Tribute in memory of his great Social democratic vision for India
By Manas Jena
JOTIRAO PHULE was born in 1827 in Satara district of Maharastra and he died today, on 28th November 1890. He was one of the great architect of modern India whose founding vision of social democracy against Verna and caste based social order liberate the minds of Indian. His discourses on human rights and nationalism have contributed to the deconstruction of Indian society and later inspired movements of annihilation of caste. The liberation of women, Sudras and Ati-sudras, untouchables, preoccupied him all through his life along with his wife and co-worker Sabitribai Phule (1831-1897) as their emancipatory committed struggle was one of the very unique and inspiring social change intervention in Maharashtra and later in rest of India.His progressive social thinking and selfless committed activism continues to inspire the struggle against age old challenges of injustice and atrocities based on caste faced in contemporary India. He has become more relevant to the contemporary debates of nationalism, social democracy, human rights and universal brotherhood in a most plural society such as India. His thoughts and ideas are reflected in his writings in form of poems and articles. His collected works, Slavery and selections in two volumes published by Education Department, Government of Maharashtra in 1991. Today after so many years of his death, his revolutionary ideas take forward the social movements in line with Dr.Ambedkar, BirsaMunda,and E. V Periyar along with many others to build an inclusive modern India of his dream which has been reflected in the Constitution of India.
The socio-economic situation of nineteenth centuryMaharashtra was history of tyrannyby colonial and feudalrulers and the unholy alliance and domination of Brahminpriest and upper caste officials who werein the charge of administration of revenue, education, judiciary and finance. The exploitation and injustice against thepoor low caste villagers, Sudras, Ati-sudras, Adivasies and fisher folk made their life miserable and these marginalized communities were living in sub human condition without dignity and human rights in their own homeland.His writings were well-documented social historyand his thoughts are seen as most progressive proposal for building a modern inclusive India.The subjugation of the indigenous inhabitants of India by the alien and their superiority over the masses was very well exposed in his writings as he said the ancient Indian history is record of protracted struggle between the alienand the natives.
In order to reform Indian society he made emphasis on education and started opening schools for the Sudras and untouchables and he said let there be schools in every village to educate the Sudras and untouchables who are historically denied education and social respect. The main reason of historical marginalization, inequality and slavery of Sudras and Ati-sudra is lack of education which caused all disaster and distressful condition. He opened schools for Sudras, Ati-sudras and women to spread education among them and fought with British Government to allocate more funds for the education of the marginalized along with recruitment of teachers from among them. He argued that the hard earn public money collected inform of tax by British Government should be spend on education of the children of poor farmers and other producing communities of the land. He and his wife suffered a lot in carrying this mission with paucity of funds, lack of teacher and bearing the inhuman attacks by the orthodox upper caste those who were opposing universal rights to education and a life of dignity for all human being irrespective of their social identities. In those days the condition of women, widows and their children was a matter of concern because of ban on widow remarriage and encouragement to child marriage mostly among the then upper caste Hindu society. Jotirao Phule opened orphanage for the protection of children and widows. It was a historic step in the social transformation history of India in 1848 when he opened schools for Girls and in 1868 he declared war against untouchability by allowing the Ati-sudras for education and to draw water from his tank and also had arranged common dining with people from all section. He published his famous book SLAVERY in 1873 which was a revolutionary step in exposing the social structure and injustice in the name of religion in those days by the dominant caste of people. His public involvement made him a nominated member of the Poona Municipality where he played most effective role as a leader in defending the public policy for utilization of public funds in the interest of the people. He opposed the move of the then Government to issuing of licenses for more number of liquor shops. He played a role in organizing the farmers and workers in distress and disastrous condition in drought prone areas and textile workers of Bombay along with his colleague N.M. Lokhande (1848-1897) who was known as father of trade union movement in India. Phule started the first Indian workers organization Bombay Mill Hands Associations in demand of Sunday as weekly holiday, fixed working hour and timely payment of salary to the workers. Along with Lokhande, he as publishing ‘Deenbandhu’ as the organ of Satya Sodhak Samaj to spread the ideas of equality. It is interesting to take note of his wider involvement in many areas for the liberation of working class, peasants and rural poor, women and all other caste oppressed people.
He was advocate of universal brotherhood and considered the whole universe as one family. In his early days after educated in the Scottish mission high school at Poona, he decided not to join in any Government jobs but to dedicate his life in the mission of education of women, Sudras and Ati-sudras. He was more influenced by the English American political activist and revolutionary, Thomas Paine (1737-1809) idea of Rights of man (1791) who says human rights originate in nature and made an impacting role in human rights movements of the world.
Jotirao Phule was also appreciating his contemporary reformer and a progressive atheist member of British parliament, Charles Bradlaugh(1833-1891), who strongly advocated for the freedom of India along with many progressive activities in those days. In order to bring reform in social life he was opposing decadent religious ideas, idolatry and denounce Verna system. In his universal religion of truth he proposed 33 rules for building man of character with spirit of love and understanding. He was advocating to practice humility and courtesy in dealings and to become industrious day and night. He said that true ethical conduct is the ideal religion for man and women. All the sacred books compiled by different persons do contain some element of truth as per their own perception and in consonance with the spirit of their time and human being should behave each other in the spirit of love and understanding. With the objectives to liberate the Sudras and Ati-sudras he founded Satya Sodhak Samaj, society for seekers of truth and hold the position of president and treasurer of the organization. He was very much critical on the role of Brahmo Samaj, Prathana Samaj and Indian National Congress in ameliorating the condition of the Sudras and Ati-sudras because of their socially non-inclusive nature of organization. He argued that in order to build nationality the people of India must not impose restriction on dining and marrying outside theircastes. The farmers, artisans, cobblers, Adivasies and fishermen all should be respected with dignity for their work and they should be emotionally integrated without social discrimination and exclusion as unified force with dignity and equal human rights to build the nation. All human beings should spend all their energy for the welfare and happiness of the whole mankind.