Jotirao Govindrao Pjule occupies a unique position among the social reformers of Maharashtra in the nineteenth century. While other reformers concentrated more on reforming the social institutions of family and marriage with special emphasis on the status and right of women, Jyotirao Phule revolted against the unjust caste system under which millions of people had suffered for centuries. He courageously upheld the cause of the untouchables and look up the cudgels for the poorer peasants. He was a militant advocate of their right. The story of his stormy life is an inspiring saga of a continuous struggle.
Jyotirao Phule was one of the most active amongst the "low-caste" leaders. He was born in 1827; he studied in schools set up by Christian missionaries. On growing up he developed his own ideas about the injustices of caste society.
He did not accept the Brahmansâ€™ claim that they were superior to others, since they were Aryans. Phule argued that the Aryans were foreigners, who came from outside the subcontinent, and defeated and subjugated the native Indians.
As the Aryans established their supremacy, they began looking at the Indians as inferior and low caste people. According to Phule, the "upper" castes had no right to their land and power: in reality, the land belonged to indigenous people, the so-called low castes.
Jyotirao Phule proposed that Shudras and Ati Shudras, the so-called untouchables should unite to challenge caste discrimination.
Jyotirao Phule founded the Satyashodhak Samaj, to spread caste equality.
In 1873, Phule wrote a book named Gulamgiri, meaning slavery.
Phule dedicated his book to all those Americans who had fought to free slaves, thus establishing a link between the conditions of the "lower" castes in India and the black slaves in America.
Phule blamed the caste system for all forms of inequality.
Jyotirao Phule was concerned about:
The plight of "upper"-caste women
The miseries of the labourer
The humiliation of the "low" castes
This movement for caste reform was continued in the twentieth century by other great dalit leaders like Dr B.R. Ambedkar in western India and E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in the south.