Jotirao Govindrao Phule wrote Gulamgiri (Slavery) – a scathing and witty attack on brahmanism and the slavery of India’s ‘lower’ castes that it engendered. Unlike Indian nationalists, Phule (1827–1890) saw the British as people who could tame the local elite—the brahmans who wielded power simply on the basis of birth. Inspired by Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and the ideals of Enlightenment philosophers, Phule mounted a critique of the vedas as idle fantasies of the brahman mind. With the objective of liberating the sudras and atisudras, he founded the Satyashodak Samaj (Society of Truthseekers).
This revolutionary text remains relevant today, and given Phule’s rather graphic imagination lends itself almost naturally to graphic art – the first time a historical work has been interpreted as a graphic book in India. Srividya Natarajan and Aparajita Ninan also weave in the story of Savitribai, Jotiba’s wife and partner in his struggles, who started a school for girls in Pune in 1848, despite social opprobrium.