Reformist Movements

Table of Contents

Reformist Movements

This article deals with ‘Reformist Movements – 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 try 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 were also created  in Bengal at the 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 . They faced problem because they never attempted to develop modern social consciousness from below . They should have followed ‘bottom up approach’ instead of ‘top down approach’ .  Reform forced 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. They wanted to purge outdated elements from the religion which didn’t pass on the scale of  reason .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
Reformist Movements

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 reform thrust in contemporary England => because Progressive Whig Party came into power back in Britain. 
  • Role of Christian missionaries was also noticeable.

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  & Civilizational Critique

Status of Woman  & Civilizational Critique
  • Status of woman became the 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 the 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

Reformist Movements

We have seen the reasons why Social Reform movements were started in India. Now we will look in detail into one strand of these movements known as Reformist Movements .

Features of reformist social  movements

a. Confined only to narrow social group

  • Reformist spirit appealed only to a small elite group who were primarily the economic & cultural beneficiaries of the colonial  rule .
In Bengal – Small number of western educated elite known as Bhadralok
– Socially they were mostly Hindus &  although caste wasn’t a major criteria for membership, they were mostly higher caste  Brahmin, Kayastha & Baidya   
Western India – Members of Prarthna Samaj were mainly English educated Chitpavan & Saraswat Brahmins along with Merchants from Gujarat
  • Indeed the high caste  character of the early 19th century explains to a large extent the relative silence on caste question & untouchability which had to wait till Gandhi

b. Faith in benevolent nature of colonial rule

  • They had great faith in the benevolent nature of colonial rule & infact existence of these classes depended on Colonial rule .
  • Because of faith , they relied more on legislation for imposing reform from the above

c. Colonial Character of the reforms

  • Dominant colonial assumption was religion was the basis for Indian society &  this religion was encoded in the scriptures . Social evils were thought to be result of the distortion of scriptures by self seeking people , in this case the cunning Brahmins who had the monopoly over this textual knowledge .
  • Civilising mission of the colonial state thus seen to lie in giving back the natives the truth of their own little read & even less understood shastras .
  • Whole debate over Sati was grounded in scriptures & its abolition was not based on fact that it is  morally & ethically wrong but when government was convinced that custom was not enjoyed by the scriptures .
  • As the colonial rulers gave supreme importance to scriptures, the Indian reformers too, as well as their detractors, referred to ancient religious texts to argue their respective cases. The brutality or the irrationality of the custom, or the plight of women, whom the reform was intended for, were lesser concerns in a debate

Note : The intellectuals did not however attacked the social system as a whole; their attack centred only on the perversions and distortions that had crept into it. They did not advocate a sharp rupture in the existing social structure of the country. They did not stand for structural transformation; changes were sought within the framework of the very structure. They were advocates of reform and not revolution.

Social problems and Reformist efforts to reform them

Social Reforms in India Modern History

a. Female Infanticide

  • It was most common in Western & Northern India .
  • There landowning high caste families , practising hypergamy found it difficult to find suitable grooms for their daughters or pay high demands of dowry . Hence, they killed their female offsprings at birth .
  • British authorities tried to persuade them & after 1830 sought to coerce them to desist from practice but  no tangible effect was observed. 
  • In  1870,  Female Infanticide Act was passed . But even after that, condition didn’t change because abject neglect of female children resulted in high mortality .

b. Sati Abolition

Sati Abolition
  • Sati Abolition was the greatest achievement of Lord Bentinck .
  • Sati is self immolation of wife on funeral pyre of dead husband. 
  • According to social reformers , it has always been there much the exception rather than a rule in Hindu life & during Mughal period, it was practiced in Rajputs & Kingdom of Vijayanagara . But during British period, it revived on much larger scale & experienced highest rate of development.

