Q. Reform movements in religion were largely responsible for social reform movements in India. In this context, discuss the contribution of various socio-cultural reformers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Approach:

  • Briefly discuss about the social reform movements in India.
  • Discuss the contribution of various socio-cultural reformers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Model Answer

Indian Society in the 19th century was caught in a vicious web created by religious superstitions and dogmas. All religions in general and Hinduism in particular had become a compound of magic, animism, and superstitions.

The growing knowledge of India’s past glory provided to the Indian people a sense of pride in their civilization. It also helped the reformers in their work of religious and social reform for their struggle against all type of inhuman practices, superstitions etc. They attacked bigotry, superstition and the hold of the priestly class. They worked for emancipation of women in which sati, infanticide, child marriage and widow re-marriage were taken up, casteism and untouchability, education for bringing about enlightenment in society. All these problems has roots in religious beliefs and superstitions.

The contribution of various socio-cultural reformers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj :Ram Mohan Roy, the father of Indian Renaissance was versatile genius, who opposed the idolatry, denounced Sati, polygamy and abuses of the caste system, favoured remarriage of Hindu widows. He started the ‘AtmiyaSabha’ in 1815 and carried a consistent struggle against the religious and social malpractices. Other prominent reformers of Brahmo Samaj included Debendranath Tagore and Keshub Chandra Sen. They were was instrumental in popularizing the movement, and branches of the samaj were opened outside Bengal.
  • Young Bengal Movement and Henry Vivian Derozio :During the late 1820s and early 1830s, there emerged a radical, intellectual trend among the youth in Bengal, which came to be known as the ‘Young Bengal Movement’. Drawing inspiration from the great French Revolution, Derozio inspired his pupils to think freely and rationally, question all authority, love liberty, equality, and freedom, and oppose decadent customs and traditions.
  • Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar:-Vidyasagar started a movement in support of widow remarriage which resulted in legislation of widow remarriage. He was also a crusade against child marriage and polygamy. He did much for the cause of Women’s education. As secretary of Bethune School (established in 1849), he was one of the pioneers of higher education for the women in India.
  • DayanandSaraswati and Arya Samaj :Swami Dayanand gave the mantra, “Go back to Vedas” as he believed that priestly class and Puranas had perverted Hindu religion. He wrote a book “SatyarthPrakash” which contains his philosophical and religious ideas. He started the Shuddhi Movement to bring back those Hindus who had converted to Islam and Christianity.
  • Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and the Aligarh Movement : Syed’s progressive social ideas were propagated through his magazine Tahdhib-ul-Akhlaq (Improvement of Manners and Morals). Social reforms among Muslims relating to purdah, polygamy, widow remarriage, women’s education, slavery, divorce, etc.
  • M G Ranade and PrarthanaSamaj :Justice MahadevGovindRanade was a distinguished Indian scholar, social reformer and author. The four point social agenda of PrathanaSamaj were
    • Disapproval of caste system
    • Women education
    • Widow remarriage
    • Raising the age of marriage for both males and females

  • Satyashodhak Samaj and Jyotiba Phule :Jyotiba Phule belonged to the Mali (gardener) community and organized a powerful movement against upper caste domination and brahminical supremacy. Phule founded the Satyashodhak Samaj (Truth Seekers’ Society) in 1873. The main aims of the movement were Social service and spread of education among women and lower caste people.
  • Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda: Ramakrishna Paramhansa was a mystic who sought religious salvation in the traditional ways of renunciation, meditation and devotion. He was saintly person who recognized the fundamental oneness of all religions and emphasized that there were many roads to God and salvation and the service of man is the service of God.
  • Balshastri Jambhekar :He is known as Father of Marathi journalism. He was one of the pioneers in Bombay who attacked orthodoxy and tried to reform popular Hinduism.
  • KandukuriVeeresalingam: He was a social reformer who first brought about a renaissance in Telugu people and Telugu literature. He encouraged education for women.
  • Sri Narayan Guru Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Movement: This movement was an example of a regional movement born out of conflict between the depressed classes and upper non-Brahmin castes.
  • Vaikom Satyagraha: It was led by K P Kesava, was launched in Kerela demanding throwing open of Hindu Temples and roads to untouchables.

The writings and speeches of reformers of the 19th century played an important role in the socio-cultural reform which brought about intellectual revolution in India.  These social and religious reform movements arose among all communities of the Indian people which played a socially transformative role.  

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