“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers…

An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.
04/10/2023 10:10 PM

“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers……….
An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.

The Knowledge Library


Socio-Religious Movements

Although religion reform was an integral part of these movements none of them were totally religious in character. They were humanists in aspiration and rejected salvation and otherworldliness as the agenda. They focused on worldly existence. The socio-cultural regeneration in the 19th century was influenced by the colonial state but not created by it. 

The newly emerging middle class and the traditional or western educated intellectuals were responsible for it. The movements started with Raja Rammohan Roy.

Religion as a tool to Reform

Religious reform was a prerequisite for social reforms as the social life of both Hindus and Muslims was influenced by religious tenets. Hinduism was dominated by superstitions and priests. Idolatry, animal sacrifice, and physical torture were common to appease the god. The social life too was depressing. Sati, female infanticide, child marriage, and social boycott of widows were common. The caste system had created divisions in the society making it difficult to support a united mass movement. Untouchability was prevalent too.

Reformists sought to create a climate of modernization. They used faith to challenge such practices. They referred to the period of the past where no such practices existed but they used them as only aid and an instrument. Thus they wanted to prove that no practices like Sati, child marriage, etc were sanctioned by religion.


The movements believed in rationalism and religious universalism [god is one and all countrymen are brethren]. They emphasized the role of religion in the progress of society. However, reform wasn’t always based on religious considerations. A rational and secular outlook was more important to prevalent social practices. For E.g. medical opinion was cited as an aid to oppose child marriage.


Blind adherence to western ideology wasn’t practiced but reformed indigenous culture. Thus modernization, not westernization was the aim.

Abolition of Sati

    • Influenced by the frontal attack launched by the enlightened Indian reformers led by Raja Rammohan Roy, the Government declared the practice of sad or the burning alive of widows illegal and punishable by criminal courts as culpable homicide.
    • The regulation of 1829 was applicable in the first instance to Bengal Presidency alone but was extended in slightly modified forms to Madras and Bombay Presidencies in 1830.

Female Infanticide

    • The practice of murdering female infants immediately after birth was common among upper-class Bengalis and Rajputs who considered females to be an economic burden.
    • But it was mainly due to the efforts of Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-91), the principal of Sanskrit College, Calcutta, that the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856, which legalized the marriage of widows and declared issues from such marriages as legitimate, was passed by the Government.
    • Vidyasagar cited Vedic texts to prove that the Hindu religion sanctioned widow remarriage.
    • Jagannath Shankar Seth and Bhau Daji were among the active promoters of girls’ schools in Maharashtra. Vishnu Shastri Pandit founded the Widow Remarriage Association in the 1850s. Another prominent worker in this field was Karsondas Mulji who started the Satya Prakash in Gujarati in 1852 to advocate widow remarriage.

Child Marriage

    • The Native Marriage Act (or Civil Marriage Act) signified the coming of legislative action prohibiting child marriage in 1872. It had a limited impact as the Act was not applicable to Hindus, Muslims, and other recognized faiths.
    • The relentless efforts of a Parsi reformer, B.M. Malabari, was rewarded, by the enactment of the Age of Consent Act (1891) which forbade the marriage of girls below the age of 12.
    • The Sarda Act (1930) further pushed up the marriage age to 18 and 14 for boys and girls respectively. In free India, the 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.

Factors which Undermined Caste Rigidities under British rule

    • The pressure of British rule in India unleashed certain forces, sometimes through direct administrative measures and sometimes indirectly by creating favorable circumstances.
    •  For instance, the creation of private property in land and the free sale of land upset caste equations.
    • A close interlink between caste and vocation could hardly continue in a state of destruction of village autarchy. Besides, modern commerce and industry gave birth to several economic avenues while growing urbanization and modern means of transport added to the mobility of populations.
    • The British administration introduced the concept of equality before the law in a., uniformly applied system of law which dealt a severe blow to social and legal inequalities, while the judicial functions of caste panchayats were taken away.
    • The administrative services were made open to all castes and the new education system was on totally secular lines.
    • But the struggle against caste could not be successful during British rule. The foreign government had its limitations—it could not afford to invite hostile reactions from the orthodox sections by taking up any radical measures. Also, no social upliftment was possible without economic and political upliftment.
    • All this could be realized only under the government of a free India.

