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Life And Work of Mahatma Jotirao Phule

Mahatma Jotirao Phule was a great proactive social thinker during the 19th century. His thoughts regarding Human Liberation were far reaching and similarly his work in this regard was great. These thoughts are reflected in his life also.

He delved into the root cause of the difficult and painful life of the masses including villagers, farmers, laborers, women and the downtrodden in society.

He found that the factors behind the deterioration of society were : Ignorance, Exploitation and Slavery based on religious and financial exploitation.

After identifying these factors, he strongly condemned them. He fought throughout his life in order to grant Natural Human Rights to the deprived sections of society. He minutely studied the people who had lost their sensitivity to suffering because of ignorance, injustice and the wrong traditions in society. Jotirao dreamt of creating a new society through the welfare of such people.

He continuously fought for re-establishing great human values such as, economic independence, social justice, equality, humanity, intellectuality, brotherhood, and independence of women. He worked for the unity of the deprived and exploited sections of society.

Mahatma Phule's Genealogy

Jotirao's ancestors belonged to the village Katgun, Tal. Khatav, Dist. Satara. Their family name was Gorhe. Jotirao's great grandfather- Kondiba Gorhe was the 'Chougule' of the village. As a result of difference of opinion, there was a dispute between Shri. Kondiba Gorhe (´Chougule ' of the village) and the ´ Kulkarni' of the village. As a result of this dispute, there was a scuffle between them and ultimately 'Kulkarni' was killed. In order to prevent being charged for murder and to save his own life, Shri Kondiba Gorhe migrated from village Katgun and came to village Khanawadi, Tal. Purandar, Dist. Pune.

Later on, Kondiba's son Shetiba left Khanawadi because of famine and settled in Pune. After coming to Pune, he was engaged in preparing different objects from flowers, for the ruling Peshwe(rulers of Pune). With this, a new surname- 'Phule', was conferred upon him.

Shetiba had three sons- Ranoji, Krushnaji and Govind. Govindrao was married to one Chimnabai. Joti was one of their sons. This Joti was later on glorified as Mahatma Jotirao Phule-the noble founder of Social Revolution in India.

Life Sketch : Mahatma Phule

Jotirao was born on 11th April 1827. After Jotirao's birth, within a year, his mother died. He had his primary education during 1834-1838. In 1840, he got married to Savitribai, the daughter of Shri. Khandoji Nevshe Patil from village Naigaon, Tal. Khandala, Dist. Satara. Due to certain circumstances Jotirao had to give up his education for some years.

Taking into consideration, Jotirao's enthusiasm and interest in education, their neighbors – Shri. Munshi Gafar Beg and Mr. Lijit – advised that even after the break in education, Jotirao should continue with his further education in English. With this advice, Jotirao's name was enrolled in an English school, in 1841.

While studying in school, Jotirao read a book- ' Rights of Man', written by Thomas Paine. This book gave him a new insight into social transformation. After completing his education, instead of taking a job, Jotirao helped his father in his profession. During this period (1848) an important incident took place in his life. On the basis of his caste, Jotirao was humiliated in the marriage of a friend at the hands of the upper caste mob. He condemned this as social injustice. He realized that education is the best and the most powerful medicine for the liberation of the underprivileged social components such as the downtrodden ('Shudras/ Atee Shudras') communities and many social components under pressure. Fired by this realization he started his struggle for the liberation of the lower castes. He started working for the cause of establishing equality by eradication of - hierarchy in society, ignorance & poverty.

He started the first school for girls, at Pune, in the year 1848. He advocated Education for women- female students from the downtrodden (Shudras/ Atee Shudras) communities and adults. He started schools. He established institutes like the 'Pune Female Native Schools' and the 'Society for Promoting Education for Mahar, Mangs'.

Jotirao prepared his wife Savitribai to teach in the girls' school, with a view to educating the women first, in order to bring in the value of equality at home. Savitribai had to face bitter opposition from the orthodox people in the society for teaching girls and people from the underprivileged groups in the school. Despite this bitter opposition, Jotirao and Savitribai continued their work with sincerity. Jotirao was the first Indian to start a school for girls and women. His work in the field of Education obtained recognition from the British Government and Jotirao was felicitated in a special programme held on 16th November, 1852.

Jotirao encouraged widow – remarriages. Similarly he started the infanticide prevention centre ('Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha') for infants born to hapless widows because of their deviant behavior or exploitation. This centre for safe deliveries for widows was started at his own house in 1863. In this work Jotirao got invaluable help from his wife Savitribai and some of his other associates.

During those days, the untouchables were forbidden to fetch water from public sources of water (public wells). Jotirao allowed the untouchables to fetch water from the well in the premises of his house.

In order to institutionalize social education, and have a continuous follow up, Jotirao established 'Satyashodhak Samaj' on 24th September 1873. Motivation from St. Kabir's thoughts played an important role in the establishment of the Satyashodhak Samaj. In order to destroy social and religious slavery, the Satyashodhak Samaj established by Jotirao, emphasized & re-emphasized the following :

  • Humans are great by their qualities.

