Monday, June 21, 2010

Jyotiba & Savitri Phule’s girl school (1851): A radical innovation

Think of radical innovation and you are likely to conjure up images of telephone, electricity, airplane, computer, car, Internet etc. These are indeed great innovations. But not all radical innovations are anchored in technology. Girl school started by Jyotiba Phule in 1851 in Pune was radical by whichever definition of “radical” you use. Jyotiba’s wife Savitri was the headmistress of the school. She had to use two saaris; one for the road during which cow dung and mud would be thrown at her. And the second saari was for the school use. What were the challenges faced by Jyotiba, Savitri & team while running the school? And how did this innovation come about? Let’s see a few insights that come out from the report of the second annual examination of the girl school held on 12th Feb 1853. It was attended by 3000 people including 20 British patrons and 30 notable Indian citizens of the times.

Let’s start with some data. The school had 9 girls on the first day when it started and had expanded to three schools all in Pune with 237 girls on its roll by 1853. The average attendance was a little less than 200 (84%). Salary expenses were Rs.760 and administrative expenses (rent, books, benches, etc) were Rs.610. This includes prizes in the forms of books worth Rs.177. The school got Rs.900 from government (Dakshna fund) and collected Rs.1072 through subscriptions. The report mentions – The progress exhibited by girls was far greater than that made in any Boys’ schools during the same period.

If absenteeism and performance wasn’t a big challenge then what was it? One issue was that the girls were “loaded with valuable ornaments” and had to be escorted to and from school by the peons. But the biggest obstacle comes out in this paragraph – A few of the girls who were then at the head of their respective classes have ceased to attend in consequence of their marriage, and the whims and caprices of their fathers and mothers-in-law. It will thus be seen that the custom of the early marriage offers the strongest opposition to female education to this country. The committee, therefore, proposes introducing into the schools under their management, the system of stipendiary scholarships, to induce the poorer parents or fathers and mothers-in-law, to allow their little girls to attend the schools. This is, however, a partial remedy.

Where did the money come from? Unfortunately, not much support came from wealthy Indians. Education for girls especially from lower-cast was against Hindu scriptures. Sponsorship came primarily from the British well-wishers like Sir Erskine Perry, Ex-Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Bombay, Major Candy, Principal of Poona College and E. C. Jones. Slowly a portion of Dakshna fund, originally meant for Brahmins only, was being given to the school.

How did they sell the concept to the moms? We don’t know. But perhaps we can guess it from the following sentence – The prejudices against teaching girls to read and write began to give way to the general desire of mothers to get rid, during the time of work, the annoyance of their little ones. So if you were to prepare an ad campaign for the school what would you do? “Hassled by the troubling little girls at home? This is your best chance, send them to school!”


Mahatma Phule samagra vanmaya (marathi) – Complete works of Mahatma Phule compiled by Y. D. Phadke, published by Govt. of Maharashtra, 1991.

Wikipedia on Jyotiba Phule and Savitri Phule.

Mahatma Jotirao Phooley, Dhananjay Keer (Google books)


  1. I fully agree with you on how radical the innovation was. Never thought on these lines. It's commendable that you presented it to the generation which may not be aware what changes such innovations have brought about in the society.

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