UPSC History Arts and Cultural Movements NCERT Extracts - Religious and Social Reform after 1858

NCERT Extracts - Religious and Social Reform after 1858

Category : UPSC

 Religious Reform


  • The rising tide of nationalism and democracy, which led to the struggle for freedom, also found expression in movements to reform and democratise the social institutions and religious outlook of the Indian people.
  • Keshub Chandra Sen, for example, said : "What we see around us today is a fallen nation - a nation whose primitive greatness lies buried in ruins".
  • Similarly, Swami Vivekananda described the condition of the Indian people in the following words : "Moving about here and there emaciated figures of young and old in tattered rags, whose faces bear deep-cut lines of the despair and poverty of hundreds of years; cows, bullocks, buffaloes common everywhere - aye, the same melancholy look in their eyes, the same feeble physique, on the wayside, refuse and dirt; - this is our present day India.
  • Filled with the desire to adapt their society to the requirements of the modem world of science, democracy and nationalism, thoughtful Indians set out to reform their traditional religions, for religion was in those times a basic part of people's life and there could be little social reform without religious reform.


Brahmo Samaj


  • The Brahmo tradition of Raja Rammohun Roy was carried forward after 1843 by Devendranath Tagore and after 1866 by Keshub Chandra Sen.
  • The Brahmo Samaj made an effort to reform Hindu religion by removing abuses and by basing it on the worship of one God and on the teachings of the Vedas and Upanishads even though it repudiated the doctrine of the infallibility of the Vedas.
  • Brahmos were basically opposed to idolatry and superstitious practices and rituals, in fact to the entire Brahmanical system.
  • The Brahmos were also great social reformers. They actively opposed the caste system and child-marriage and supported the general uplift of women, including widow remarriage, and the spread of modem education to men and women.


Religious Reform in Maharashtra


  • Religious reform was begun in Bombay in 1840 by the Parmahans Mandali which aimed at fighting idolatry and the caste system.
  • Perhaps the earliest religious reformer in western India was Gopal Hari Deshmukh, known popularly as 'LokahitwadF, who wrote in Marathi, made powerful rationalist attacks on Hindu orthodoxy, and preached religious and social equality.
  • Later the Prarfhana Samaj was started with the aim of reforming Hindu religious thought and practice in the light of modem knowledge.
  • Two of its great leaders were G Bhandarkar, the famous Sanskrit scholar and historian, and Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842-1901).
  • Its activities also spread to south India as a result of the efforts of the Telugu reformer, Viresalingam. One of the greatest rationalist thinkers of modem India, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, also lived and worked in Maharashtra at this time.


Ramakarishna and Vivekananda


  • Ramakrishna Parmahamsa (1834-86) was a saintly person who sought religious salvation in the traditional ways of renunciation, meditation and devotion (bhakti).
  • He again and again emphasised that there were many roads to God and salvation and that service of man was service of God, for man was the embodiment of God.
  • It was his great disciple, Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), who popularised his religious message and who tried to put it in a form that would suit the needs of contemporary Indian society.
  • Thus, he wrote in 1898; "For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam... is the only hope".
  • At the same time, he was convinced of the superior approach of the Indian philosophical tradition. He himself subscribed to Vedanta which he declared to be a folly rational system.                                                     
  • Vivekananda criticised Indians for having tost touch with the rest of the world and became stagnant and mummified.
  • Vivekananda condemned the caste system and the current Hindu emphasis on rituals and superstitions, and urged Ac people to imbibe the spirit of liberty, equality and free- thinking.
  • Vivekananda was a great humanist Shocked by the poverty, misery and suffering of the common people of the country, he wrote: “The only God in whom I believe, the sum total of all souls, and above all, my God the wicked, my God the afflicted, my Goo the poor of all races”
  • To the educated Indians, he said : So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold everyman a traitor, who having been educated at their expense, pays not the feast heed to them”
  • In 1897, Vivekananda founded Ae Ramakrishna Mission to carry on humanitarian relief and social work. It thus laid emphasis on social good or social service.