Reasons for practice of Sati

  • Earlier it was practiced by Upper Caste Hindus but during British rule, it started in peasant families of lower & intermediate  caste who achieved social mobility & then sought to legitimize their new status by imitating their caste superiors.
  • Greed of the relatives –   Child marriage was widespread at that time & many a times bride who has not even lived with groom was forced to perform Sati in order to get property of that man.
  • Sati was widespread in areas where Dayabhaga school of personal Hindu law was applicable  . Areas where ] Mitakshara school was applicable, it was less prevalent because Mitakshara school gives lesser rights to wife to inherit property

Campaign against it

  • First started by Christian Missionaries
  • But very strong campaign under Raja Rammohan Roy gave real momentum
  • Finally  in 1829 , Governor General Bentinck prohibited Sati by Govt Regulation Act XVII. Pressure was also put by the Court of Directors because they wanted to present credible image of Company’s rule in India in the British Parliament before renewal of Charter pending in 1833.

Although it reduced very much after that but the idea & myth of Sati persisted in popular culture & was continually reaffirmed through epics, ballads & folktales . Case of surfaced even in 1987 ( Roop Kanwar Case of village Deorala in Rajasthan).

c. Widow Remarriage

  • Main protagonist was Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar . But he too, like Raja Rammohan Roy looked to colonial state for piece of legislation for this .
  • In 1856 , Hindu Remarriage Act was passed but this couldn’t make the practice socially acceptable . Along with that, Act was intrinsically conservative in nature because on remarriage , widow disinherited her deceased husband’s property .
  • Movement ended with its unavoidable death . Vidyasagar failed to see widows remarried because this needed social consent which could not be generated by piece of legislation .  Practise of Widow Remarriage  remained rare & exceptional among the educated class & within few years taboo universalised & penetrated to lower castes.

Western India

  • 1860s : Movement to promote widow remarriage spread among educated class & debate  became sharp between reformers & detractors.
  • 1866 : Vishnushastri Pandit started a Society for Encouragement of Widow Remarriage while opponents started rival organisation .
  • Movement ended in whimper . By end of century only 38 such marriages happened & in that cases too couples were subjected to enormous social pressure & ostracism .

Madras Presidency

  • In Telegu speaking areas , movement was started by Veersalingum Pantulu . In 1878 , Society for Social Reforms was founded by him for this.
  • 1881 : first widow remarriage officiated by him in 1881 in face of stiff opposition but till 1891 , support increased & he formed Widow Remarriage Association with patronage of prominent citizens .

North India : Haryana

  • Here practice of widow remarriage was already there& new act provided  such marriage with legitimacy & further social acceptance

d. Child Marriage

  • Vidyasagar continued his campaign against Polygamy & later Child Marriage .
  • In 1860 , finally he was able to secure an Age Of Consent Act, 1860 that fixed age of consent for consummation of marriage at 10 years which was raised to 12 years in 1891.
  • But census showed that it continued to be practiced widely among all castes. 

e. Thugee

  • Various  peripatetic groups were stereotyped into the colonial construct called Thugs who were believed to have been members of a fraternity traditionally involved in robbery & ritual killings in the name of religion
  • Campaign against thugee was initiated in 1830s  by Lord Bentinck
  • Thugee Act (XXX) , 1836 was passed & Thugee Dept. was created for prosecuting gangs seen as perpetrating a crime in the name of religion but it’s elimination proved to be a difficult task. 
  • In 1839 , Sir William Sleeman as head of Department claimed that thugee had been exterminated but in reality he begun to realise difficulty in doing this and it was just a face-saving measure.

f. Slavery

  • Laws were even more ineffective against less organised social customs that remained part of everyday life from centuries .  Slavery  was such an example .
  • Slavery was abolished in Britain in 1820 & in India too Charter of 1833 instructed government to abolish slavery & Parliamentary pressure continued till it was abolished .
  • But problem was, they tried to see slavery in India through lens of their British idea of Slavery but in India where agrarian relations were complex & marked by numerous structures of labour dependencies it was almost impossible to stop it
  • Process was failure in India

