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  • 09 July, 2021

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General Features of Socio religious reform movements

Socio religious reform movements

Basically, there were two kinds of reform movements in the 19th century in India:

  1. Reformist- These movements responded with the time and scientific temper of the modern era. Brahmo Samaj, the Prarthana Samaj, the Aligarh Movement.
  1. Revivalist- These movements started reviving ancient Indian traditions and thoughts and believed that the western thinking ruined Indian culture and ethos. Arya Samaj and the Deoband movement.
  2. The only difference between movements lay in the degree to which it relied on tradition or on reason and conscience.

Factors which gave Rise to Reform Movements

  • Presence of colonial government on Indian soil.

Earlier Invaders-settled within its frontiers, either absorbed by its superior culture or interacted positively with it ,becoming part of the land and its people.

British-Took it as a white man’s burden to reform a decadent Indian society.

  • Various Ills plaguing Indian society- Obscurantism, Superstition, Polytheism, Idolatry,
  • Degraded position of women-Female Infanticide, Child marriage, polygamy, Kulinism, sati.
  • Exploitative Caste Hierarchy- People got splintered into numerous groups, humiliation of untouchability.
  • The challenge of the intrusion of colonial culture and ideology led to an attempt to reinvigorate traditional institutions.
  • Spread of education and increased awareness of the world
  • Impact of modern Western culture and consciousness of defeat by a foreign power.
  • Rising tide of nationalism and democracy during the late 19th century.
  • Social Base Emerging middle class and Western-educated intellectuals.
  • Idéological Base : Rationalism, Religious Universalism, humanism, secularism.
  • Rationalism- Set aside the authority of religion and evaluated truth in any religion by the criteria of logic, reason or science.

Raja Rammohan Roy firmly believed in the principle of causality linking the whole phenomenal universe and demonstrability as the sole criterion of truth.

Akshay Kumar Dutt, while declaring that “rationalism is our only preceptor”, held that all natural and social phenomena could be analysed and understood by purely mechanical processes. He brought medical opinion to support his views against child marriage.

  • Religious Universalism- Raja Rammohan Roy considered different religions as national embodiments of universal theism. He defended the basic and universal principles of all religions—such as the monotheism of the Vedas and unitarianism of Christianity—while attacking the polytheism of Hinduism and trinitarianism of christianity.

Syed Ahmed Khan said that all prophets had the same ‘din’ (faith) and every country and nation had different prophets.

  • Humanist Aspect of Religious Reform- Seen in the emphasis on the individual’s right to interpret religious scriptures in the light of human reason and human welfare and in a general attack on priestly domination of religious practices.
  • Humanistic Ideals of social equality and the equal worth of all individuals which inspired the newly educated middle class influenced the field of social reform.

Social Reform Components

Betterment of Position of Women

The reformers basically appealed to the doctrines of individualism and equality. The Degraded position of women is due to Purdah system , Lack of education, Early marriage, Unequal rights in marriage, divorce, Polygamy, Female infanticide, Restrictions on widow-remarriage and Sati.

Legislative Measures for Women

Abolition of Sati

  • Bengal Regulation (1829) banning sati
  • Raja Rammohan Roy led a frontal attack to declare it as a homicide.

Preventing Female Infanticide

  • Bengal Regulations (1795, 1804)-declaring infanticide illegal.It made it compulsory for parents to register the birth of all babies and provided for verification of female children

Widow Remarriage

  • Hindu Widows Remarriage Act, 1856.
  • Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-91), the principal of Sanskrit College, cited Vedic texts to prove that the Hindu religion sanctioned widow remarriage.
  • Vishnu Shastri Pandit founded the Widow Remarriage Association in the 1850s.
  • Professor D.K. Karve in western India. Karve himself married a widow in 1893. Became the secretary of the Widow Remarriage Association. He opened a widows’ home in Poona.
  • Karsondas Mulji started the Satya Prakash in Gujarati in 1852 to advocate widow remarriage.
  • The right of widows to remarriage was also advocated by Veerasalingam Pantulu in Madras, B.M.Malabari, Narmad (Narmadashankar Labhshankar Dave), Justice Govind Mahadeo Ranade and K. Natarajan .

