(Tribute to Savitribai Phule on International Women’s Day)
Bibipur Village a Decade Ago
Bibipur village was reeling under the patriarchy, and women and girls were tolerating every violence quietly as they thought that was the way of life. They had accepted that life for themselves and for their born and unborn girls, too, till someone, like Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, came and objected the way of life they were living. This someone was Sunil Jaglan, the former Sarpanch of the Bibipur village, who not only welcomed the birth of his daughter Nandini in 2012 but started the nationwide movement – Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, and brought the declining sex ratio near equal.
Beti Bachao Beti Padhao – Save the Girl Child
Save the girl child movement, in fact, showed the women of the village their own identity. In this new identity, women saw themselves as human beings with all the rights to life and dignity like men. Their first step towards dignity was to say no to female feticide. The decision that “My daughter will live” was a great thing and a significant step towards women’s empowerment. Women of this village again got worldwide recognition in 2013, when Bibipur village Panchayat received the National Award – Gaurav Gram Sabha for organising the first women’s gram panchayat in the country for stopping female foeticide. The award carried a cash prize of 10 lakhs. The Panchayat again received the one core award from the Haryana Government for effectively launching the girl child campaign. This new recognition realised women their worth and gave them courage to give voice to their feelings.
The Bibiput Panchayat had enough funds in hand for the development of the village and for promoting the campaign. Now it was up to them how to utilise it. And, here, the great decision was taken under the Sarpanch Sunil Jaglan. The Panchayat decided the village women would choose how to use the 50 per cent fund. That was the historic decision towards women’s empowerment and making women the equal partner of development.
On one side, Bibipur village, under the leadership of Sunil Jaglan, was reaching worldwide for its innovative campaign – Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, which the Modi Government adopted in 2015, and on the other side, women and girls from the village started realising various development issues, which never reached them and their village and kept them untouched by the scientific development of the 21st century.
Women and girls from Bibibur realised their backwardness and ignorance and decided to come out of it with their access to knowledge and health care. They knew knowledge was the power, and they had every right to ask for its access to become equal and bring equity to the community.
Women’s Initiation in Fund Utilisation Women were asked in the Panchayat meeting to give their opinions on the utilisations of fund which men only discussed till then. Gradually, women realised that all issues were connected to women and communities, so it is essential to take their opinions for better results and progress of the communities.
Rekha Rani and other women said they needed a library when asked how to utilise the fifty per cent fund. And it was decided to build a library – a room of their own. The library came into exit in 2014. The library was named as Lado Pustakalaya. The then honourable President, Pranab Mukherjee, appreciated the concept of Lado Pustakalaya and asked to start the Lado Pustakalaya under the Bibipur model of women empowerment at his hundred adopted villages in Haryana.
A Room of One’s Own
After this success story, we must remember the famous essay of Virginia Woolf, published in 1929. Woolf states in her article how it is essential for a woman to have money and a room of her own if she wants to write. It is crucial to have a place where women can read, think, discuss, write and plan for themselves and community development. Such places are hardly available in our communities, especially in the villages. In 1848 Krantijyoti Savitri Bai Phule and Jyotiba Phule started the first school for girls in Pune amid the uproar of the higher-class community. After two centuries, women in rural India still face educational disadvantages. In her essay mentioned above, Woolf rightly says that centuries of prejudice and financial and educational disadvantages have repressed women’s creativity.
A library a step towards educational advancements
The village people welcomed the establishment of a library. Women and girls started using the place for reading, studying and discussion. The books on various topics were ordered, and the move was welcomed at the state and national levels. Through libraries, Government has seen the benefits of investing in the continuous learning of the masses, as women and men’s participation in continuous learning is the key to a healthy society.
In 2020 Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar approved the project to establish Panchayat libraries under Gram Swaraj Abhiyan. Under this scheme, in the first phase, libraries will be set up in villages under Mahagram.
In the 19th century, Savitribai Phule, a revolutionary and social reformer from the backwards class, realised the unique importance of learning in the life of women and the oppressed community. Savitribai had relentlessly devoted herself to the cause of girls and women’s equity, education and empowerment. She has emphasised the importance of continuous learning to come out of the state of slavery and enter into freedom.
Sunil Jagalan, the man behind women’s development and empowerment and the former Sarpanch of Bibipur, the founder of the Selfie With Daughter Campaign, Gali Band Campaign, Nameplate initiative and Period Chart Campaign, also has a similar opinion. He always encouraged women never to stop learning as he thinks learning is the key to emancipation and opens the way to knowledge.
While walking the path of knowledge, we can illuminate ourselves in the light of self-realisation. Learning takes us near self-realisation; as Swami Vivekanand said, “Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man.”
Women and Education
Savitribai emphasised the importance of education in women’s life. In one of her poems, written in 1882, Savitribai said that the happiest person in the world is the one who acquires knowledge.
“जगीसर्वसुखीअसाएकआहे विचारीमनातूंचशोधोनीपाहे मनात्वांचिरेज्ञानसंचितकेले तयासारिखेसौख्यहेप्राप्तझाले II”
Savitribai strongly believed in gender equity; to bring it up, she thought education was a great medium. She was well aware of the fact that we all are born with some inherent skills, but we are not aware of them. As learning begins, we begin our journey on the path of knowledge and gradually realise our skills – our personal legends. Learning sharpens our dormant abilities in us. The knowledge that we get while learning opens another path of expertise in the area of our interest. We keep opening various such paths of knowledge as soon as we begin the journey of learning.
Once we acquire knowledge, it leads us towards liberation. Liberation from our thoughts, which tells us something, is difficult and unachievable, or liberation from those words constantly telling us we are worthless. Knowledge can remove all those negativities from us, wear us the beautiful attire of our choice, give us a new form, and make us free to be ourselves. In this new form, we feel free to be ourselves, not in competition with others but in the context of our own personality, as our former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also said – “To be liberated, a woman must feel free to be herself, not in rivalry with the man but in the context of her own capacity and personality.”
Savitris of Bibipur
On International Women’s Day, we reflect on progress made, call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. On this day, it is very relevant to remember Savitribai Phule, and today’s Savitris of Bibipur village, who broke the bias and promoted women’s equity through education and empowerment.
India and Gender Gap
Savitibai fought for gender equity throughout her life. The revolution she started two centuries ago should have been spread in every corner of society by today. But we are still far behind. Gender equity is still only a word for many women and communities across all strata, and we are performing badly in the gender index.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2022 has been released by the World Economic Forum, and its findings in the Indian context shock us. We rank 135 among a total of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index, and our country is the worst performer in the world in the “Health and Survival” sub-index, where our rank is 146.
Why are we performing worse in gender equality? Why are women in the lower strata of society despite their political empowerment?
Though women are politically empowered, there needs to be a conducive atmosphere to grow with their potential. In a country where we are badly performing in “health and survival”, the move of Bibipur women in the field of education and health care is an outstanding achievement.
Embrace equity is the campaign theme of International Women’s Day – 2023. On this day, let’s pledge to break those several hindrances to manifest our wishes and walk continuously like Savitribai Phule. We need to walk and walk and walk until we reach our destination – our own land- the land of fertility –the land of hope, and the land of promise, where we reap the harvest of our work. I would conclude with the following couplet from my anthology, “Walk Till Your Land”.
Give someone your hand; take someone’s hand.
Let’s grow a green shed for our green thoughts.
Rujuta Deshmukh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rujuta is an author of motivational book – Walk Till Your Land. She writes about women and children.