Leaders of the Emerging Nation

A.   Raja Ram Mohan Roy: father of the Indian Renaissance

  1. The title of Raja was given to him by Mughal Emperor Akbar – II.
  2. Established Brahmo Samaj [initially the Atmiya Sabha] in 1828 to purify Hinduism and preach monotheism.
  3. He was called the first modern man of India. He was the pioneer of socio-religious reforms.
  4. His Biggest Achievement – He helped Bentinck outlaw sati. He preached against female infanticide. He wanted equal rights for women and female education.
  5. His second most important contribution – He promoted western sciences and English education.
  1. Roy was a gifted linguist He knew more than a dozen languages including Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, English, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Knowledge of different languages helped him broad-base his range of study.
  2. As a pioneer in Indian journalism, Roy brought out journals in Bengali, Hindi, English, and Persian to educate and inform the public and represent their grievances before the Government.
  3. He stood for the cooperation of thought and activity and brotherhood among nations. His understanding of the international character of the principles of liberty, equality, and justice indicated that he well understood the significance of the modern age.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

    • The great scholar and reformer, Vidyasagar’s ideas were a happy blend of Indian and western thought.
    • He was determined to break the priestly monopoly of scriptural knowledge, and for this, he opened the Sanskrit College to non-brahmins. He introduced western thought to Sanskrit College to break the self-imposed isolation of Sanskritic learning.
    • Vidyasagar started a movement in support of widow remarriage which resulted in the legalization of widow remarriage. He was also a crusader against child marriage and polygamy.
    • He was one of the pioneers of higher education for women in India.

Bal Shastri Jambekar

    • He attacked brahminical orthodoxy and tried to reform popular Hinduism
    • He started the weekly Darpan in 1832, Students’ Literary and Scientific Societies also called the Gyan Prasarak Mandalis.
    • They had two branches — Marathi and Gujarati—and were formed by some educated young men in 1848.
    • These Mandalis organized lectures on popular sciences and social questions. One of their aims was to start schools for girls.

Paramhansa Mandalis

    • The founders of these Mandalis believed in one God.
    • They were primarily interested in breaking caste rules. At their meetings, food cooked by lower caste people was taken by the members.
    • These Mandalis also advocated widow remarriage and women’s education.

B.  Henry Derozia and Young Bengal movement:

  1. Founder of the young Bengal movement. His followers were derozians. They attacked idol worship, casteism, and superstitions.
  2. The movement was more progressive than any other of that period. The derozians wrote poems about Nationalism and love of the country, such things weren’t known before.

C.  Swami Dayanand Saraswati:

  1. He was founder of arya samaj. He believed Vedas were a source of true knowledge. He advocated “Back to the Vedas”.
  2. He attacked casteism, idol worship, and child marriage. He attacked inter-caste marriage and widow remarriage.
  3.  He was the first to put forth ideas like ‘Swadeshi’ and ‘India for Indians’ and hence was called ‘Martin Luther of Hinduism’.

D.  Prathana samaj:

  1. It was an offshoot of Brahmo samaj. It was founded by Atmaram Pandurang in Bombay.
  2. It promoted interdining, inter-caste marriage, widow remarriage, upliftment of women, and depressed classes.
  3. Justice Ranade was an integral part of it. He was also called Nyaymurti. He wrote the book Rise of Maratha Power. Poona Sarwajanik Sabha was started by him to criticize legislative and administrative decisions.

E.   Swami Vivekananda:

  1. The original name was Narendranah Dutta. He was a follower of Ramakrishna Paramhansa.
  2. He too was against superstitions and the caste system.
  3. He founded Ramakrishna’s mission as a charitable and social organization.

F.  Theosophical society:

  1. Founded by Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Alcott.
  2. The main objectives were to form a universal brotherhood of men and fight distinctions on grounds of race, religion, color, caste, and creed. They also promoted the study of ancient religion and philosophies.
  3. Annie Besant took over the leadership from Alcott. She founded the Central Hindu school which later became Banaras Hindu University.

