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Dr. Narendra Dabholkar

Editor

Prabhakar Nanawaty

Suman Oak

Rashtrapita Jotiba Phuley and Satyashodhak Samaj

Rashtrapita Jotiba Phuley during his social movement of initial 15 years had been propogating his views, preaching at public meetings, through leaflets and booklets the importance of education and exhorting the lower castes to educate their children and to redeem themselves from the evil customs, wicked prejudices and wily precepts imposed on them in the name of God by the Brahmin priests and their religious works. Jotirao resolved now to launch a movement in Maharashtra for liberation of lower castes from Brahmin thralldom. Awakening self-respect in the peasants and toiling masses, he infused courage in them to stand up against the poverty and social injustice and against the oppressive, unjust and inhuman Hindu priest craft and the caste system. His writings and his speeches focused Government attention on the grievances of the peasants and of the workers engaged by Government Engineering and Public works Department.

Action by Jotirao

Jotirao wanted now to organise his followers and workers so that they might assimilate his rational ideas and bring them into effect. He strove hard to raise the Ati-Shudras to the level of the Shudras. He repeatedly said to his followers that lost rights are not secured without a struggle. Jotirao knew that the Brahmins are not only unsympathetic but also intolorent and that the traditiom-mongers would not easily give up their privileges, position and power. There was no question of their expecting to get any political rights as they had no strength and organization behind them. So Jotiba decided to set up an organization to preach his ideology. Accordingly Jotirao convened on September 24, 1873, a meeting of all his admirers and disciples at Poona. About sixty men from many important centres of Maharashtra state assembled. Jotirao made an introductory speech and explained the necessity of a central institution for the guidance of the movement. After some discussion and several other speeches, it was agreed to form an institution. Jotirao named this institution as Satyashodhak Samaj (Truth-Seeking Society)

Jotirao was elected first president and treasurer of the Satya Shodhak Samaj and Narayanrao Govindrao Kadalak was elected as its first secretary. The main objects of the samaj were;

1) To redeem the Shudras and Ati-Shudras from the influence of Brahmanical scriptures under which the Brahmin priests fleeced them to make them conscious of their human rights and to liberate them from mental and religious slavery.

2) All men are the children of one god, who is thus their parent

3) There is no requirement of intermediary such as priest or a preceptor to approach the mother or father to offer his prayer to god.

A member at Satya Shodhak Samaj had to take an oath in the name of god Khanderao and declare his allegiance to British rule. Membership of the samaj was extended to all the castes including Mahars, Mangs, Jews and Muslims. The weekly meetings were held on Sundays at the places where branches of the satya shodhak samaj were established. The subjects discussed were

1) The necessity of the temperance and compulsory education.

2) Encouragement of Swadeshi goods.

3) Dislodging the Brahmin priest from the position he held in the religious field.

4) Making arrangements for performing marriage at minimum expenses

5) Freeing men from the beliefs in astrology, ghosts and demons.

6) The main attack was upon the caste system and idol-worship.

7) Emphasis was also on the principle of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of Man.

Reaction by Brahmins

The Brahmins, desiring to destroy the movement in its early stage, began to propagate their views against the samaj. They brought pressure upon the villagers not to be the members of the Satya Shodhak Samaj. Those who became members were harassed and some of them lost their jobs in government service as Brahmins used to be their Government supervisors. Narayan Kadalkar, the secretary of the Satya Shodhak Smaj too was transferred to Mahabaleshwar. Also Shudras were told that if they performed their ceremonies without Brahmins their families would be extinct or would perish on account of the curses of Brahmins and their Gods. Some of the Brahmins started different Samaj. Arya Samaj was formed in 1875 to counter Satya Shodhak samaj. Other samaj like Brahmo Samaj, Prayer Samaj were also formed during this period to counter Satya Shodhak Samaj activities. Though Brahmo Samaj believed that all men were the children of one God, only Brahmins were allowed to officiate as priests and attend Brahmo Samaj meetings. It was told that the Brahmo Samaj was a holy preserve and privilege and should not be contaminated by non-brahmins.

This devastating criticism is all the more valid in the Hindu religion, because here clever brahmins had loaded farmers backs with selfish interests, under the garb of religion. Out of their hatred for shudras, the brahmins prevented resurgence of shudras by creating religion based hierarchical caste system and imposed sacredness, out of the fear that some day shudras would rise again to challenge the brahmin supremacy, they banned teaching to shudras altogether. The ban on the education of the lower castes resulted in the illiterate women and the shudras losing their reasoning faculty and acquiring faith in worthless stories in Harivijay, etc., and following pilgrimage, worshipping Satyanarayan and chanting Gods` name million times a day.

