Social reforms movements and important reformers

Indian National Social Conference:

An offshoot of Prarthana Samaj, founded by Ranade and Raghunath Rao.

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Its conference was held in 1887 at Madras sharing the platform with the annual session of INC. It virtually became social reform cell of INC.

Social Service League was founded in 1911 by N.M. Joshi to collect social facts, discuss them and build public opinion on question of social service.

Seva Samiti:

It was founded by Hridayanath Kunzru in 1914 at Allahabad to organise social service, to promote education and to reform the criminals and other fallen elements of society.

Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar:

Pandit Ishwar Chandra was a great educator, humanist and social reformer.

He was born in 1820 in a village in Midnapur, Bengal. He rose to be the Head Pandit of the Bengali Department of Fort William College.

He firmly believed that reform in Indian society could only come about through educ ation. Vidyasagar founded many schools for girls. He helped J.D. Bethune to establish the Bethune School.

He founded the Metropolitan Institution in Calcutta. He protested against child marriage and favoured widow remarriage which was legalized by the Widow Remarriage Act (1856).

It was due to his great support for the spread of education that he was given the title of Vidyasagar.

Jyotiba Phule:

Jyotiba Phule belonged to a low caste family in Maharashtra. He waged a life-long struggle against upper caste domination and Brahmanical supremacy.

In 1873 he founded the Satya Shodak Samaj to fight against the caste system. He pioneered the widow remarriage movement in Maharashtra and worked for the education for women. Jyotiba Phule and his wife established the first girls’ school at Poona in 1851.

Saint Ramalinga:

Saint Ramalinga was one of the foremost saints of Tamil Nadu in the nineteenth century. He was born on October 5, 1823 at Marudhur, near Chidambaram.

He was the last son of his father, Ramayya Pillai and mother, Chinnammayar. Developing a deep interest in spiritual life, Ramalinga moved to Karunguli in 1858, a place near Vadalur where the Saint later settled down.

His divine powers came to be recognised at the early age of eleven. In 1865 he founded the Samarasa Suddha Sanmargha Sangha for the promotion of his ideals of establishing a casteless society.

He preached love and compassion to the people. He composed Tiru Arutpa. His other literay works include Manu Murai Kanda Vasagam and Jeeva Karunyam.

His language was so simple as to enable the illiterate people to understand his teachings. In 1870 he moved to Mettukuppam, a place three miles away from Vadalur.

There he started constructing the Satya Gnana Sabai in 1872. He introduced the principle that God could be worshipped in the form of Light.

Sri Vaikunda Swamigal:

Sri Vaikunda Swamigal was born in 1809 at Swamithoppu in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. His original name was Mudichoodum Perumal but he was called Muthukkutty.

He preached against the caste system and untouchability. He also condemned religious ceremonies.

Many came to his place to worship him and slowly his teachings came to be known as Ayyavazhi. By the midnineteenth century, Ayyavazhi came to be recognized as a separate religion and spread in the regions of South Travancore and South Tirunelveli.

After his death, the religion was spread on the basis of his teachings and the religious books Akilattirattu Ammanai and Arul Nool. Hundreds of Nizhal Thangals (places of worship) were built across the country.

Self-Respect Movement and Periyar E.V.R.:

Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy was a great social reformer. In 1921, during the anti-liquor campaign he cut down 1000 coconut trees in his own farm.

In 1924, he took an active part in the Vaikam Satyagraha. The objective of the Satyagraha was to secure for untouchables the right to use a road near a temple at Vaikom in Kerala.

E.V.R. opposed the Varnashrama policy followed in the V.V.S. Iyer’s Seranmadevi Gurugulam. During 1920- 1925 being in the Congrees Party he stressed that Congress should accept communal representation.

Subsequently in 1925, he started the “Self-Respect Movement”. The aims of the ‘Self-Respect Movement’ were to uplift the Dravidians and to expose the Brahminical tyrany and deceptive methods by which they controlled all spheres of Hindu life.

He denounced the caste system, child marriage and enforced widowhood. He encouraged inter-caste marriages.

He himself conducted many marriages without any rituals. Such a marriage was known as “Self-Respect Marriage.” He gave secular names to new born babies.

He attacked the laws of Manu, which he called the basis of the entire Hindu social fabric of caste. He founded the Tamil journals Kudiarasu, Puratchi and Viduthalai to propagate his ideals.

In 1938 at Tamil Nadu Women’s Conference appreciate in the noble service rendered by E.V.R. he was given the title “Periyar”.

On 27th June 1970 by the UNESCO organization praised and adorned with the title “Socrates of South Asia”.

Social Policies and Legislation :

Social Policies and Legislation-In the beginning, the British interest was limited to trade and earning profits from economic exploitation.

Therefore, they did not evince any interest in taking the issue of social or religious reforms.

They were apprehensive of interfering with the social and religious customs and institutions of the Indians because of the fear that they might lose trade advantage.

Thus, they adopted the policy of extreme precaution and indifference towards social issues in India.

The one reason why they indulged in criticizing the customs and traditions of India was to generate a feeling of inferiority complex among the Indians.

