
Jotiba was a theist. He was against the practice
of Sati and the tonsure of widows. He encouraged
widow-marriage, but opposed early marriage which
was the greatest obstacle in the way of female
He revolutionized the marriage ceremony by
dispensing with the presence of the Brahmin
priest. The boy and the girl were simply to
take a vow in the presence of the elders who
blessed the couple in a chorus. The Satyashodhak
Samaj won the case in the Bombay High court
on this issue.
Jotiba was in favour of Western education,
but he advocated that the Matriculation course
be so framed as to prepare a pupil for an independent
career in life. He demanded free and compulsory
primary education upto the age of twelve years
and technical education for the lower classes.
Village education, he said, should consist of
Modi and Balbodh scripts, accounts, general
history, geography, grammar and elementary agriculture.
Jotiba declared that the Congress could not
be truly national until its leaders showed genuine
interest in the welfare of the lower class people.
Jotiba blessed the British rule as it conferred
the rights of education and employment, peaceful
work and freedom of dress, on all.
He agitated for better living conditions for
the workers in the mills of Bombay as well as
for the farmers. He recommended the use of modern
implements in agriculture.
In 1875 Jotiba sent money on behalf of the
Satyashodhak Samaj to Ahmedabad to help the
victims of the floods. During the famine of
1878-79 in Poona, he opened an orphanage at
the Dhankawdi Camp where 2,000 children from
the age of two to twelve were fed twice a day.
Jotiba had arranged to furnish a bail of Rs.
1,000/- for Tilak and Agarkar in the Kolhapur
Defamation Case and took a leading part in offering
them a splendid welcome on their release from
jail (October 1882).
Jotiba made extensive use of the press and
the platform for the propagation of his views.
Jotiba was a handsome and grave personality.
He was a terror to wrong-doers. He led a selfless
life devoted to the uplift of the lower classes
of the Hindu society.
His dress consisted of a piece of cloth used
as head-gear, a simple short home-spun dhoti,
a garment with strings, a blanket carried on
the left shoulder, a staff in the right hand
and sandals on feet.
Among his publications may be mentioned: Dharma
Tritiya Ratna (Exposure of the Puranas),
1855; Life of Shivaji (in poetical metre), 1869;
Gulamgiri, Poona, 1873; 'Jatibhed
Whipcord, Poona, 1883; Ishara
(A Warning), Poona, 1885; Sarvajanik Satyadharma