Bengal Renaissance

  • Renaissance literally means ‘rebirth’. It refers to the revival of Graeco-Roman (classical) learning in 15th-16th century after long winter of dark ages. In Indian context , intellectual revolution that took place in the nineteenth century in the fields of philosophy, literature, science, politics and social reforms is often known as Indian Renaissance. An important part of this Renaissance was reforming Hinduism from within on the basis of Post Enlightenment Rationalism.
  • Very much like the Italian Renaissance, it was not a mass movement; but instead restricted to the upper classes. 
  • Response of the educated Indian elite to civilisational critique was to reform  Hinduism from within,  in  the boundary  of post enlightenment rationalism . Such phenomenon is known as Bengal Renaissance
  • Movement was started in Bengal by Raja Rammohan Roy who is often described as Father of Modern India .
Bengal Renaissance

Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833)

Raja Rammohan Roy

Personal life 

  • He was Hindu Brahmin and was born  in Hooghly ,Bengal
  • He fought against the stagnant society .
  • He was one of those upper caste gentry whose power & position had been enhanced by Permanent Settlement & other opportunities opened by the Colonial rule.
  • He studied Persian and Arabic at  a Madrasah in Patna . He was proficient in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit & European languages like English, French, Latin , Greek & Hebrew
  • At a time when Bengali youth under the influence of western learning was drifting towards Christianity, Roy proved to be the champion of Hinduism . Although, he defended Hinduism against the hostile criticism of the missionaries , he sought to purge Hinduism of the abuses that had crept into it.
  • Then he studied Vedantic monism & after his migration to Calcutta in 1815, he  was exposed to the Christian Unitarianism . Such intellectual influences motivated him to contest the missionary claim of superiority of Christians . His  answer to this was to reform Hinduism using  reason by going back to its purest form as enshrined in Vedanta texts
  • Raja Rammohan Roy accepted the concept of ‘One God’ as propounded by Upanishads . For him God was shapeless , invisible & omnipresent but the guiding shape of the universe . He declared his opposition to idol worship & was of view that worship to be performed through prayers & meditation & readings from Upanishads . He translated Upanishads into Bangla to demonstrate that ancient Hindu scriptures themselves propagated monotheism
  • He published his first  philosophical work, Tuhfat-ul-Muwahhiddin in 1805 in which he analysed the major religions of the world wrt ‘reason’ and ‘social comfort’. He denied that religion was merely a matter of faith outside reason and attempted to expose the  myth of miracles associated with it.
  • Later, he started English Hindu college at Calcutta in 1816
  • He was great exponent of the Bengali language .
  • He also started Persian newspaper  MIRAT UL AKHBAR ( mirror of news)  and Bengali newspaper Samvad Kaumudi.
  • He was given the title of Raja by Mughal Emperor Akbar II ,  who sent him to England in 1831 as Ambassador of the king to ensure that Bentinck’s Regulation of banning the practice of Sati is not overturned and also to overturn the  decision to make Mughals Princes & taking royal titles from them
  • He died there at Stapleton ,Bristol in 1833 (due to Meningitis)

Social ideas

  • Worked for the emancipation of the women
  • Sati System was abolished on account of his efforts . Government passed Anti Sati legislation in 1829 declaring sati as a criminal offence
  • He condemned polygamy, early marriage and opposed the subjugation of women and their inferior status in society. He related their problems to the root cause of absence of property  rights. To him, female education was another effective method to free Indian Society from social stagnation
  • To propagate his message against Sati he started a Bengali newspaper SAMVAD KAUMUDI (moon of intelligence )
  • Worked against the rigidity of the Caste System


  • He favoured maximum age of Civil services to be 22 years
  • Favoured Jury system
  • Founded Hindu College(1817)  along with David Hare , Radhakant Deb, Maharaja Tejchandra Ray of Burdwan , Prasan Kumar Tagore , Babu Budhinath Mukherjee & Justice Sir Edward Hyde ( Hindu College  later became Presidency College( in 1855) &  Presidency University  (in 2010)
  • He supported Macaulay in favouring English language
  • In 1825 , he started Vedanta College which offered both Indian &  western knowledge
  • He also compiled Bengali Grammar