G.  Jyoti Rao Phule:

  1. He founded Satyasodhak samaj to fight the caste system i.e. free the lower caste from the oppression of brahmins. He pioneered the widow remarriage movement in Maharashtra.
  2. He and his wife Savitribai Phule founded the first girl’s school in Pune. His work was inspired by Thomas Paine.
  3. Called the Father of the Indian Social Revolution.

Deoband School:

  1. The orthodox sections of the ulemas organized the Deoband movement.
  2. Its objective was to teach Muslims the lessons from Koran and hadis. To keep alive the spirit of jihad amongst Muslims against foreign rulers. The liberal interpretations of Islam created a political awakening amongst Muslims.

Gopal Ganesh Agarkar:

  1. Started Fergusson college and Deccan Education Society.
  2. Founder of Sudharak newspaper.

Baba Amte:

  1. Started Anandvan, Bharat Jodo . Quit India movement.
  2. Campaigned for Narmada Bachao. Worked for lepers.

Gopal Hari Deshmukh:

  1. Popularly called Lokhitwadi. Believed that if religion sanctions evil then religion should be changed as it’s a product of man. He said, “If religion does not sanction social reform, then change religion.”
  2.  Started Shatpatre. Awarded title of Raobahadur.

Vinayak damodar Sawarkar:

  1. Known as Swatantraveer Sawarkar. Founded Abhinav Bharat [extremist] and Mitramela [moderates]. The Mitramela converted to Abhinav Bharat soon.
  2. Deported to Andaman and Nicobar.

Bhimrao Ambedkar:

  1.  Also known as Babasaheb Ambedkar. The father of the Indian constitution.
  2. He established Bahishkrut Hitkarni Sabha [1924] for the education of depressed classes and to uplift them socially and politically.
  3. He started the Mooknayak periodical with help of Shahu Maharaja.
  4. Kalaram temple entry movement, burning of Manusmriti, and Mahad water tank Satyagraha were highlights of his activism.
  5. He tried to pass the Hindu code bill to give freedom and equal rights to women. But as the bill was rejected he resigned and later went to Rajya Sabha.
  6. He founded an independent labor party. He got a doctorate in law from Colombia University.
  7. His biography is named “Waiting for a Visa”.
  8. He converted to Buddhism in October and died in December 1956. He was awarded Bharat Ratna in 1990.

Vinoba Bhave:

  1. National teacher of India.
  2. Started the Bhoodan movement. Ideological follower of Gandhiji.

Subhash Chandra Bose:

  1. Popularly called ‘Desh Nayak’. He was born in Odessa and selected to ICS. Upon Gandhiji’s advice worked under CR Das and joined Khilafat and Non-cooperation movements. He went to Cambridge University.
  2. He called the cancellation of the movement a national calamity. He became CEO of Calcutta Corporation and contested the election of the Bengal Congress. He also went to jail during the civil disobedience movement.
  3. He criticized Gandhiji’s ways and wanted Congress to take advantage of the WW-II; he was put under house arrest but escaped to Kabul. He sought USSR’s help for the freedom movement but USSR joined the allies and his plan failed.
  4. He started Azad Hind Radio with Nazi support. He went to Berlin to set up a Free India center for Indian POWs.
  5. He organized a national planning committee to plan for the development of India. This was the forerunner to the planning commission.

Sardar Patel too was a prominent leader of congress. He was given the title of ‘Sardar’ by the women of Bardoli Satyagraha. He was called the ‘Iron Man Of India’.

Gopal K Gokhale and Lokmanya Tilak

Gokhale was a moderate leader and known as the “Socrates of Maharashtra”. He was inspired by Ranade and Gandhiji called him his political guru.

He founded the “Servants of India” society. The aim of the society was to train national missionaries for the service of India; to promote, by all constitutional means, the true interests of the Indian people; and to prepare a cadre of selfless workers who were to devote their lives to the cause of the country in a religious spirit.

Tilak was known as the “father of Indian Unrest”.

He started the Home Rule League in Mumbai and also the Ganpati and Shivaji festivals in 1893.

Pandita Ramabai

She was a Brahmin woman but converted to Christianity to escape persecution from orthodox men.

She was conferred the title “Pandita” by Kolkata university.

