Tribute to India's first feminists

“Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule were perhaps one of the first feminists of our country. They started the first school for untouchable girls. Such social revolutionaries need to be understood and their contributions have to be highlighted,” shares Lalitha Dhara, Vice-Principal of Dr Ambedkar College of Commerce and Economics, who has been organising the annual Savitribai Phule Memorial Lecture since the last three years.

Savitribai Phule
Savitribai Phule

While the aim is highlighting social revolutionaries, the lectures also discuss contemporary issues and raise questions on gender politics existing even in today’s world. The lecture, which is a joint effort by the Dr Ambedkar College and Dr Ambedkar Centre for Social Justice, will be held on Friday at the University Campus by renowned feminist scholar V Geetha.

Jhelum Paranjape
Renowned Odissi dancer Jhelum Paranjape

The topic of discussion will be — Periyar and Women’s Question: From a history of ideas to a review of practices, and it will also witness the release of the booklet by the same name, written by Lalitha Dhara. “I have, in all, written five booklets, on Phule, Dr Ambedkar and Chhatrapati Shahu and their contributions towards gender equality. These great revolutionaries have contributed to a great extent and this lecture will talk about Periyar Ramasamy’s self-respect movement and a lot more. It will look at anti-caste and anti-gender discrimination movements and his contributions and the current scenario,” explains Dhara.

V Geetha, who will be conducting the hour-long lecture, plans to start off by highlighting the anti-caste politics that still exist by talking about the recent Dharmapuri incident, where over 300 Dalit homes were torched, due to the suicide of a man whose daughter married a Dalit boy.

“Highlighting Periyar’s contributions, I am going to talk about how we learn from the past and how do we move forward when it comes to incidents like this,” says Geetha, who hails from Chennai.

The lecture will be followed by a dance-theatre presentation by renowned Odissi dancer Jhelum Paranjape and theatre artiste Suhita Thatte. “Very few people are aware that Savitribai Phule was also a radical poet. Last year, I released a booklet of translation of her first collection of poems, penned in 1854. The presentation titled Aapli Savitri, is based on these poems by Savitribai Phule,” says Dhara. The presentation also includes a stage representation of three letters Savitri Phule wrote to Jyotiba. “The letters were written so beautifully. They are a testimony to how they really shared an equal relationship and the love they had for each other. We would love to encourage more people to experience this, so the lecture and the dance is open and free for all,” she adds.

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