Political views

  • He raised not only social issues but political and economic issues too
  • He stood for 
    1. Indianisation of services
    2. Trial by jury
    3. Separation of Powers between the executive and the judiciary
    4. Freedom of the Press
    5. Judicial equality between Indians and Europeans
    6. Criticised the Zamindari System for its oppressive practices
  • He was progenitor of nationalist consciousness, and ideology in India. His every effort of social and religious reform was aimed at nation-building.
  • In particular, he attacked the rigidities of the caste system which, according to him, had been the source of disunity among Indians. He held that the monstrous caste system created inequality and division among the people on the one hand, and ‘deprived them of patriotic feeling‘ on the other.
  • Rammohan was an internationalist, libertarian and democrat in his orientation. He took active interest in international affairs and wanted amity among nations. His concern for the cause of liberty, democracy and nationalism led him to cancel all his social engagements when he came to know of the failure of the Revolution in Naples in 1821. By giving a public dinner, he celebrated the success of the Revolution in Spanish America in 1823.

Newspaper and Books

Roy started following newspapers and pamphlets

  • Sambad Kaumudi – Bengali Newspaper
  • Mirat ul Akhbar –  Persian Newspaper
  • Pamphlet –  An Exposition of Revenue & Judicial System in India (urged government that administration & judiciary should be separated among other things ) 

Along with that , he wrote following books

  • Gift to Monotheists (1809)
  • Percepts of Jesus (1820)
  • Tuhfat-ul-Muwahhiddin in 1805
  • Mahanirvana Tantra (1797)

Religious ideas

  • Propagated MONOTHEISM   and Vedantic Monism.
  • He opposed the idol worship


a. Atmiya Sabha – Calcutta

  • Started in 1815
  • It was a philosophical discussion circle
  • Discussed monotheism in Hindu Vedantism
  • It was also attended by Dwarkanath Tagore (Grandfather of Rabindranath)
  • Opposed worship of idols
  • Against rigidity of caste & meaning less religious rituals
  • He blamed the Brahman priests for perpetuating religious evils by keeping people ignorant about the true teachings of the  scriptures.

b. Brahmo Samaj

  • Started as Brahmo Sabha in 1828 (later became Brahmo Samaj)
  • Founded by Dwarkanath & Raja Rammohan Roy
  • Main Theme – rid Hinduism of its evils & preach monotheism 
  • Purpose was  to purify Hinduism of all evils which had crept into it
  • Opposed idolatry
  • It vehemently opposed Sati System.

Brahmo Samaj

Started at Calcutta
Year 1828
By Raja Ram Mohan Roy   & Dwarkanath Tahore
Brahmo Samaj

Works done by Brahmo Samaj

  • It propagated Monotheism (discarded the faith in divine Avataras) .
  • It was against  idolatry and idol worship
  • It attacked Casteism & Untouchability
  • Any scripture could enjoy the status of ultimate authority transcending reason & conscience .
  • It took no definite stand on the Doctrine of Karma & Transmigration of soul & left it to the individual Brahmos to believe either way.
  • Worked for respectable position of the women in the society and for this
    1. Condemned Sati
    2. Favoured abolition of Purdah System
    3. Discouraged Child Marriages & Polygamy
    4. Crusaded for widow remarriage etc
  • After Roy’s death in 1833, the leadership of the Brahmo movement was taken over by Debendranath Tagore who provided the movement with a better organisational structure and ideological consistency
  • But the movement was actually taken out of the limited elite circles of Calcutta literati into the district towns of east Bengal by Bijoy Krishna Goswami and Keshub Chandra Sen in the 1860s.
    1. Goswami bridged the gap between Brahmoism and the popular religious tradition of Vaishnavism
    2. Sen’s specific focus was to reach larger numbers of non-Westernised Bengalis in the eastern Gangetic plains and to take the movement outside Bengal to other provinces of India

