A lesser-known personality in Indian history but she will always be remembered as the first Muslim woman teacher and intersectional educationist of India. She is a liberator of millions of oppressed women. She fought for a casteless society and for modern education of girls. Along with Savitribai Phule, she laid the foundation stone of education opportunities for women in India. Her name is “FATIMA SHEIKH”.
Fatima and her brother, Usman Sheikh, offered refuge to Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule when they were forced to leave their home in Pune for challenging the Brahmanical casteist norms and educating Dalits and women. Fatima Sheikh started teaching in the same school as Savitribai Phule. Savitribai and Fatima were accompanied by Saguna Bai, who later became another leader in the education movement. Usman Sheikh, the brother of Fatima Sheikh, was also inspired by the movement of Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule. According to archives from that period, it was Usman Sheikh who encouraged her sister Fatima to spread the education in the society.
Defying all Brahmanical norms, She helped Savitribai Phule to set up their first girl school and library named ” Indigenous Library” in her own house. She went against not only upper-caste Hindus but also orthodox Muslims. Both groups were deeply opposed to the idea of equal access to education at that time. Despite the challenges before Fatima, she urged and encouraged the Muslim community to educate girls, irrespective of their faith. She had taught in five schools that Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule had opened and continued to do so until 1956.
Being the both, Muslim and woman, one can imagine her unfathomable resistance to Brahmanical patriarchy and male chauvinist society. For the same Savitribai Phule and Mahatma Phule, Fatima Sheikh had faced many difficulties while working for the marginalized broken people and women.
She regarded as a great feminist icon of India who defined intersectional feminism through her life and work. She not only taught children from the Muslim community but from other religions as well. Those who think there is no or only bad contribution of Muslims to Indian history and have communal hatred against Muslim community, read Fatima Sheikh’s biography, think why she had not been cited in mainstream Indian history and try to learn noble human values from her personality and see the things beyond caste, gender and religious identity.
The history of our country is a history of Caste-Class-Gender struggle. The time that all schools teach the ideals & contribution of FATIMA SHEIKH, SAVITRIBAI PHULE AND SAGUNABAI in education, rather than worshipping a goddess who doesn’t have even a mythical story of her teachings.
We honour the contribution of Fatima Sheikh on her birth anniversary. You will always live forever as a light to show the path of knowledge, human rights, social revolution, love, courage, compassion, empathy and humanity. We owe you, mother. Long live Fatima Sheikh
Let’s pay homage to our foremother Fatima Sheikh 🙏💐💐💐🙏