  • Incantations, penance, rituals, rebirth- do not have any reality.

  • Bhat (Brahmins) or middlemen are not at all necessary for the worship of the Almighty.

Hence the Satyashodhak Samaj had the great ideals of

  • Equality.

  • Brotherhood.

  • Non-requirement of middlemen in religious matters.

This message spread throughout Maharashtra.

The required educational system for the downtrodden, women & underprivileged sections of society- was mentioned in various programmes of Satyashodhak Samaj and it is also reflected in Jotirao's writings.

In 1882, he submitted a representation to Sir William Hunter, Chairman of the Education Commission. This representation included the following points

  • Primary Education should be compulsory.

  • Primary Education for women needs to be encouraged.

  • Education to the people in India should be given in a useful manner with need - based contents

  • Suggestions for the education of deprived children.

  • Taking into consideration the problem of Universalisation of Education of the people in the lower strata's of the society, Jotirao strongly opposed the 'Filtration Theory'.

One of the associates of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Shri. Hari Raoji Chiplunkar, had arranged a banquet in honor of the British Prince – Duke of Connaught. Mahatma Jotirao Phule was present conspicuously in the dress of a poor farmer and effectively communicated the impecunious circumstances of the Indian farmers. He also acquainted the British Prince with the problems related to their education. Mahatma Jotirao Phule requested the dignitary to convey this message to the Queen.

Mahatma Jotirao Phule opined that the curriculum should be such that education becomes practically useful in life. Taking into consideration the importance of Agriculture in our country, he opined that Agriculture should be included in the curriculum. He realized that the following factors were responsible for drop outs in education:

  • Social Conditions.

  • Social Deterioration.

  • Poverty.

After taking a review of these factors, he suggested useful measures to combat the situation. He implemented these measures in his schools. He suggested that the schools should impart education based on professional skills. He believed that such a curriculum would attract students and this arrangement would help in preventing unemployment. For maintaining a high quality of education, he opined that :

  • The teachers in primary schools should be trained .

  • In order to impart social education to those in the lower strata of the society, the teachers themselves should be from the lower strata of society.

  • The teachers should have the knowledge of Agriculture and the minimal knowledge of health and hygiene .

  • He emphasized that apart from their pay, teachers from villages should be given a special allowance, commensurate with the number of successful students, they had trained.

  • At all levels, education should be under the control of Government.

Jotirao employed various methods and remedies in his mission for social education and social transformation :

Production of literature

Jotirao produced ample literature with a view to facilitate social education and not degrade it into mere entertainment.

Letter Writing

Jotirao resorted to effective letter writing in prose and poetry-

  • In order to convey his principles and thoughts regarding social education in public life and at the family level.

  • To enquire sympathetically about the well-being of the people.

  • He effectively disseminated his thoughts and feelings through this medium (letter writing).


Various representations made by Jotirao, on different subjects are available-

  • Representation about the education in the country, given to the Hunter Education Commission.

  • Letter indicating the futility of the Convention of the ' Marathi Granthakar Sabha '.

  • Request letter sent to the members of the Satyashodhak Samaj , for helping the famine affected people.

  • Letter sent to the British Government regarding the firm actions to be taken by the Govt. for preventing child marriages and for encouraging Widow re-marriages.


  • Detailed reports of the activities and accounts of the Satyashodhak Samaj.

  • Detailed, printed reports of the activities and accounts of the schools for untouchables and for girls. These reports have also discussed the difficulties and problems faced by these schools.


  • Established the 'Satyashodhak Samaj' in order to carry out regular activities and maintain continuity in the activities.

  • Established Educational Institutes.

Various Educational Activities

Jotirao realized the fact that Education is an effective medium for the enlistment of society, whose sensitivity has become blunt because of deterioration for various reasons. With this realization, Jotirao started schools for women and the downtrodden in society. He also encouraged the efforts of others in the same field. Jotirao gets the credit of being the first Indian who started Education for women.

Jotirao's following activities are important in the field of education

  • Meetings with farmers and the downtrodden in society, for social work.

  • Explained his thoughts through lectures and discussions

  • His earnest representation to the Hunter Commission emphasized upon—

  • Universalisation of Primary Education

  • To make compulsory primary education

  • Jobs to the downtrodden, in accordance with the proportion of their population

  • He emphasized that children of farmers should be given concessions for Higher Education.

  • He started boarding for students from backward castes. The poor children were exempted from payment of fees.

Social work

  • Jotirao traveled to various villages for mass – awakening and for the spread of the message of the 'Satyashodhak Samaj'.

  • He initiated the strike by tenants against money lenders.

  • He initiated and carried out various social movements.

  • He initiated big awareness movement among farmers, in order to prevent the transfer of lands from farmers to money lenders.

  • As a result of his speeches and activities, people in various villages boycotted the Bhats and money lenders to protest against their injustice.

  • Jotirao tried to stop a Devdasi's so called marriage which was being conducted according to hollow rituals.

  • He helped poor children by opening 'food centre' during the famine in 1877.

  • He encouraged and conducted widow re-marriages.