Schisms & other Developments

First schism in the Samaj in 1866

Brahmo Samaj for India Led by more radical Keshav Chandra Sen, Anandamohan Bose & Shiv Narayan Shastri .
Reverted away from the Hindu components and accepted the teachings of all religions
Adi Brahmo samaj Under Debendranath Tagore (Father of Rabindranath) 
Remained in a more inclusive and Hindu sphere of influence

Basically, as Meredith Borthwick has shown, it was a schism between Keshav’s followers, for whom social progress and reform were more important than anything else, and the followers of Debendranath, who preferred to maintain their identification with Hindu society.This rift was, as it became clear soon, more about an identity crisis than about any fundamental difference of ideology: while some of the Brahmos wanted to define themselves as separate from the Hindus, others began to seek a position within the great tradition of Hinduism.

Second Schism in 1878

  • A band of Keshub Chandra Sen followers left him
  • On account of
    1. Marriage of Sen’s minor daughter to Prince of Cooch Bihar
    2. Also because he became devout follower of Ramakrishna and tried to bridge Brahmanism and Brahmo Samaj.
  • They Started  Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and worked mainly for the social work & female education and famine relief . Consisted of Anand Mohan Bose & SN Shastri
  • Thus Brahmo samaj also contributed prominent nationalists who later formed the backbone of the moderate phase of congress

In 1881, Sen formed his Naba Bidhan (New Dispensation) and started moving towards a new universalist religion. But by this time , successive ideological rifts and organisational divisions had weakened the Brahmo movement, confining it to a small elite group.


  • Limited to urban areas only
  • Lot of internal rivalries

Achievements of Brahmo Samaj

  • Abolition of Sati : Pressure was  put by the samajis & as a result Anti Sati legislation was passed  by Lord William Bentinck in 1829
  • Worked for
    1. Abolition of the caste system and dowry system
    2. Emancipation of the women
    3. Improving educational system
  • Brahmo Samaj ultimately failed and emerged as sectarian religious order after continuous schisms but nevertheless , its achievements were huge
    1. Rabindranath Tagore  admitted the failure of Samaj but also recognised the very important role played by Samaj of providing a shock to static Indian society and made it to think on rationalist lines.
    2. According to Bipin Chandra Pal , main impact of Samaj  was on Political Culture . It was from Brahma Samaj that idea of free thinking individual emerged who would be able to absorb democratic & western ideals.

Henry Vivian Derozio & Young Bengal Movement

  • Derozio (Anglo-Indian Teacher at Hindu College) started Young Bengal Movement
  • At age of 17, he started Young Bengal Movement.
  • He was much more modern than Raja Ram Mohan Roy.
  • He was a free thinker and a rationalist, helped promoting  a radical & critical outlook among his students who questioned authority, loved liberty and worshipped truth.
  • Most radical at that time & was inspired by French Revolution
  • First nationalist poet of Modern India
  • Derozians, the followers of Derozio, were staunch rationalists; they measured everything on the yardstick of reason. He organised debates where ideas and social norms were freely debated. In 1828, he motivated them to form a literary and debating club called the Academic Association.
  • In  1838, they formed ‘Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge‘, where they discussed various aspects of Western science, and stood for a number of social reforms, such as the prohibition of caste taboos, child marriage,  polygamy etc.
  • Young Bengal followed classical economics, and was composed of free traders who took inspiration from Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo.
  • They were passionate advocates of women’s rights and demanded education for them.
  • He  was dismissed from the Hindu College in 1831 because of his radical views, and shortly afterwards he died of Cholera at the young age of 22.
  • Derozians carried forward Rammohan’s tradition of educating the people in social, economic and political questions through newspapers, pamphlets and public associations. They carried on public agitation on public questions such as the revision of the Company’s Charter, the Freedom of the Press, better treatment for Indian labour in British colonies abroad, Trial by Jury, Protection of the Ryots from oppressive Zamindars, and Employment of Indians in the higher grades of government services

Why they didn’t succeed?