She published the book “Hindu High Caste Women”. She opened Mukti Mission, Sharda Sadan, and Arya Mahila Samaj where she helped Widows and helpless women.

Vitthal Ramji Shinde

He was a social reformer who worked for equality for the depressed classes. His ideas were influenced by Mahatma Phule.

He established the “Depressed class mission.”

His book – “India’s untouchability question”. “Athvani va anubhav” . “Bahishkrut Bharat”.

Other leaders

VB Phadke – Father of Indian armed struggle.

    • Phadke, a Chitpavan Brahman and a Commissariat Department clerk who had some English education, seems to have been influenced by Ranade’s lectures on the drain of wealth, the experience of the Deccan famine of 1876-77, and the growing Hindu revivalist mood among Poona Brahman intellectuals.


    • In an autobiographical fragment written while hiding from the police in a temple, Phadke later recalled how he had thought of reestablishing a Hindu Raj by collecting together a secret band, raising money through dacoities, and instigating an armed revolt by disrupting communications.


    • The outcome was a type of social banditry, with the dacoits given shelter by the peasants. After Phadke’s capture and life sentence, a Ramoshi dacoit band under Daulata Ramoshi remained active till 1883, while we also hear of a tribal Koli group committing 28 dacoities in seven months


Jagannath Shankar Shet – “Architect of Mumbai”, “Justice of Peace”, “Uncrowned emperor of Mumbai”.

Seva Sadan

    • A Parsi social reformer, M. Malabari, founded the Seva Sadan in 1885.


    • The organization specialized in taking care of used women who were exploited and then discarded by society.


    • It catered to all castes and women with education, medical and welfare services.


Deva Samaj Founded in 1887

    • Founded in 1887 in Lahore by Shiv Narain Agnihotri, this sect emphasized the soul, the suremac of the guru, and the need for good action.


    • It called for ideal social behavior such as not accepting bribes, avoiding intoxicants and non-vegetarian,s and keeping away from violent actions.


Dharma Sabha

    • Radhakant Deb founded this sabha in 1830. An orthodox society, it stood for the preservation of the status quo in socio-religious matters, opposing even the abolition of sati.


    • . However, it favours western education, even for girls


Bharat Dharma

    • Mahamandala An all-India organization of the orthodox educated Hindus, it stood for a defense of orthodox Hinduism against the teachings of the Arya Samaj, the Theosophists, and the Ramakrishna Mission.


    • Other organizations created to defend orthodox Hinduism were the Sanatana Dharma Sabha (1895), the Dharma Maha Parishad in South India, and. Dharma Mahamandaii in Bengal.


    • . These organizations combined in 1902 to form the single organization of Bharat Dharma Mahamandala, with headquarters at Varanasi. This organization sought to introduce proper management of Hindu religious institutions, open Hindu educational institutions, etc. Pandit Madan -Mohan Malaviya was a prominent figure in this movement.


Radhaswami Movement

    • Tulsi Ram, a banker from Agra, also known as Shiv DayalSaheb, founded this movement in 1861. The R. d. i , one supreme being supremacy of the Spiritual attainment, they believe does not call for renunciation of the worldly life.


    • They consider all religions to be true. While the sect has no belief in temples, shrines, and sacred places, it considers as necessary duties, works of faith and charity, service and prayer.


Sri Narayana Guru Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Movement

    • This movement was an example of a regional movement born out of the conflict between the depressed, classes and upper non-Brahmin castes.


    • It was started by. Sri Narayana, Guru Swamy among the Ezhavas of Kerala, who were a caste of toddy-tappers and were considered to be untouchables.


    • The Ezhavas were the single largest caste group in Kerala constituting 26 percent of the total population. Sri Narayana Guru initiated a programme of action—the Sri Narayana Guru Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogarn—in 1902


    • The main objectives were to


      1. admission to public schools


      1. recruitment to government services


      1. access to roads and entities


    • The movement as a whole brought transformative structural changes such as upward social mobility, the shift in the traditional distribution of power, and a federation of ‘backward castes’ into a large conglomeration.


Indian National Social Conference was Founded by M.G. Ranade and Raghunath Rao

    • The conference met annually from its first session in Madras in 1887 at the same time and venue as the Indian National Congress.


