Any society consists of diverse and different types of persons; persons with different religions, castes, colours, gender and faiths etc and it is expected that they all should live in harmony and without discrimination; ideal situation is when there is equality, freedom and brotherhood among all sections of society. However, human society all over the world shows that various types of exploitative practices which are prevalent there; these practices originated due to human greed for power, authority and superiority. These discriminatory and exploitative practices take the form of social evils in the long run and become a scar on the face of any civilized society. The Indian society too in the first half of the 19 th century was suffering from social evils such as casteism, superstitions, Sati Pratha, female education, widow remarriage and child marriage etc which stood in the way of our progress. The urgent need for social reform began to manifest itself from the early decades of the 19th century. When the British came to India they introduced certain modern ideas. Such as liberty, social and economic equality, fraternity, democracy and justice which had a tremendous impact on Indian society. Many religious and social reformers Categories of Reforms Movements like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekanad,Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and many others were advocating the eradication of the evils prevalent at that time and were willing to bring reforms in the society so that it could face the challenges of the West. They were no longer willing to accept the traditions, beliefs and practices in the society simply because they had been observed for centuries. Indian intellectuals closely scrutinized the country’s past and found that many beliefs and practices were no longer of any use and needed to be discarded; they also discovered that many aspects of Indian’s culture heritage were of intrinsic value to India’s cultural awakening. The result was the birth of many socio-religious reforms movements touching almost every segments Indian society.
The reforms movements fall in two broad categories
- Reformist movements like that Brahmo Samaj, the prarthana Samaj and the Aligarh movements.
- Revivalists movements like the Arya Samaj, the Ramakrishna Mission Both the reformist and revivalist movement depended on a varying degree on a appeal to the lost purity of the religion they sought to reform.
The only difference one reform movement and the other lay in the degree to which it relied on tradition or on reason and conscience. Another significant aspect of all the reform movements was their emphasis on both religious and social reforms. This link was primarily due to two main reasons. a. Almost every social custom and institution in India derived sustenance from religious injunctions and sanctions. This meant that no social reform could be undertaken unless the existing religious notions which sustained the social customs were also reformed. b. Indian reformers well understood the close interrelation reforms must precede demand for social reforms or political rights
Characteristics of the Reform Movements: An analysis of the reform movements of the 19th century brings out several common features:
- All the reformers propagated the idea of one God and the basic unity of all religions. Thus, they tried to bridge the gulf between different religious beliefs.
- All the reformers attacked priesthood, rituals, idolatry and polytheism. The humanitarian aspect of these reform movements was expressed in their attack on the caste system and the custom of child marriage.
- The reformers attempted to improve the status of girls and women in society. They all emphasised the need for female education.
- By attacking the caste system and untouchability, the reformers helped to unify the people of India into one nation.
- The reform movements fostered feelings of self-respect, self-reliance and patriotism among the Indians.
Contribution of the Reform Movements:
Many reformers like Dayanand Saraswati and Vivekananda upheld Indian philosophy and culture. This instilled in Indians a sense of pride and faith in their own culture. Female education was promoted. Schools for girls were set up. Even medical colleges were established for women. This led to the development, though slow, of girls’ education. The cultural and ideological struggle taken up by the socio-religious movements helped to build up national consciousness. They, thus, paved the way for the growth of nationalism. From the late 19 th Since they had become associated with religious beliefs, therefore most of the movements of social reform were of a religious character. century a number of European and Indian scholars started the study of ancient India’s history, philosophy, science, religions and literature. This 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.
These social and religious reform movements arose among all communities of the Indian people. They worked for abolition of castes, untouchability, sati, child marriage, social inequalities and illiteracy. Early Phase of Nineteenth, Century The first soundings of intellectual revolt in Maharashtra were heard in the early decades of the 19th century. Among the early intellectuals who initiated and led the movement, were Bal Shastri Jambhekar, Dadoba Pandurang Tarkhadkar and Bhasker Pandurang Tarkhadkar. Gopal Hari Deshmukh better known as ‘Lokahitwadi’ and Vishnu Bhikaji Gokhale popularly known as Vishnubawa Brahmachari, Jambhekar was the pioneer of the intellectual movement in Maharashtra. He laid its foundations through his numerous writings, in the early 1830s. Dadoba gave it an organisational shape; he founded the Paramhansa Sabha in 1840, the first reform organisation of nineteenth century Maharashtra. Brahmachari was against caste distinctions and believed in the oneness of humanity. Although himself a Brahmin, he employed a Muslim cook and ate food Served by anyone. He thus openly challenged the rigidity of the caste system and worked for an equitable social order. In Bengal the movement had begun with a religious and philosophical note, in Maharashtra strictly social issues came to occupy a prominent place in the scheme of reform. The approach of early intellectuals was much practical in nature. For example, the Paramhansa Sabha’s principal objective was the demolition of all caste distinctions. The Sabha was, however, a secret society; its meetings were conducted in the strictest secrecy for fear of facing the wrath of the orthodox. The challenge to the caste system and other social evils thus remained limited to the participation of its few members only Later Phase of Nineteenth Century The reform movement gained strength during the second half of the century. A host of towering personalities emerged on the intellectual scene.
The most notable among them were Vishnu Parashuram Shastri Pandit, Jyotiba Phule Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, Narayan Mahadev Permanand, Mahadev Gobind Ranade, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, K.T. Telang, Ganesh Vasudev Joshi ,Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar. Pandit began his public career with the advocacy of widow-marriage. He was a leading figure in the sphere of the agitation for female emancipation. He started the Vidhava Vivaha Uttejaka Mandal (Society for Encouragement of Widow Marriage) in 1865 and worked as its Secretary He set an example by marrying a widow in 1875. Phule, born in the Mali caste, emerged as a champion of the depressed sections of the society. He was the first Indian to start a school for the untouchables in 1854. He also championed the cause of the liberation of Indian women. In 1851 he and his wife started a girls’ school at Poona. By his profound scholarship Bhandarkar earned the title of ‘Maharshi’ for himself. – In the teeth of conservative opposition he allowed and arranged the marriage of his widow-daughter in 1891 He was one of the very few to strongly advocate Hindu Muslim unity Paramanand, writing under the pen name of the ‘Political recluse’, was one of the constructive critics of the British administration, besides being a great social reformer. Ranade was a man of many-sided activity A product of the Elphinstone College, Bombay he was Judge of the Bombay High Court during 1891-1901. He held that the caste distinction was the main blot on Indian social system. He realised that social reform movement could not move the people unless it assimilated religious reform. Under his guidance the Paramhansa Sabha was reorganised in 1867 under the name Prarthana Samaj. He guided the movement in Maharashtra with intellectual strength and pragmatism till the end of his life. The Prarthana Samaj preached monotheism and denounced priestly domination and caste distinctions. Its activities also spread to South India through the efforts of the Telugu reformer, Veeresalingam. Chiplunkar started his famous Nibandhmala in 1874, a monthly Marathi magazine, devoted to the cause of social reform. Other reformers in Bombay were Naoroji Furdonji, Dadabhai Naoroji and S.S. Bengalee. In 1851 they started a religious association called the Rehnumai Mazadayasan Sabha. It stood for the modernisation of Parsi religion and social customs. It launched a struggle for the introduction and spread of education among women, grant of a legal status to them and for uniform laws of inheritance and marriage for the Parsi community.
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