  • Social conditions were not yet ripe for their ideas to flourish. The common people , who were not acquainted  with those ideologies, considered those young as arrogant. 
  • Their total faith in the British and in English education, their rationalism and scientism derived from the west, set them apart from the masses of Indians and they never succeeded in organising any social movement in support of their proposed reforms.

Book by Derozio (GK for prelims)

To India – My Native Land In this , he wrote about pain given by British  rule

Debendranath Tagore

  • He was son of Dwarkanath Tagore , father of Rabindra Nath Tagore and a close friend of Raja Ram Mohan Roy .
  • In 1839 , he started Tattvabodhini Sabha to disseminate the knowledge of the Upanishads
  • Tattvabodhini Patrika was the principal organ of the Sabha to propagate the ideas .
  • After death of Raja Rammohan Roy, he became the main organiser of Brahmo Samaj.
  • In 1850 , he wrote  book called Brahmo Dharma where he
    • Emphasised on monotheism
    • Supported rationality and reject scriptural infallibility
    • Rejected Caste distinctions and idolatry
  • Inspired his sons into reform movement ,most famous being Rabindranath Tagore
  • He was part of Landholders Society and played important role in formation of British India Association

IC Vidyasagar

Ishwarachandra Vidyasagar


  • His original name was Ishwarachandra Bandopadhyay.
  • He was born on 26 September 1820 in the Paschim Midnapore District of West Bengal to impoverished Brahmin parents.
  • During the period from 1829 to 1841, Ishwar Chandra studied Vedanta, Vyakaran, Literature, Rhetorics, Smriti and Ethics in Sanskrit College. And in 1839 the title ‘Vidyasagar’ was conferred on him for his unusual talent.
  • In 1841, at the age of twenty one years, Ishwar Chandra joined the Fort William College as a head of the Sanskrit department. In 1851 , Vidyasagar became a professor and later on the Principal of the Sanskrit College

Works toward Education

  • He firmly believed that the regeneration of India was possible only through education.
  • His work was aimed at extending the benefits of learning to common people. He stressed upon instruction through vernacular language.
  • He also opened the doors of the colleges and other educational institutions to lower caste students, which was earlier reserved only for the Brahmins. For his immense generosity and kind-heartedness, people started addressing him as “Daya Sagar” (ocean of kindness).
  • Having spent his early life in village Ishwar Chandra could realize the sorrowful condition of the womenfolk. He rightly believed that the emancipation of women was not possible as long as they remained ignorant. Ishwar Chandra, therefore, took upon himself the task of promoting the cause of female education.

Pioneer in the women upliftment

  • Started girls schools in Bombay and Calcutta
  • Encouraged women to study in the colleges
  • He also collaborated with Drinkwater Bethune in establishing the Hindu Female School (at present known as Bethune School and College) in 1849.
  • Took initiative in pushing the Widow Remarriage Act ,1856
  • Instrumental in passing the Special Marriages Act of 1872.
  • Wrote book for women emancipation titled BAHUVIVAH

Social Reforms

  • He initiated the concept of widow remarriage and raised concern for the abolition of child-marriage and polygamy. He demonstrated that the system of polygamy  was not sanctioned by the ancient Hindu Shastras.
  • He took the initiative in proposing and pushing The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act XV of 1856 in India during Governor-Generalship Lord Canning.

Bengali Connoisseur

  • He brought a revolution in the education system of Bengal. In his book, “Barno-Porichoy” (Introduction to the letter), Vidyasagar refined the Bengali language and made it accessible to the common strata of the society.
  • Vidyasagar invented Bengali prose through translation as well as own writings. 

