ELIXIR OF FRIENDSHIP – SAVITRI BAI PHULE AND FATIMA SHEIKH - TIRELESS EFFORTS FOR GIRLS EDUCATION
Some friendships are priceless and they go down in the pages of history and become immortal. One such friendship existed between Savitri Bai Phule and Fatima Sheikh. Though both women were fiery and committed to the cause of educating girl children, for some reason, historians have totally sidelined Fatima Sheikh’s contribution. Here is an imaginary conversation between the two women. Let us fold our hands with respect to these selfless ladies. If, as women, we are thinking and expressing ourselves to this extent, we owe it to them. This is my tribute to the two wonderful women who have served tirelessly for this cause.
Savitri Bai Phule: Who doesn’t know me? I am Savitri Bai Phule, the first woman educator of modern India. Along with my dear husband Jyotirao Phule, I started the first school in India for women way back in 1848.
I want to tell you about my dear friend FATIMA SHEIKH, without whose support we could not have done this much. When we were thrown out of the house by my own father-in-law, she gave us place in her home, and supported my dream of giving education to girls, especially dalit girls. She was very committed and enthusiastic towards this cause. Together we would teach in our school.
Fatima Sheikh: Thank you Savitri. Your friendship inspired me and that’s when I too decided to join your movement. They say that I am the first muslim woman teacher in India. Do you remember how we used to carry extra saree to our school?
Savitri Bai Phule: Yes my dear, we would carry an extra saree to work, because the saree which we wore would be totally drenched with muddy water and cowdung and all trash that would be thrown at us. Sometimes sharp sticks and stones also would be hurled at us, to prevent us from going to school and teaching girls.
Fatima Sheikh: Yes, the opposition was more for me because I am a muslim woman. I remember how I used to go to every house and convince the mothers to send their daughters to school and how they would close the door when they see me coming towards them. Oh! Thank you for taking my suggestion to introduce mathematics, social studies and science in the syllabus and not what was traditionally taught in schools about our scriptures. I wanted women to be empowered and basically to start thinking.
Savitri Bai Phule: I must congratulate you for heralding the first joint struggle of dalits and muslims in India. It is not a mean achievement . For me, after a while people started noticing me and it was comparatively easier. When I started the intercaste marriage movement or when I started the shelter for rape victims, I got good cooperation, but not the case with you, Fatima, they just forgot you totally.
Fatima Sheikh: Savitri, historians initially sidelined you too, but later on, they had to accept your contribution. Whew! gender bias exists even in this! Yes, I had to face hardship from my own kin. However, thank you for acknowledging my contribution.
Savitri Bai Phule: Thank you for supporting me all through, Fatima Sheikh. I wish people remember you as much as they remember me. I was surprised that our Prime Minister mentioned only my name but forgot yours.
Fatima Sheikh: It is ok Savitri, I value our friendship and when I see so many muslim women reaching great heights, I feel my purpose is served. Kudos to our friendship. I am proud that the girls are now empowered and are reaching great heights.
- Asha Murali 22.10.2020
Pic credit and info from internet. Special note: please also see post by @hannaabideen on this subject.