Swami Dayanand and the Arya Samaj


  • The Aiya Samaj undertook the task of reforming hindu religion in north India.
  • It was founded in 1875 by Swami Dayanand Samswati (1824-83). Swami Dayan believed that selfish and ignorant priests had perverted hindu religion with the aid of the Puranas which, he said, ware full of false teachings
  • For his own inspiration, Swami Dayanand went to the Vedas which he larded infallible, being the inspired word of God, and as the fount of all knowledge.
  • Some of Swami Dayanand’s followers later started a network of school and colleges in the country to impart education on western lines.
  • Lala Hansraj played a leading part in this effort.
  • In 1902, Swami Shradhananda started the Gurukul near Hardwar to propagate the more traditional ideals of education.
  • At the same time, one of the Arya Samaj's objectives was to prevent the conversion of Hindus to other religions.
  • This led it to start a crusade against other religions. This crusade became a contributory factor in the growth of communalism in India in the 20th century.


The Theosophical Society


  • The Theosophical Society was founded in the United States by Madam H.P. Blavatsky and Colonel S. Olcott, who later came to India and founded the headquarters of the Society at Adyar near Madras in 1886.
  • The Theosophist movement soon grew in India as a result of the leadership given to it by Mrs. Annie Besant who had come to India in 1893.
  • The Theosophists advocated the revival and strengthening of the ancient religions of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. They recognised the doctrine of the transmigration of the soul.
  • One of Mrs. Besant's many achievements in India was the establishment of the Central Hindu School at Banaras which was later developed by Madan Mohan Malaviya into the Benaras Hindu University.


Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh School


  • The most important reformer among the Muslims was Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98).
  • In his view any interpretation of the Quran that conflicted with human reason, science or nature was in reality a misinterpretation.
  • All his life he struggled against blind obedience to tradition, dependence on custom, ignorance and irrationalism.
  • Sayyid Ahmad Khan believed that the religious and social life of the Muslims could be improved only by imbibing modem western scientific knowledge and culture.
  • Therefore promotion of modem education remained his first task throughout his life.
  • In 1875 he founded at Aligarh the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College as a centre for spreading western sciences and culture. Later, this College grew into the Aligarh Muslim University.
  • He was also opposed to communal friction. Appealing to Hindus and Muslims to unite, he said in 1883, “Now both of us live on the air of India, drink the holy waters of the Ganga and Yamuna. We both feed upon the products of the Indian soil.”
  • However, towards the end of his life, he began to talk of Hindu domination to prevent his followers from joining the rising national movement
  • Sayyid Ahmad’s reformist zeal also embraced the social sphere. He urged Muslims to give up medieval customs and ways of thought and behaviour.
  • In particular he wrote in favour of raising women's status in society and advocated removal of purdah and spread of education among women.
  • He also condemned the customs of polygamy and easy divorce.


Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938)


  • He was one of the greatest poets of modem India.
  • He also profoundly influenced through his poetry the philosophical and religious outlook of the younger generation of Muslim as well as of Hindus.


Religious Reform among the Parsis


  • In 1851, the Rehnumai Mazdayasan Sabha or Religious Reform Association was started by Naoroji Furdonji, Dadabhai Naoroji, S.S. Bengalee, and others.



Religious Reform among the Sikhs


  • Religious reform among the Sikhs was begun at the end of the 19th century when the Khalsa College was started at Amritsar. But the reform effort gained momentum after 1920 when the Akali Movement rose in the Punjab.
  • The main aim of the Akalis was to purify the management of the gurudwaras or Sikh shrines. These gurudwaras had been heavily endowed with land and money by devout Sikhs.
  • The Sikh masses led by the Akalis started in 1921 a poweful satyagraha against the mahants and the Government which aided them.
  • The religious reform movements of modem times had an underlying unity-most of them were based on the twin doctrines of Reason (Rationalism) and Humanism, though they also sometimes tended to appeal to faith and ancient authority to bolster their appeal.
  • They opposed the ritualistic, superstitious, irrational and obscurantist elements in Indian religion.
  • Swami Vivekananda said : “Is religion to justify itself by the discoveries of reason through which every science justifies itself”
  • Justice Ranade came to the conclusion that the society as a living organism is constantly changing and can never go back to the past.
  • The religious reform movements helped many Indians to come to terms with the modem world,   
  • The best of reformers argued that modem ideas and culture could be best imbibed by integrating them into Indian cultural streams.
  • Two negative aspects of the religious reform movements may also be noted.
  • Firstly, all of them catered to the needs of a small percentage of the population-the urban middle and upper classes.
  • The second limitation, which later became a major negative factor, was the tendency to look backward, appeal to past greatness, and to rely on scriptural authority.
  • Appeals to past greatness created false pride and smugness, while the habit of finding a 'Golden Age’ in the past acted as a check on the full acceptance of modem science and hampered the effort to improve the present.                                
  • The evil aspects of this phenomenon became apparent when it was found that, along with a rapid rise of national consciousness, another consciousness - communal consciousness- had begun to rise among the middle classes.
  • Many other factors were certainly responsible for the birth of communalism in modem times; but undoubtedly, the nature of the religious reform movements also contributed to it.


