Pune- In a significant victory for the oppressed classes of India, the Bombay High Court has ruled in favour of the Pune Municipal Corporation and the Maharashtra state government in the Bhide Wada case. This decision paves the way for the creation of a memorial dedicated to Savitribai and Mahatma Phule. Bhide Wada, where Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule made history by establishing the first school for girls in India in 1848, currently stands in a dilapidated state.
The Pune Municipal Corporation had initiated the process to acquire the approximately 3,500 square feet (327 square meters) area, but it faced opposition from the current owners, the Pune Merchant Cooperative Bank, and its two dozen tenants. They had taken their case to the Supreme Court, challenging the PMC's attempt to demolish the compound and replace it with a memorial. The Supreme Court transferred the case back to the High Court, which issued the long-awaited verdict in favour of the Pune Municipal Corporation on Monday.
In delivering the verdict, the High Court Division Bench of Justice Gautam Patel and Kamal Khata stated that the monument serves a public purpose and encouraged the authorities to proceed with the land acquisition plan, enabling the project's implementation.
"With the high court's ruling, the path to build the monument at Bhide Wada has been cleared. We welcome the court's decision, which coincided with the Navratri festival," said Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.
"The advocate general effectively presented the government's stance in court, leading to the high court's verdict in favour of establishing Bhide Wada as a national memorial," said Chandrakant Patil, Minister of Higher and Technical Education of Maharashtra.
At the time of her marriage, Savitribai Phule was illiterate, and it was Jyotiba who took on the responsibility of educating her. By the age of 17, she had acquired enough literacy to teach others. However, what she was about to do would challenge the status quo. On January 1, 1848, just two days before her 17th birthday, she opened the first school for girls. Though it might seem like a normal development today, this act was met with strong opposition. Savitribai Phule faced extreme harassment, enduring attacks with stones and cow dung. Yet, this ostracism did not deter the couple from their mission. They went on to establish more such schools, and by 1851, they were providing education to over 150 students in Pune.
The Mooknayak spoke to Neeta Hole, the granddaughter-in-law of the great-grandson of Jyotiba Phule. Neeta revealed, "To be honest, had it not been for me, no one would have known about Bhide Wada. It was I who staged a dharna outside the Vidhan Bhavan in Nagpur, demanding that the 17 schools started by Mahatma Phule and Jyotiba Phule, now under the Pune Municipal Corporation, be handed over to us. Additionally, I called for the creation of a National Memorial at Bhide Wada, the site where the first school was established by Phule. I proposed the establishment of a trust for its management, with me as the trustee. Unfortunately, the government did not accept any of these demands."
Expressing skepticism about politicians, she stated that she is content with the High Court's decision. She also mentioned that the 50 crore sanctioned for the memorial is more than sufficient, and it needs to be ensured that this amount is used appropriately. She further requested that out of the approximately 3,000 square feet area, 1,000 square feet be reserved for the memorial. The memorial could occupy the ground floor, with two additional floors constructed above it to create a library for girls. She also warned of an agitation if this demand is not met.