Jotirao Govind Phule is the leader of the people who have taken up the work of educating the Ati-shudras. Recently at the occasion of the public examination1 in his school meant for the Ati-shudras, he gave a speech in which he said, “This country has a big population of Mahars, Mangs, Chambhars, etc, and seeing them living in destitution, by God’s grace I felt I should do something for their education.”
“I first thought what children learn from their mothers is the best education. Therefore, a school should be opened for the girls from these [Dalit] communities. With a friend, I visited the girls’ schools in Ahmednagar which were managed by Farrar madam of the American missionary department.2 I felt really happy seeing those schools because they were being run really well. Once I returned to Pune, I immediately started a school for girls where subjects such as reading, writing, mathematics and grammar were introduced. However, my caste fellows didn’t like the fact that I was teaching the Ati-shudras and my own father asked me to leave the house. Therefore, I was forced to do something for my defence [survival?] and I had to shut the school as well. After some time, I again started efforts to reopen the school. But I found it difficult because nobody was giving space; I didn’t have money to build a new structure; and people were also reluctant to send their children. At that time Lauji Bin Rangh Raut Mang and Ranaba Mhar convinced their caste fellows about the benefits of education, and Sadashiv Ballal Govande gave space for the school along with a few slates and he also started giving two rupees per month. The school started running really well and the number of students also increased substantially, and thankfully Vishnupant Thatte started helping in teaching. But the Mahars were still not allowed water. Therefore, students had to spend money on water and the number of students also kept on increasing. So we had to shift to another place.”
Jotirao is absolutely right here and working for reformation of the low-born people is commendable work. Now Phule’s school gets 25 rupees per month from the Pune Dakshina fund. Some European officers also have helped. Hence, it is imperative for Indian-born people to aid in the endeavours of the reformers.
1. The school examinations in those times used to be publicly held events. Jana Tschurenev in Empire, Civil Society, and the Beginnings of Colonial Education in India (2019) writes about the examination in Phule’s school: “The public examination in 1853 turned out as ‘the largest meeting known in Poona’. The courtyard of the Poona Sanskrit College, where it took place, was crowded with 3,000 visitors, with even more people gathered outside.”
2. Cynthia Farrar (1795–1862) was the first unmarried woman recruited by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions to oversee the development of ‘female education’. In 1827, she arrived in Bombay. After a temporary stay in the USA due to health reasons, Farrar continued her work in Ahmednagar (1837). In 1845 and 1846, she superintended four girls’ schools, containing over 100 pupils. She kept up several of these schools until 1862, the year of her death. (Jana Tschurenev in Empire, Civil Society, and the Beginnings of Colonial Education in India, 2019)