The mind is not a vessel to be filled, it is a flame to be kindled. Education is not just learning things, it is the capacity to see the world clearly, and do something about it. Yesterday was the birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule, a trailblazing activist and teacher, to whom India owes the greatest debt. She, along with her friend Fatima Sheikh, set up the first school for girls in this country, and with her husband Jyotirao Phule, established a school for oppressed Dalit-Bahujans. They also started a library, and set up a shelter for destitute women, from where Savitribai adopted her son.
The Phules and their Satyashodhak Samaj (truth-seeking society) were visionaries; in a society of hierarchies and walls, they had the capacity to see the equality of all humanity. This was at a time when many influential figures insisted that education would be ruinous to the minds and morality of women and lower castes. Knowledge was a matter of privilege in this country; all of us who were born outside that caste and gender who can now take education for granted, who have access to the richness and potential of our own minds, owe something to people like Savitribai Phule.
When we recall those who created the idea of India, we think of the ‘founding fathers’ of the nation. It is about time we remember our feminist foremothers, those whose names glow more dimly, whose stories are sidelined or distorted. It is also a reminder that the nation we have achieved was not gifted from above by a few illustrious men, it was created by many hands and minds and hearts, from across the diversity of Indian society.