    • It focussed attention on the social issues of importance; it could be called the social reform cell of the Indian National Congress, in fact.


    • . The conference advocated inter-caste marriages, and opposed polygamy and kulinism. It launched the “Pledge Movement” to inspire people to take a pledge against child marriage.


Wahabi/Walliullah Movement :

    • Shah Walliullah (1702-62) inspired this essentially revivalist response to western influences and the degeneration which had set in among Indian Muslims.


    • He was the first Indian Muslim leader of the 18th century to organize Muslims around the two-fold ideals of this movement:
      • the desirability of harmony among the four schools of Muslim jurisprudence which had divided the Indian Muslims (he sought to integrate the best elements of the four schools)
      • recognition of the role of individual conscience in religion where conflicting interpretations were derived from the Quran and the Hadis.


    • The movement fizzled out in the face of British military might in the 1870s.


Titu Mir’s Movement

    • Mir Nithar Ali, popularly known as Titu Mir, was a disciple of Sayyid Ahmed Raebarelvi, the founder of the Wahabi Movement.


    • Titu Mir organized the Muslim peasants of Bengal against the Hindu landlords and the British indigo planters.


    • The movement was not as militant as the British records made it out to be; only in the last year of Titu’s life was there a confrontation between him and the British police. He was killed in action in 1831.


Faraizi Movement

    • The movement, also called the Fara’idi Movement because of its emphasis on the Islamic pillars of faith, was founded by Haji Shariat-Allah. Its scene of action was East Bengal, and it aimed at the eradication of social evils among the Muslims of the region.


    • The Fara’idis organized a paramilitary force armed with clubs to fight the Hindu landlords and even the police. Dudu Mian was arrested several times, and his arrest in 1847 finally weakened the movement.


Ahmadiya Movement

    • It was based on liberal principles. It described itself as the standard-bearer of the Mohammedan Renaissance, and based itself, like the Brahmo Samaj, on the principles of the universal religion of all humanity, opposing jihad (sacred war against non-Muslims).


    • The movement spread western liberal education among the Indian Muslims. However, the Ahmadiya Movement, like Baha’ism which flourished in the West Asian countries, suffered from mysticism.



    • One of the major limitations of these religious reform movements was that they had a narrow social base, namely the educated and urban middle classes, while the needs of 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 and fostered pseudo-scientific thinking while exercising a check on hill 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.
    • An overemphasis on religion and philosophy, as aspects of 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 showered their praise of the Indian past on its ancient period and looked upon the medieval period of Indian history (Rise of Islam) essentially as an era of decadence.
    • This succeeded to create a notion of two separate peoples, on the one hand; on the other, uncritical praise of the past was not acceptable to the low caste sections of society which had suffered under religiously sanctioned exploitation precisely 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.
    • Religious movements failed to enter the phase of secular movements and continued in their old form appealing only to a particular religion.

English Education and its impact

    • By the 1880s, the total number of English-educated Indians was approaching the 50,000 mark, if the number of matriculates may be taken as a rough indicator (only 5000 as yet had B.A. degrees).
    • The number of those studying English went up fairly rapidly from 298,000 in 1887 to 505,000 in 1907, while the circulation of English-language newspapers climbed from 90,000 in 1885 to 276,000 in 1905.
    • A ‘microscopic minority, as the British never tired of pointing out (the literacy figures even in 1911 were only 1 percent for English and 6 percent for the vernaculars), this emerging social group enjoyed importance far in excess of its size
    • English education gave its beneficiaries a unique capacity to establish contacts on a country-wide scale. English educated government employees, lawyers, teachers, journalists or doctors worked fairly often outside their home regions.
    • Western education did bring with it an awareness of world currents and ideologies, without which it would have been difficult to formulate conscious theories of nationalism.
    • At the same time, the alienating and divisive effects of education through a foreign medium were evident enough from the beginning, and have persisted right up to the present day.
    • The early research of Anil Seal and John Broomfield made it very fashionable for a time to consider the English-educated as ‘elite-groups’ defined basically by their upper-caste status. It is certainly true that the traditional ‘literary’ castes tended to take more easily to the new education.


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