Social Reform Movements in western India

Main reform movements in western India were as follows :-

Reform Movements in Western India

Paramhans Mandali / Samaj

  • It was started in 1849
  • By Dadoba Pandurang . Other important leader was  (Lokhitwadi) Gopal Hari Deshmukh
  • It was first socio religious movement of Maharashtra
  • Paramhansa Sabha’s principal objective was the demolition of all caste distinctions. Each new recruit to the Sabha had to undergo initiation ceremony, and take the pledge that he would not observe any caste distinctions. He had to eat a slice of bread baked by a Christian and drink water at the hands of a Muslim.
  • 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.

Prarthana Samaj

  • Paramhans Mandali’s transformation into Prarthana Samaj was the direct consequence of two visits of KC Sen to Bombay in 1864 & 1867
  • It was founded by Atmaram  Pandurang in 1867 inspired from the Brahmo Samaj & the main spirit behind formation was MG Ranade who was ably assisted by KT. Telang & Bhandarka
  • All leading members were Western educated Maratha Chitpavan Brahmins .
  • It’s ideology was almost similar to Brahmo Samaj
    • Preached Monotheism
    • Denounced idolatry & priestly domination
    • Denounced caste distinctions
    • Favoured Widow Remarriage & raising age of marriage for both males & females . 
  • Later they connected themselves with Maharshtrian Bhakti Tradition .
  • Prarthana Samaj maintained distinction from Brahmo Movement of Bengal & the most notable distinction was they were moderate & more accommodative. They didn’t signal a sharp break & this gradualist approach made it more acceptable
  • It’s branches were opened in Surat, Ahmedabad , Poona & reached even in South India where leader was Veerasalingum Pantulu
  • It faced crisis in 1875 when  Swami Dayanand visited Gujarat & Maharashtra & offered possibilities of a more radical & self assertive religious program .  A group of Samaj members under SP Kelkar broke & felt attracted to Arya Samaji ideology of Dayanand .

Side Topic : MG Ranade

  • He was co-founder of Prarthana Samaj
  • He was a product of the Elphinstone College, Bombay & was Judge of the Bombay High Court during 1891- 1901.
  • He held that the caste distinction was the main blot on Indian social system. 
  • Under his guidance the Paramhans Sabha was reorganised in 1867 under the name Prarthana Samaj. 
  • He was the founding member of Indian National Congress , member of Bombay Legislative Council and founding member of Indian Social Conference (1887)
  • He was the editor of the Anglo Marathi paper – Induprakash

Jyotirao Phule and Satyashodak Samaj

  • He was from Satara , Maharashtra
  • In 1873, Phule established the Satyashodhak Samaj, an organization for challenging Brahmanic supremacy.
  • He promoted  women education along with his wife Savitribai Jyotirao Phule  by opening women schools.
  • He also worked for widow remarriage and to prevent female infanticide, he opened homes for newborn infants.
  • He wrote book titled  GULAMGIRI

Ideology of Satyashodak Samaj

  • It was against  untouchability & caste system  
  • It opposed idolatry and  Brahmin’s role as intermediary between person and god 
  • Promotion of rational thinking
  • It also rejected Vedic supremacy

Servants of India Society

  • Started by Gopal Krishna Gokhale in 1905
  • Aims
    • Create a band of dedicated workers for nation building
    • Carry out activities for the upliftment of Indians 

Sri Narayan Guru & SNDP Yogam

Sri Narayan Guru and SNDP
  • Sri Narayan Guru was social reformer born in 1854 in Kerala into Ezhava family
  • He championed
    • bhakti for spiritual freedom
    • social equality
    • rejected casteism
    • Rejected divisiveness based on caste, religion etc
  • He was a pioneer reformer who rejected the caste system and stressed on the equality of man. He gave the universal message, “One caste, one religion, one God”
  • He was influenced by Vedanta.
  • He supported Temple entry  movements.
  • Sri Narayana Guru  condemned animal sacrifice
  • He urged the Ezhavas to leave the toddy tapping profession and even to stop drinking liquor.
  • Dr. Palpu, a devotee of Guru established the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP Yogam) in 1903 to further Narayana Guru’s message

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