Work of Satya Shodhak Samaj

The main objectives of the organisation were to liberate the Shudras and Ati Shudras and to prevent their exploitation by the upper caste like Brahmans. Through this Satya Shodhak Samaj, Jotirao refused to regard the Vedas as sacrosanct. He opposed idolatry and denounced the chaturvarnya system (the caste system). Satya Shodhak Samaj propounded the spread of rational thinking and rejected the need for a Brahman priestly class as educational and religious leaders. He vehemently opposed worthless rituals and any intermediary between god and person. Satya Shodhak Samaj believed neither in the caste system nor in the basic four-fold division of society. Satya Shodhak Samaj lacked the support of major intellectuals. Their philosopher were simple and honest peasant. Their language was the language of the people, their places of propaganda were the corn-gathering places.

According to SatyaShodhak Samaj, existence of God was replaced by Nirmik, the creator. SatyaShodhak Samaj propounded the spread of rational thinking and rejected the need for a Brahman priestly class as educational and religious leaders. Phule, in an attempt to explain caste oppression, turned the Aryan theory of race upside down. Brahmins were cruel and violent invaders who had overturned an originally prosperous and egalitarian society. Brahman rule, supported by state power and religious hegemony, was seen as the root cause of oppression for the lower-caste indigenous masses.

Jotiba firmly believed that if you want to create a new social system based on freedom, equality, brotherhood, human dignity, economic justice and value devoid of exploitation, you will have to overthrow the old, unequal and exploitative social system and the values on which it is based. Knowing this well, Jotiba attacked blind faith and faith in what is given in religious books and the so-called gods words. He tore to pieces the misleading myths that were ruling over the minds of women, shudras and ati-shudras. Yielding to god or fate, astrology and other such rituals, sacredness, god-men, etc. was deemed irrational and absurd.

He also led campaigns to remove the economic and social handicaps that breed blind faith among women, shudras and ati-shudras. Jotiba subjected religious texts and religious behavior to the tests of rationalism. He characterised this faith as outwardly religious but in essence politically motivated movements. He accused them of upholding the teachings of religion and refusing to rationally analyse religious teachings. He maintained that at the root of all calamities was the blind faith that religious books were created or inspired by god. Therefore, Phule wanted to abolish this blind faith in the first instance. All established religious and priestly classes find this blind faith useful for their purposes and they try their best to defend it. He questions if there is only one God, who created the whole mankind, why did he write the Vedas only in Sanskrit language despite his anxiety for the welfare of the whole mankind? What about the welfare of those who do not understand this language? Phule concludes that it is untenable to say that religious texts were God-created. To believe so is only ignorance and prejudice. All religions and their religious texts are man-made and they represent the selfish interest of the classes, which are trying to pursue and protect their selfish ends by constructing such books. Phule was the only sociologist and humanist in his time that could put forth such bold ideas. In his view, every religious book is a product of its time and the truths it contains have no permanent and universal validity. Again these texts can never be free from the prejudices and the selfishness of the authors of such books. Through his writings and activities Mahatma Phule always condemned Brahmanism and the privileged status of priests in it. He openly condemned the inequality in the religious books, orthodox nature of religion, exploitation of masses by the means of it, blind and misleading rituals, and hypocrisy in the prevalent religion.

He advocates gender equality, opposes hierarchical superiority and propagates honesty and conscientious behavior. There is no sin and no other world and no cycle of births after this life. Man had to use his rational faculty to go through life. He attacked astrology and Vastushastra.

Phule believed in overthrowing the social system in which man has been deliberately made dependent on others, illiterate, ignorant and poor, with a view to exploiting him. To him blind faith eradication formed part of a broad socioeconomic transformation. This was his strategy for ending exploitation of human beings. Mere advice, education and alternative ways of living are not enough, unless the economic framework of exploitation comes to an end.

Dress of Preacher
The dress of the preacher of Satya Shodhak samaj consisted of a blanket, a turban and a dhoti alongwith a drum in his hand.

He referred to their debts to injunctions and rites the peasants suffered from and told them how the little money they had was drained away by the cunning and selfish Brahmin priests!. He urged them to send their children to schools so that they might learn what was law, what was religion, what was god. They were men of farmers stock and they could not bring to their task learning and reason, although they displayed much energy and earnestness!

Jotiraos institution struggled for the uplift of the masses. The Satya Shodhak samaj was thus the first institution to launch a social movement in modern India. It raised its voice against social slavery and demanded social justice. It was the shrill voice of a long-suppressed people in India.

