Supreme Court allows national memorial to commemorate first girls’ school in India

Breaking barriers of caste and religion, social reformers Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule pioneered the education for girls in Bhidewada, Pune in 1848.


LONG before the era of ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, social reformers Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule started the first girls’ school in India in Bhidewada, Budhwar Peth, Pune.

The fact that the school was established in 1848, nine years before the revolt of 1857, should give readers an idea of how far ahead of times it was.

The school imparted knowledge in mathematics, science and social studies. It had an immediate impact in the region and by 1851, the reformist couple were running three schools in the Pune area.

But they also faced stiff resistance from conservatives according to whom the work of the couple was a sin as per the Manusmriti.

It is said that Savitribai used to carry an extra sari with her as the one she donned from home would get soiled because of the stones the conservatives used to throw at her.

But the determined couple continued undeterred, inspiring generations of women to get modern education.

The Leaflet spoke with Pratik Bombarde, a Supreme Court lawyer and minority rights advocate about the historic importance of the site of the school.  

Bombarde termed it as “one of the most revolutionary of that era.”

According to Bombarde, “For the first time in India, girls were imparted education cutting all castes and religions, including girls from Dalit and minority communities.

The initiative was taken by Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule despite facing considerable opposition and resistance from society, in an era when education was barred for women and girls.”

Now the site of this historic school is in a dilapidated condition.

In 2006, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) passed a resolution to turn the Bhidewada site into a national memorial.

After the process of land acquisition was initiated in 2008, the PMC acquired 327 square metres of land and paid the required amount to the land acquisition department.

Following the acquisition, however, the occupiers of Bhidewada, mostly tenants, challenged the decision of the civic body.

The place [Bhide Wada]  where this movement started is responsible for the achievement of women stalwarts in our country and should have been protected by the government. However, over the years, commercial shops were built around the area and the tenants started claiming it,” Bombarde told The Leaflet.

On October 16 this year, after 12 years of litigation, the Bombay High Court allowed the PMC to acquire the land for purposes of the memorial.

Thereafter, a division Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and P.S. Narasimha, heard a special leave petition challenging the judgment of the Bombay High Court.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court directed Bhidewada owners and tenants to hand over the property to the PMC.

Dismissing the appeal by the occupiers of Bhidewada, the Supreme Court has allowed the tenants and landowners one month to vacate the premises.

Reportedly, the memorial structure is set to allow visitors to acquaint themselves with the history of establishing the place where education was first imparted in the country.

The Leaflet