  • Started the first Indian Workers organization – 'Bombay Mill Hands Association', with the help of Shri. Narayan Meghaji Lokhande ; Jotirao ceaselessly worked for this organization.

  • He worked continuously for liberating women from bondage.

  • While doing the work, he criticized the affluent in the society which included even his friends.

  • He started a 'Maternity Home' for helping the widows from higher castes, to deliver safely and thus prevent infanticides.

  • He initiated the strike of barbers , against the inhuman act of 'keshavapan' - tonsuring the heads of widows.

  • He imparted Education for improvements in agriculture.

  • He initiated the following movements and missions -

  • decreasing the hardships laid upon farmers, by the Forest Department.

  • decreasing the exorbitant tax upon farmers.

  • worked for improvements in agriculture.

  • Submitted many request applications to the Government for –

  • helping the farmers.

  • making canals.

  • decreasing the hardships faced by laborers in various factories.

  • granting concessions to the laborers on humanitarian grounds.

  • He understood the problems of the farmers by actually working and mingling with them . After understanding these problems, he wrote a book- Shetkaryacha Aasood (Cultivator's Whipcord). The contents of this book were read in various villages. This reading helped in
    revising this book.
    Thus it is observed that to succeed in his Public and Social Work-

  • He resorted to requests, applications, representations, letters etc.

  • He resorted to movements, struggles, strikes against troublesome members of society such as – moneylenders, Bhats etc.

Critical Analysis of Religion & Establishment of a new Religion

Through his writings and activities, Mahatma Phule openly condemned-

  • The inequality in the religious book.

  • Orthodox nature of religion.

  • Exploitation of the masses through the medium of religion.

  • Blind and misleading rituals.

  • Hypocrisy in the prevalent religion.

While condemning the prevalent religion, Mahatma Phule established 'Satyashodhak Samaj' , having the following ideals :

  • Human well being in broader perspective.

  • Human happiness.

  • Unity.

  • Equality.

  • Easy religious principles and rituals.

Felicitation of Lokmanya Tilak and Gopalrao Agarkar

Ramsheth Urawane, an associate of Jotirao, became a guarantor for Lokmanya Tilak & Gopalrao Agarkar in a court case.
Jotirao publicly felicitated Lokmanya Tilak and Gopalrao Agarkar after they were released from the jail at Dongari

Court case

According to the Satyashodhak Samaj principles, there was provision for performing marriage ceremonies without the Brahmin Priest.

After performing marriages without Brahman Priests ( according to Satyashodhak method ) , a court case was filed against Jotirao and other members of Satyashodhak Samaj, contending that this practice was an infringement of religious rights of the Brahman Priests. Jotirao fought this case with all his might and won this case in different courts.

Publication work

Jotirao published the second edition of the book – 'Jatibhed Viveksar', written by Shri. Tukaram Tatya Padwal.

Work in the Municipality

Jotirao was the Government nominated member of the Pune Municipality, during 1876 to 1882. During this period, he worked for the safe-guard of the interests of the general public. He vehemently expressed his opinion.

He tried to construct a lake of water and thus supply clean filtered water to the citizens of Pune.

Considering the fact that the poor vegetable vendors would not afford the rent of the stalls in the proposed market, he opposed the construction of the market.

With a view to prevent the wastage of money collected from the poor people, he opposed the proposal for the expensive beautification of the city on the occasion of the visit of the Viceroy Lord Lytton.

Livelihood and Financial transaction

For the purpose of livelihood Jotirao practiced different types of businesses. He earned a considerable income because of :

  • sincerity.

  • motivation given to the laborers.

  • appreciation of the laborers for their hard-work.

  • keeping busy always.

  • loyalty.

  • honesty.

Moreover, he spent his entire income for social work. Jotirao did farming in a good and a systematic manner. He obtained a bountiful crop of fruits.

He advocated that the farmers should take advantage of the water from Mula-Mutha dams.

He developed a beautiful garden, by taking advantage of the water from Mula-Mutha. This became an example for the other farmers. He cleared the misunderstanding among farmers regarding the cultivation of flowers, fruits, and vegetables of foreign origin.

He owned shops, mainly for selling moulds, vegetables & books. Apart from farming, he also undertook contracts for building work. He had the sub-contract for digging the Katraj Tunnel He had the contract for the construction of small bridges on the Mula-Mutha dam. He had the contract for the digging of channels below the Mula-Mutha dam. He was engaged in selling pebbles, artificially prepared by breaking bigger stones, lime, bricks, gitti.

He had an agency for

  • selling vegetables and fruits at wholesale rates in the Pune market.

  • sending vegetables and fruits to Mumbai.

After completing his education, instead of doing a government job, Jotirao preferred to help his father in the business of flowers. In his future life also, Jotirao preferred to do various kinds of business instead of accepting the slavery of government service. By doing various kinds of business, Jotirao earned his family's livelihood. The accounts, related to public activities and schools, presented by him, reflect his clean and transparent personality. Moreover he spent his own money for public and social activities to such an extant that he had no money to buy medicines during his last terminal illness.


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