Social Reform


  • The major effect of national awakening in the 19th century was seen in the field of social reform. The newly educated persons increasingly revolted against rigid social conventions and outdated customs.
  • In the 20th century, and especially after 1919, the national movement became the main propagator of social reform.
  • Increasingly, the reformers took recourse to propaganda in the Indian language to reach the masses.
  • They also used novels, dramas, poetry, short stories, the Press and, in the thirties, the cinema to spread their views.
  • The social reform movements tried in the main to achieve two objectives : emancipation of women and extension of equal right to them; and removal of caste rigidities and in particular the abolition untouchability.


Emancipation of Women


  • It is true that occasionally women of the character and personality of Razia Sultana, Chand Bibi, or Ahilyabai Holkar arose in India. But they were exceptions to the general pattern, and do not in any way change the picture.
  • After the 1880s, when Dufferin hospitals (named after Lady Dufferin, the wife of the Viceroy) were started, efforts were made to make modern medicine and child delivery techniques available to Indian women.
  • Women played an active and important role in the struggle for freedom.
  • They participated in large numbers in the agitation against the partition of Bengal and in the Home Rule movement.
  • Sarojini Naidu, the famous poetess, became the president of the National Congress. Several women became ministers or parliamentary secretaries in the popular ministries of 1937.
  • They started many organisations and institutions for the purpose, the most outstanding of which was the All India Women’s Conference founded in 1927.
  • The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 made the daughter an equal co-heir with the son.
  • The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 permitted dissolution of marriage on specific grounds.


Struggle Against Caste


  • The caste system was another major target of attack for the social reform movement The Hindus were at this time divided into numerous castes.
  • The untouchables suffered from numerous and severe disabilities and restrictions,
  • In some parts of the country, particularly in the south their very shadow was to be avoided,
  • An untouchable's dress, food, place of residence, all were carefully regulated.
  • He could not draw water from wells and tanks used by the higher castes; he could do so only from wells and tanks specially reserved for untouchables.
  • He could not enter the Hindu temples or study the shastras.
  • In modern times it became a major obstacle in the growth of a united national feeling and the spread of democracy.
  • British rule released many forces which gradually undermined the caste system.
  • The introduction of modem industries and railways and buses and growing urbanization made it difficult to prevent mass contact among persons of different castes, especially in the cities.
  • Modem commerce and industry opened new fields of economic activity to all.
  • The growth of the national movement played a significant role in weakening the caste system.
  • All his life Gandhiji kept the abolition of untouchability in the forefront of his public activities.
  • In 1932, Gandhiji founded the All India Harijan Sangh for the purpose.
  • His campaign for the "root and branch removal of untouchability" was based on the grounds of humanism and reason.
  • In Maharashtra, Jyotiba Phule, led a lifelong movement against Brahmanical religious authority as part of his struggle against upper caste domination.
  • B.R. Ambedkar, who belonged to one of the scheduled castes, devoted his entire life to fighting against caste tyranny,
  • He organised the All India Scheduled Castes Federation for the purpose. Several other scheduled caste leaders founded the All India Depressed Classes Association
  • In Kerala, Sri Narayan Guru organised a life long struggle against the caste system.
  • The Constitution of 1950 has provided the legal framework for the final abolition of untouchability.

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