Observing that women have historically been denied representation on currency, Ravikumar said Savitribai Phule is an icon for social justice.

Have Savitribai Phules portrait on currency notes VCK MP proposes
news Sunday, August 04, 2019 - 16:39

In a noteworthy move, VCK MP D Ravikumar has submitted a notice in the Lok Sabha requesting the Union Government to issue a currency note with the portrait of Savitribai Phule. 

In the notice addressed to the Lok Sabha Secretary General, Ravikumar wrote, “Currency note is not only a tool of our economy but also a symbol of our society … By appointing a full time woman Finance Minister, India recognises the capability of woman in handling financial matters in our country. This is the right time to print a picture of [a] woman in our currency.”

Speaking to TNM, Ravikumar, who is also a poet, writer and translator, said, “The Gandhi portrait on the currency was issued exactly 50 years ago in 1969, marking his birth centenary. I am not suggesting that we change or remove Gandhi’s portrait. Instead, I am just asking that women be represented on currency, on any denomination note.” 

Savitribai Phule was born in 1831 in Satara district, Maharashtra. She was married at nine years old to Jyotirao Phule, who was thirteen at the time. Her parents were from the Mali community, which is now recognised as OBC (Other Backward Class).

Both Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule were denied educational opportunities because of their gender and caste. However, the couple eventually attained an education. In 1848, when Savitribai was 17 years old, the couple started the first school for women in the country which wasn't run by colonial authorities. Savitribai was a social worker who worked for the rights of marginalised communities and questioned patriarchal, Brahminical social structures.

Ravikumar pointed out that in the entire history of currency and coinage in the region, there has hardly been any representation of women. “Only during the colonial period, coins and currency notes bearing Queen Victoria’s portrait were issued,” he said. 

“We have found thousands of ancient coins in excavations all over India, including Tamil Nadu. But all of them have only male names or figures on them. This also shows how women have historically been prohibited from participating in financial activities. That’s why I have submitted this proposal,” Ravikumar said.  

Speaking about his suggestion of Savitribai Phule, Ravikumar said, “Savitribai Phule was the first woman teacher. She opened a school for girls and taught children from oppressed communities. She is a social justice icon. That’s the reason for my suggestion. But if they find a more suitable woman, that’s fine too.”

Noting that the Lok Sabha this time has 78 women MPs, a record high, he said, “In the budget speech, our first full time woman Finance Minister said it’s a government driven by women. If women’s groups and major political parties strongly endorse the suggestion, it is likely to become a reality.”

In 2016, the United States Department of the Treasury had announced a redesign of the $20 note featuring Harriet Tubman. Tubman, an African American abolitionist and political activist, was chosen after seeking input from the public over which woman should be featured on the note. It was planned to be unveiled in 2020, to coincide with the centenary of the 19th Amendment to the US constitution which granted women the right to vote. The redesign has now been delayed, with the US Treasury Secretary declaring earlier this year that no new imagery will be unveiled until 2028. “It’s the same situation across the world. I think it’s time to break that,” Ravikumar said.  


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