Modern India

British Rule on Indian Social Reforms

Indian Social Reforms

Many Indians realized that the reform of social institutions and religious outlook of people was a necessary pre-condition for the growth of national unity. Through successive movements they carried forward the pioneering work started by few enlightened Indians. This was a difficult task as orthodox elements formed large and strong groups in the country. During the second half of 19th century only two important laws were passed by the British government. One of these passed in 1872 sanctioned inter-caste and inter-communal marriages. The other passed in 1891 aimed to discourage child marriage.
Social reform movements arose among all communities of the Indian people. In social life they aimed at the abolition of castes, child marriage and other legal and social inequalities.

Brahmo Samaj

The Brahmo Samaj was founded by Raja Rammohan Roy in 1828.It organized a movement to bring an end to the practice of sati as this practice was inhuman and degrading. It propagated the widow-remarriage and encouraged inter-caste marriage. It strongly opposed the caste system and child marriage. The Brahmo Samaj preached against useless practices, sacrifices and superstitions.

Young Bengal Movement

This association was founded by a teacher of the Hindu college, Henry Vivian Derozio.The supporters of Young Bengal Movement were influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution. They preached the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. To them truth must conform to human reason therefore they played an important role in driving away several superstitions. They emphasized on female education and rights of women. They supported the freedom of press and favored better treatment for Indian labor abroad.

Prarthana Samaj

The Prarthana Samaj was founded in 1867 in Bombay with the aim of refining the Hindu religion through the light of modern knowledge. The famous scholars associated with this movement were R.G Bhandarkar and Justice Mahadev Gobind Ranade.The Samaj was greatly influenced by the Brahmo Samaj and it preached the worship of one-God. It also tried to free the Hindu society from the clutches of orthodoxy and priestly dominance.

Annie Besant and the Theosophical Society

The theosophical movement was introduced by Madame Blavastsky in India in 1882 with its headquarters at Adyar in Madras. The supporters of the theosophical movement claimed that theosophy embodied in itself the truths which underlay all religions. Annie Besant came to India in 1893 and became the leader of the movement. She devoted herself to the revival of Hindu religion with its philosophy, rituals and modes of worship. Though her ideas were used by those who were opposed to social reforms in their conflict with the reformers she helped to impart to the educated Indians a sense of pride in their own country.

Syed Ahmed Khan and the Aligarh Movement

The most influential movement of reform was started by Syed Ahmad Khan. Known as Sir Syed he had been in the service of the British government and was a supporter of the British rule. He wanted to remove the bitter enmity between Muslims and the British government to interpret Islam and bring it in conformity with modern science and philosophy and to persuade Muslims to receive modern education and enter the services. In 1862 he founded the Scientific Society to translate and publish scientific works in Urdu to familiarize the people with modern science. His crowning achievement was the establishment of the Mohammedan Anglo- Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875 which later developed into the Aligarh Muslim University.

Vivekananda and The Ramakrishna Mission

Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission to propagate the teachings of Rama Krishna Paramhamsa.The mission established several educational institutions in the country. He argued the Vedanta was the religion of all and not of the Hindus alone. Though religion was his mission in life he was interested in the improvement of all aspects of national life. He expressed his concern for the condition of the people and said that neglect of masses is a sin. He was impressed by the economic prosperity of the West and the status of women enjoyed there. Vivekananda combined in him dynamism and nationalism and greatly influenced the younger generation to take pride in their country.

Impact of the Reform Movement

As a result of reform movements significant advances were made in the field of emancipation of women. Legal measures were introduced to elevate their status. The practice of sati and infanticide were made illegal. In 1856 a law was passed permitting widow remarriage .Another law passed in 1860 raised the marriageable age of girls to ten which was a significant advance in those days. Many superstitions also began to disappear. The reform movements that grew differed from each other in many parts but they all helped in awakening the people to the need for change. The reform movements contributed a great deal to the birth of Indian nationalism. These were country-wide movements influencing people everywhere and not just in isolation.

The reform activities united people and the attack on institutions like caste which hampered social unity created a sense of oneness in the people. But most of these reform movements had certain limitations. The questions to which they gave primacy concerned only small sections of Indian society. Some of them failed to emphasize or even recognize that colonial rule was inimical to the interests of the Indian people. Most of them worked within the framework of their respective communities in a way tended to promote identities based on religion or caste. Many of these limitations were sought to be overcome during the course of the national movement with which many social and religious reformers were closely associated. Indian nationalism aimed at the regeneration of the entire Indian society irrespective of caste and community. It was no longer necessary to confine the movement of social reform to one’s own community.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Born in 1820 in Bengal Vidyasagar’s contribution is many sided. He worked for the upliftment of women, for widow remarriage for women’s education and fought against child marriage and polygamy.

Arya Samaj

The Arya Samaj founded in 1875 by Swami Dayanand Saraswati undertook the task of reforming Hindu religion in north India.Swami Dayanand believed that there was only one God who was to be worshipped not in the form of images but as a spirit. He held the Vedas to be infallible and the fountain of all knowledge. Dayanand preached and wrote in Hindi. The Sayarth Prakash was his most important book. The Arya Samaj made rapid progress in Central India, Rajasthan, and Gujarat and particularly in Punjab where it became a very important social and political force. The members of Arya Samaj were guided by ten principles of which the first one was studying the Vedas. The rest were tenets of virtue and morality. Dayanand framed for his disciples a code of social conduct in which there was no room for caste distinctions and social inequality.

The Arya Samajis opposed child marriage and encouraged remarriage of widows. A network of schools and colleges was established throughout northern India to promote the objects of Arya Samaj.The Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School of Lahore which soon developed into a premier college of Punjab set the pattern for such institutions. Dayanand’s emphasis on the super natural and infallible character of the Vedas seems to have risen from his ardent desire to give Hinduism a definite creed and equip it with a militant character. Similar in nature was his mover for the reconversion of those Hindus who had been converted. For this purpose a purificatory ceremony called Shuddhi was prescribed.

Cultural awakening

The new awareness was reflected in the literature both in the content and style. An easy prose style developed and became the medium of expression for various literary forms. Scholars like William Carey, Gilchrist and Caldwell contributed a great deal in the preparation of grammar and compilation of dictionaries in modern Indian languages. The theme of the new literature was predominantly humanistic. It stressed the freedom of man and equality of all. The distinctive work of poet Rabindranath Tagore won him the noble prize. The works of other literary figures like Bhartendu Harish Chandra, Prem Chand and Mohammad Iqbal were also highly acclaimed.

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