Deenbandhu, the mouthpiece of the Satya Shodhak Samaj

Deenbandhu, the mouthpiece of the Satya Shodhak Samaj, played an important role in SatyaShodhak Samajs movement. Deenbandhu weekly articulated the grievances of the peasants sand workers. Deenbandhu defended Jyotirao when Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, a powerful spokesman of the conservative nationalists, attacked Jyotiraos writing in the most vitriolic style. Narayan Meghaji Lokhande was another prominent colleague of Jyotirao. Lokhande is acclaimed as the Father of Trade Union Movement in India. From 1880 onwards, he took over the management of Deenbandhu which was published from Bombay. Deenbandhu, had protested against the restrictions on the right to freedom of the press. Jyotirao did not like the idea of spending the money of the taxpayers in honoring a guest like Lytton. He boldly suggested that the amount could be very well spending on the education of the poor people in Poona. He was the only member out of all the thirty-two nominated members of the Poona Municipality who voted against the official resolution.

Merger into Congress party

After Jotibas death in 1890, there was a period of lull, when the flame lit by Jotiba waned. His movement was kept alive by Shahu Maharaj, Krantisinha Nana Patil and many other leaders after him. On her death bed Phule is rumored to have turned to his wife and said You must carry on our work with the same determination and spirit. The Satya Shodhak Samaj movement was totally a social movement and nothing to do with the politics, but the members of Satya Shodhak Samaj dissolved Satya Shodhak Samaj.

Work by Shahu Maharaj

Shahu Maharaj, the ruler of Kolhapur princely state, gave a lot of financial and moral support and Satya Shodhak Samaj in its new incarnation as non-brahmin party carried on the work of superstition removal vigorously. Two instances from the lives of two devoted leaders of Satya Shodhak Samaj in this period can be cited at the outset. The first of these relates to the life of Bhaskarrao Jadhav, the veteran non-brahmin leader. When Shahu Maharaj, who was humiliated in the Vedokta controversy, had set up Kshatra Jagatguru, Bhaskarrao opposed the move. On top of it, when all leaders including Shahu Maharaj saluted kshatra Jagatguru, Bhaskarrao boldly declared that being a Satya Shodhak he could not bow his head before any religious leaders. Ideas of Satya Shodhak Samaj defy not just brahmin heads of religion, but also the whole institution of priesthood and the caste system based on inequality by birth. This is because at the root of the caste system is the superstition that sponsors the feelings of superiority of higher castes and the feelings of inferiority of lower castes. If superiority of brahmin is replaced by superiority of the kshatriyas or even if brahmins and kshatriyas are on par with each other, it would not remove this superstition. The second instance relates to a strong and successful worker of Satya Shodhak Samaj, Once Shahu Maharaj had called Baburao Yadav for some work but he was very late in turning up. Naturally Maharaj asked him about the delay. Baburao took Maharaj to the balcony and from that balcony he pointed the bullock-carts resting at a distance. Maharaj could not understand the point. Soon, however Maharaj saw that Baburao Yadavs bullock cart was full of red coloured stones of different sizes. Maharaj further asked Yadav to explain how his late coming was related to those stones. Then Yadav explained, Sir I was delayed in reaching your palace because on the way I collected all these stones anointed with red sindhur, as these so called gods sitting on the boundaries of the village farms were responsible for converting villagers into stones! I collected all of them in my cart. That is why I was delayed in reaching here. These two instances reveal how Satya Shodhak Samaj had created the psyche against blind faith from top to bottom of the movement. Jotiba firmly believed that if you want to create a new social system based on freedom, equality, brotherhood, human dignity, economic justice and value devoid of exploitation, you will have to overthrow the old, unequal and exploitative social system and the values on which it is based. Knowing this well, Jotiba attacked blind faith and faith in what is given in religious books and the so-called gods words. He tore to pieces the misleading myths that were ruling over the minds of women, shudras and ati-shudras. Yielding to god or fate, astrology and other such rubbish rituals, sacredness, god-men, etc. was deemed irrational and absurd. This was explained by giving innumerable examples.

Work by Savitribai Phuley

When Phule established the Satya Shodhak Samaj, Savitribai became the head of the womens section which included ninety female members. Moreover, she worked tirelessly as a school teacher for girls. Deenbandhu publication, the mouthpiece of the Satya Shodhak Samaj, played an important role in SatyaShodhak Samajs movement. After Jotibas death in 1890 his spirited followers went on spreading the movement to the remotest parts of Maharashtra. Shahu Maharaj, the ruler of Kolhapur princely state, gave a lot of financial and moral support to Satya Shodhak Samaj. In its new incarnation party carried on the work of superstition removal vigorously

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