Controlling Child Marriage

  • Age of Consent Act, 1891
  • Sarda Act, 1930
  • Special Marriage Act, 1954
  • Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
  • Hindu Succession Act, 1956
  • Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act
  • Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
  • Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act. 1978 raised the age of marriage for girls from 15 to 18 years and for boys from 18 to 21.

Education of Women

  • Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act in Women and Girls, 1956 (amended in 1986)
  • Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (amended in 1986)
  • Charles Wood’s Despatch on Education (1854) laid great stress on the need for female education.
  • In 1914, the Women’s Medical Service did a lot of work in training nurses and mid-wives.
  • The Indian Women’s University set up by Professor D.K. Karve in 1916 was one of the outstanding institutions imparting education to women.
  • Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi.
  • Health facilities began to be provided to women with the opening of Dufferin Hospitals in the 1880s.
  • Participation in the swadeshi and anti-partition and the Home Rule movements during the opening decades of the twentieth century was a major liberating experience for women.
  • Sarojini Naidu went on to become the president of the Indian National Congress (1925) and later the governor of the United Provinces (1947-49).

Women’s Organisations

  • In 1910, Sarla Devi Chaudhurani convened the first meeting of the Bharat Stree Mahamandal in Allahabad. Considered as the first major Indian women’s organisation set up by a woman.
  • Ramabai Ranade founded the Ladies Social Conference (Bharat Mahila Parishad), under the parent organisation National Social Conference, in 1904 in Bombay.
  • Ramabai Saraswati founded the Arya Mahila Samaj and pleaded for improvement in the educational syllabus of Indian women before the English Education Commission which was referred to Queen Victoria. This resulted in medical education for women which started in Lady Dufferin College.
  • The philanthropic style that was being followed by these women was that of upper-class English women.
  • The All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), founded by Margaret Cousins in 1927, was the first women’s organisation with an egalitarian approach. Its first conference was held at Ferguson College, Pune. Its objectives were to work for a society based on principles of social justice, integrity, equal rights and opportunities.

Struggle Against Caste-based Exploitation

Factors Undermining Caste Rigidities

  • British rule, created certain conditions that undermined caste consciousness. The concept of equality before law dealt a severe blow to social and legal inequalities.
  • Social reform movements
  • National movement
  • Forces unleashed by colonial administration.
  • Gandhi's campaign against untouchability.
  • Stirrings among lower castes due to better education employment.
  • In Maharashtra, Jyotiba Phule, led a movement against the brahminical domination of Hindu society. He accorded the highest priority to education of lower castes, especially girls for whom he opened several schools.
  • Babasaheb Ambedkar, who had experienced the worst form of casteist discrimination during his childhood organised the All India Scheduled Castes Federation.
  • Special Representation for depressed classes was provided in the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • In 1920s, the non-brahmins organised the Self-Respect Movement led by E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker.
  • Sri Narayana Guru in Kerala led a lifelong struggle against upper caste domination. He coined the slogan “one religion, one caste, one God for mankind”, which his disciple Sahadaran Ayyapan changed into “no religion, no caste, no God for mankind”.
  • Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar led the Mahad Satyagraha in March 1927 to challenge the regressive customs of the caste Hindus. established the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha in 1924 to highlight the difficulties and grievances of the dalits before the government.

Previous Years Questions:

    1. What was the character of socio-religious reforms in the 19th century and how did they contribute to the national awakening in India? 2007/30 marks
    2. Characterize the main features of Indian Renaissance? 2006/15 marks
    3. Discuss the various aspects of social legislation introduced by the East India Company in the first half of the nineteenth century. 1995/ 15 marks
    4. Explain the significance of the following in the socio- religious context (50 words each) 1986/10 marks
    1. Faraizi Movement
    2. Shuddi Movement
    3. Self Respect Movement
    4. Rahnumai Mazdayasna sabha
    5. The Wahabi Movement

Source: Spectrum

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