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  • 10 July, 2021

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Assessment of Social Reform Movements - Positive and Negative Aspects

Assessment of Social Reform Movements

- Positive and Negative Aspects

Positive Aspects

  • The orthodox sections of society could not accept the scientific ideological onslaught of the socio-religious rebels.
  • As a result of this, the reformers were subjected to abuse, persecution, issuing of fatwas and even assassination attempts by the reactionaries.
  • However, in spite of opposition, these movements managed to contribute towards the liberation of the individual from the conformity born out of fear and from uncritical submission to exploitation by the priests and other classes.
  • The translation of religious texts into vernacular languages, emphasis on an individual’s right to interpret the scriptures and simplification of rituals made worship a more personal experience.
  • The movements emphasised the human intellect’s capacity to think and reason. By weeding out corrupt elements, religious beliefs and practices, the reformers enabled their followers to meet the official taunt that their religions and society were decadent and inferior.
  • The reform movements gave the rising middle classes the much needed cultural roots to cling to, and served the purpose of reducing the sense of humiliation which the conquest by a foreign power had produced.
  • A realisation of the special needs of modern times, especially in terms of scientific knowledge, and thus promoting a modern, this-worldly, secular and rational outlook was a major contribution of these reform movements.
  • Socially, this attitude reflected in a basic change in the notions of ‘pollution and purity’.
  • Although traditional values and customs were a prominent target of attack from the reformers, yet the reformers aimed at modernisation rather than outright westernisation based on blind imitation of alien Western cultural values. In fact, the reform movements sought to create a favourable social climate for modernisation.
  • To that extent, these movements ended India’s cultural and intellectual isolation from the rest of the world. The reformers argued that modern ideas and culture could be best imbibed by integrating them into Indian cultural streams.
  • The underlying concern of these reformist efforts was revival of the native cultural personality which had got distorted by various factors over the years.
  • This cultural ideological struggle was to prove to be an important instrument in the evolution of national consciousness and a part of Indian national resolve to resist colonial cultural and ideological hegemony.

However, not all these progressive, nationalist tendencies were able to outgrow the sectarian and obscurantist outlook. This was possibly due to the divergent duality of cultural and political struggles, resulting in cultural backwardness despite political advancement.

Negative Aspects

  • Limitations of the religious reform movements was that they had a narrow social base, namely the educated and urban middle classes, while the needs of the vast masses of peasantry and the urban poor were ignored.
  • The tendency of reformers to appeal to the greatness of the past and to rely on scriptural authority encouraged mysticism in new garbs and fostered pseudo-scientific thinking while exercising a check on the full acceptance of the need for a modern scientific outlook.
  • But, above all, these tendencies contributed, at least to some extent, in compartmentalising Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Parsis, as also alienating high caste Hindus from low caste Hindus.
  • The emphasis on religious and philosophical aspects of the cultural heritage got somewhat magnified by an insufficient emphasis on other aspects of culture—art, architecture, literature, music, science and technology.
  • To make matters worse, the Hindu reformers confined their praise of the Indian past to its ancient period and looked upon the medieval period of Indian history essentially as an era of decadence.
  • This tended to create a notion of two separate peoples, on the one hand; on the other, an uncritical praise of the past was not acceptable to the low caste sections of society which had suffered under religiously sanctioned exploitation during the ancient period.
  • Moreover, the past itself tended to be placed into compartments on a partisan basis. Many in the Muslim middle classes went to the extent of turning to the history of West Asia for their traditions and moments of pride.
  • The process of evolution of a composite culture which was evident throughout Indian history showed signs of being arrested with the rise of another form of consciousness—communal consciousness—along with national consciousness among the middle classes.

Many other factors were certainly responsible for the birth of communalism in modern times, but undoubtedly the nature of religious reform movements also contributed to it.

On the whole, however, whatever the net outcome of these reform movements, it was out of this struggle that a new society evolved in India.


No other religion preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism and no other religion on earth treads upon the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism.—Swami Vivekananda

A country where millions have nothing to eat and where few thousand holy men and brahmins suck the blood of the poor and do nothing at all for them, is not a country but a living hell. Is this religion or a dance of death?—Swami Vivekananda

Forget not that the lower classes, the ignorant, the poor, the illiterate, the cobbler, the sweeper are thy flesh and blood, thy brothers. —Swami Vivekananda

Summary of Reform Movements

? Among Hindus


  1. Raja Rammohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj
  2. Debendranath Tagore and Tattvabodhini Sabha
  3. Keshub Chandra Sen and Brahmo Samaj of India
  4. Prarthana Samaj
  5. Derozio and Young Bengal Movement
  6. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Western India

  1. Bal Shastri Jambekar
  2. Students’ Literary and Scientific Societies
  3. Paramhansa Mandalis
  4. Jyotiba Phule and Satyashodhak Samaj
  5. Gopalhari Deshmukh ‘Lokahitawadi’
  6. Gopal Ganesh Agarkar
  7. Servants of India Society

Southern India

  1. Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Movement
  2. Vokkaliga Sangha
  3. Justice Movement
  4. Self-respect Movement
  5. Temple Entry Movement

All India

  1. Ramakrishna Movement and Vivekananda
  2. Dayananda Saraswati and Arya Samaj
  3. Theosophical Movement

? Among Muslims

  • Wahabi/Walliullah Movement
  • Ahmadiyya Movement
  • Syed Ahmed Khan and Aligarh Movement
  • Deoband Movement

? Among Parsis

  • Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha

? Among Sikhs

  • Singh Sabha Movement

Previous Years mains Questions

  1. The first point to note is the continuing importance of religion and philosophy as vital ingredients in the modern Indian renaissance Indeed, there is as much reason for regarding it as a reformation as there is for treating it as a renaissance: Critically examine. 2013/ 25m
  2. Discuss the extent to which the Indian Renaissance movement contributed towards the rise of nationalist consciousness. 2010/30m
  3. How did social legislation in the nineteenth century improve the condition of women'in India? 2009/30m
  4. Discuss the important social reform legislation passed in the 19th century and elucidate the reaction of Indian leaders to the measures adopted 2000/60m
  5. "The national democratic awakening of the Indian people found expression also in the religious sphere Comment 12005. 20m
  6. "There is no other instance in the history of mankind of a poet and philosopher working such as a miracle in shaping the destiny of his people. Comment. 2007/20m.

Source: Spectrum

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