Google dedicated a doodle on Tuesday to mark the 186th birth anniversary of India’s 19th century social reformer Savitribai Jyotirao Phule, among the country’s first to speak up for the rights of women.
Savitribai K. Patil was born on January 3, 1831, in a rich and influential farming family and at the age of nine was married off to the 13-year old Jyotirao Phule.
She was taught to read and write by her husband and when she turned 17, the couple founded India’s first school for girls and women in Bhidewada, Pune.
It started with just nine girls from different castes enrolled as students – but it became a historic step when female education was considered taboo in the orthodox Indian society prevalent then.
The Phule couple – who had no children of their own – launched a crusade against social discrimination based on caste and gender, and sparked the flame for women’s equal rights during the British rule in India.
At a time when women had no say in anything, Savitribai’s campaign covered child marriages, child widows, rape victims becoming pregnant, the practice of ‘Sati’, educating women and fighting for equal rights for all women.
The colourful Doodle shows a simple Savitribai spreading her sari ‘pallu’ wide to encompass women from all sections of society for education and empowerment.
The simple ‘Goodle’ (Google Doodle) shows a group of demure women assembled outside what could be a school for education in a skyblue starry background which also doubles as her blouse.
It has a narration by New Delhi-based NGO Zubaan, with colourful paintings by Malvika Asher on the different historical aspects of Savitribai’s life starting as a toddler, a child bride, her love for knowledge and learning, opening the first girls school, (1848), and other social institutions, adopting Yeshwant, the son of a Brahmin widow, and honoured by the British government as the Best Teacher in the state in 1852.
It continues onto the death of Jyotirao Phule in 1890, when defying all prevalent social norms, she lit his funeral pyre and carried on the legacy of his Satyashodhak Samaj, and finally her social work during the bubonic plague in Maharashtra which claimed her life in 1897.
The Phules had set up 18 more schools across the state of which Savitribai was the teacher, headmistress and principal.
Nearly 18 decades later, the Maharashtra government renamed the Pune University as ‘Savitribai Phule University’ as a tribute to Phule’s sheer courage and pioneering efforts in the field of education, women empowerment, social reform and gender equality.
Since the past few years, several social-political organisations have been demanding that the Phule couple be conferred India’s highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna, which was supported by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.