However, in the mid-19th century the social and religious movements, launched in India, attracted the attention of the Company’s administration towards the country’s social evils.

The propaganda carried out by the Christian missionaries also stirred the minds of the educated Indians.

Western thought and education and views expressed in different newspapers and magazines had their own impact.

Some of the British administrators like Lord William Bentinck had evinced personal interest in the matter.

There were primarily two areas in which laws were enacted, laws pertaining to women emancipation and the caste system.

Social Laws Concerning Wome :

The condition of women, by the time the British established their rule, was not encouraging.

Several evil practices such as the practice of Sati, the Purdah system, child marriage, female infanticide, bride price and polygamy had made their life quite miserable.

The place of women had come to be confined to the four walls of her home. The doors of education had been shut for them. From economic point of view also her status was miserable.

There was no social and economic equality between a man and woman. A Hindu woman was not entitled to inherit any property. Thus, by and large, she was completely dependent on men.

During the 19th and 20th centuries some laws were enacted with the sincere efforts of social reformers, humanists and some British administrators to improve the condition of women in Indian society.

The first effort in this direction was the enactment of law against the practice of Sati during the administration of Lord William Bentinck.

Female Infanticide :

Female infanticide was another inhuman practice afflicting the 19th century Indian society.

It was particularly in vogue in Rajputana, Punjab and the North Western Provinces. Colonel Todd, Johnson Duncan, Malcolm and other British administrators have discussed about this evil custom in detail.

Factors such as family pride, the fear of not finding a suitable match for the girl child and the hesitation to bend before the prospective in-laws were some of the major reasons responsible for this practice.

Therefore, immediately after birth, the female infants were being killed either by feeding them with opium or by strangulating or by purposely neglecting them.

Some laws were enacted against this practice in 1795, 1802 and 1804 and then in 1870. However, the practice could not be completely eradicated only through legal measures. Gradually, this evil practice came to be done away through education and public opinion.

Widow Remarriage:

There are many historical evidences to suggest that widowremarriage enjoyed social sanction during ancient period in India. In course of time the practice ceased to prevail increasing the number of widows to lakhs during the 19th century.

Therefore, it became incumbent on the part of the social reformers to make sincere efforts to popularize widow remarriage by writing in newspapers and contemporary journals.Prominent among these reformers was Raja Rammohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. They carried out large scale campaigns in this regard mainly through books, pamphlets and petitions with scores of signatures.

In July 1856, J.P. Grant, a member of the Governor-General’s Council finally tabled a bill in support of the widow remarriage, which was passed on 13 July 1856 and came to be called the Widow Remarriage Act, 1856.

Child Marriage:

The practice of child marriage was another social stigma for the women. In November 1870, the Indian Reforms Association was started with the efforts of Keshav Chandra Sen. A journal called Mahapap Bal Vivah (Child marriage: The Cardinal Sin) was also launched with the efforts of B.M. Malabari to fight against child marriage.

In 1846, the minimum marriageable age for a girl was only 10 years. In 1891, through the enactment of the Age of Consent Act, this was raised to 12 years. In 1930, through the Sharda Act, the minimum age was raised to 14 years. After independence, the limit was raised to 18 years in 1978.

Purdah System:

Similarly, voices were raised against the practice of Purdah during the 19th and 20th century. The condition of women among the peasantry was relatively better in this respect. Purdah was not so much prevalent in Southern India. Through the large scale participation of women in the national freedom movement, the system disappeared without any specific legislative measure taken against it.

Struggle against the Caste System and the related Legislation:

Next to the issue of women emancipation, the caste system became the second most important issue of social reforms. In fact, the system of caste had become the bane of Indian society.The caste system was primarily based on the fourfold division of society viz. Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishyas and Shudras.

On account of their degradation in their social status, the Shudras were subjected to all kinds of social discrimination. In the beginning of the 19th century the castes of India had been split into innumerable subcastes on the basis of birth.

In the meantime, a new social consciousness also dawned among the Indians. Abolition of untouchability became a major issue of the 19th century social and religious reform movements in the country.

Mahatma Gandhi made the removal of untouchability a part of his constructive programme. He brought out a paper, The Harijan, and also organised the Harijan Sevak Sangh. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar dedicated his entire life for the welfare of the downtrodden.

In Bombay, he formed a Bahiskrit Hitkarini Sabha in July 1924 for this purpose. Later, he also organised the Akhil Bharatiya Dalit Varg Sabha to fight against caste oppression. Jyotirao Phule in Western India and Shri Narayana Guru in Kerala respectively established the Satya Shodhak Samaj and the Shri Narayana Dharma Partipalana Yogam to include self-esteem among the downtrodden.

In the Madras Presidency also the beginning of 20th century witnessed the rise of Self-respect Movement of Periyar E.V.R.

In order to eradicate this evil practice many other individual and institutional efforts were also made.

These movements were directed mainly in removing the disabilities suffered by Harijans in regard to drawing of water from public wells, getting entry into temples and admission into schools.