Fatima Sheikh, an Indian social reformer and teacher is remembered on her birthday by Google. Let us understand the feminist icon educator Fatima Sheikh.
Google is today remembering Fatima Sheikh, the educator and feminist icon in the history of India, with a doodle on her 191 st birthday. She is widely considered to be India’s first Muslim woman teacher. Fatima Sheikh, along with her colleagues and social reformers Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule, started the famous Indigenous Library in 1848. This is regarded as one of India’s first schools for girls.
Who is Fatima Sheikh- The Feminist icon of India
Fatima Sheikh was born on 9 January 1831 in Pune. She lived with her brother Mian Usman Sheikh who was an active supporter throughout her life. Usman stood with her when she faced threats from the authorities from her community.
Meeting the Phule’s
Fatima Sheikh and Savitribhai Phule met at a teacher training institution run by an American missionary Cynthia Farrar. Later, their great friendship grew as she became a great pillar and support in Phule’s ventures.
Jyothibha Phule and Savitribhai Phule, the greatest social reformers of pre-independent India were evicted for attempting to educate people in lower castes. They were threatened by the highest caste people and fearing violent retaliation, their families asked them to leave home or stop their social reform activities.
So even when their family members deserted the Phules, Fathima Sheikh took the risk and offered them her home to the couple. As a Muslim woman, especially someone going against brahminical norms, the risk she took on to herself and her family cannot be underestimated. Fathima not only gave them a residence but became an active supporter of all the missions of Savitribhai Phule and Jyotibha Phule.
From there they together started great efforts to educate the marginalised and vulnerable population of India. Fathima sheikh was an active supporter of Satyashodhak Samaj, which was the torchbearer association against the inequalities and injustices in pre-independent India. She also taught in all five schools established by Savitibhai Phule and Jyotibha Phule. She was involved in the founding of 2 schools in Bombay in 1851
The Indigenous Library was opened under the Sheikhs’ roof. Here, Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh taught communities of marginalized Dalit and Muslim women and children who were denied education based on class, religion, or gender. She also started teaching pupils at Phule school.
They empowered the poor to speak up for themselves and resist the injustice that is happening to them. Fathima Sheikh was a lifelong champion of this movement for equality and justice.
She went door-to-door to invite the downtrodden in her community to learn at the Indigenous Library and escape the rigidity of the closed Indian varna system. She met the parents of Muslim girls and convinced them to educate their children.
The path was not at all easy for her. She had to encounter many challenges from her religion as well as the greater community in her path. But Fatima Sheikh was courageous enough to challenge the resistances and moved on her path with her strong determination and willpower.
Fatima sheikh met great resistance from the dominant classes who attempted to humiliate those involved in the Satyashodhak movement, but Sheikh and her allies persisted
Fatima Sheikh – An unsung heroine from the past
Fatima Sheikh is thus an inspiring personality in the Indian social reform movements. She encouraged the women to get educated and speak for themselves. She became one of the greatest pillars of the Dalit history of India. Many women got inspired by her and started to walk in the paths she showed them. She is indeed the greatest feminist in the Indian timeline.
But, unfortunately, she has not been remembered enough and is not recognised well in the history of India. Surprisingly, she is absent from the historical map of India. It is important to mark her contributions and tell her inspiring life to the budding generations.