Gail Omvedt’s 1971 paper on why Jotirao Phule was India’s first rennaisance figure:
It is one of the tragic dilemmas of the colonial situation that the national revolution and the social revolution in a colonial society tend to develop apart from one another. Jyotirao Phule represented a very different set of interests and a very different outlook on India from all the upper caste elite thinkers of the so-called Indian Renaissance who have dominated the awareness of both Indian and foreign intellec- tuals. The elite expressed an ideology of what may be described as the “national revolution it was the nationalism of a class combining bourgeois and high caste traditions. Phule represented the ideology of the social revolution in its earliest form, with a peasant and anti-caste outlook.
Phule’s thought represented the fulfilment of the renaissance desire for social transformation along revolutionary lines. He, and not the later elite thinkers, from Ranade through Tilak, should be seen as the primary renaissance figure.
Any culture rests upon a class society and the dominance of a particular class. In India, Hindu culture and the caste system rested upon Brahmanism; hence Phule linked his thought with a movement of opposition to the Brahman elite. “Non-Brahmartism”, therefore, represerited not simply communalism or a result of British divide-and-rule policies; it represented the first expression of social revolution.
Phule, it is true, failed to provide economic analysis or political organisation appropriate for this struggle. But he had a clear vision of the need for and the basis of a liberation movement.
The full text of the paper:
Firts published in the Economic Political Weekly