Introduction to Social and Religious Reforms

Introduction to Social and Religious Reforms


This article deals with ‘ Introduction to Social and Religious Reforms – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here



  • Main reason why Britain emerged as powerful nation was it accepted modern civilization first among all nations . But in India , intentionally they followed the policy to stall the change in society . Changes did occur & Indian society did tried to change but not due to British policies but due to efforts by some progressive Indians
  • These efforts happened first in Bengal  because it came under British control first . First lot of Indians who studied in Western English knowledge also created  in Bengal at end of 18th Century. New intellectual stirrings created reformed mentality . They didn’t reject Indian tradition but sought to change certain unreasonable aspects of Hindu society which didn’t conform to their rationalist ideas. Later British officials also joined the race &  this provided legitimacy to the reform agenda of the Utilitarian reformers like Bentinck
  • But problem was , this mentality was confined to a small circle of English Educated elite.  Series of reforms followed but they remained on paper . Problem was they never attempted to develop modern social consciousness from below . Should have followed bottom up approach not top down approach .  Reform from above remained ineffective .
  • Untouchability  as an issue of social reform had to wait until the beginning of the twentieth cen­tury and the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi in Indian  public life  after World War One .
  • Lacking in a broad social base, the reformers of the early nineteenth century thus exhibited an intrinsic faith in the benevolent nature of colonial rule and relied more on legislation  for imposing reform  from above. There was very little or no attempt to create a reformist social conscious­ness at the grass-roots level, where religious revivalism later found a  fertile ground.


The reform movement broadly fell under two categories

Reformist Movement
  • Eg Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj & Aligarh Movement
  • Relied on reason & conscience. Wanted to purge outdated elements from the religion which didn’t pass on the scale of  reason .
Revivalist Movement
  • Eg Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission & Deoband Movement
  • Relied upon traditions & wanted to go back to their self made golden past



Side Topic :Why Britishers tried to reform Indian Society in 19th Century 

There were various reasons for this

  • Several ideological influences in Britain, such as Evangelicalism, Utilitarianism and free trade thinking.
  • For renewal of Charter of company
  • Pro socio religious thrust in contemporary England =>  Progressive Whig Party came into power
  • Role of christian missionaries


But the Company’s government was still tentative about interfering for fear of adverse Indian reaction unless a section of the Indian society was prepared to support reform. Such a group was soon to emerge through the introduction of English education


Status of Woman  & Responses by Indian Society

  • Status of woman became main focus of the reforming activities of colonial state as well as educated Indians
  • At that time, way in which  civilisations were ranked , position of woman was one of important criteria & here Indians were increasingly under attack by western observers from missionaries to civilians . Indian civilisation was  despised because it assigned such a low status to women
  • Hence, Indian Intelligentsia responded to this civilisation critique by advocating & supporting reforms to improve status of woman in Indian society
  • But such reforms remained very restricted to only few women belonging to high class because women remained  recipient of male patronage & never became involved in these reformist projects as conscious subjects of their own history .


Upper Class Women vs Peasant Women

  • Peasant woman were better compared to Upper caste woman during that time
  • They didn’t practice Purdah System , Right to Remarry was there  & Sati was also not that widespread among Peasant class unlike Higher caste


Leave a Comment