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Social Reformation is an attempt to reform a society that practices discrimination among its members. Reformation strives to bring back such a society into the fold humane values. The basic aim of reformation movement is to declare the value of individual’s self-respect.

The nineteenth century is considered as the reformation and new awakening time in the history of India. With the implementation of English education, a new class of educated Indians was created. Many European concepts like democracy, nationalism, equality started finding roots in India. Many Indians who received English education started analyzing their own society. The British too expressed their interest in reforming the society. They put forth the theory of “White Man’s burden’. They believed that it is their duty to civilize Indian as a civilized class of people. The British made an attempt to protect their political and economic interests under the guise of this theory. Many Indians started understanding the Indian tradition in new perceptions. A new identity called ‘Indian’ was born.


Many communities like Shudras and other neglected communities and women lacked many rights. Many movements opposed these at different timelines in the history. Unlike movements in the middle ages and ancient times, the movements during the British period were different. Issues like caste system, gender discrimination, Sati system, widow remarriage restriction system, denial of education to Sudhras and other lower communities were addressed by these movements. Many prominent people like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dyananda Saraswathi, Ranade, Jyothiba Phule, Swami Vivekananda, Annie Besant, Sir Syed Ahamed Khan, Periyar, Narayanaguru became part of these movements. One of the main features of this period is the attempt made to stop social evils by prohibiting them through law.


Brahmo Samaj

Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) is the chief initiator of social reformation in India during modern times. He had deep knowledge in Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic literature. He was well versed in Hindu Philosophical critique and Quran. Apart from this, he had also studied other religions found in India critically. He had even learned Hebrew and Greek to read Bible in its original form! Such was his craving for knowledge.


He started ‘Athmiya Sabha’ in Calcutta along with some friends. The Sabha aimed at eradicating socio-religious maladies from the society of Bengal. He started ‘Brahmo Samaj’ in 1828. He wanted to purge Hinduism by removing Caste System and Superstitions. Raj Ram Mohan Roy and other Brahmo Samaj followers wanted to rebuild a new Hindu Society based on the philosophical foundations of Upanishads. Due to his efforts, then Governor General William Bentinck brought in law prohibiting Sati System in 1829. Raja Ram Mohan Roy tried to develop rationality among the common people through Journalism. He published a journal named ‘ Samvada Komudhi’ in Bengali language.

Apart from these, Raj Rama Mohan Roy wanted the Indians to welcome the thinking process of the Europeans. In this background, he supported the establishment of many schools and Vedanta College in Calcutta. Rabindranatha Tagore has called “Raj Ram Mohan Roy as  the harbinger of modern India, progenitor of Indian Social Reformation movement, and ‘the prophet of Indian Nationalism”. By saying these words, Tagore has summarized the contribution of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Bramho Samaj to Indian Social Reformation.

Young Bengal Movement

The wave of modernization started moving across the North India during nineteenth century. Calcutta was the Centre of this new thinking. New movements started arising during 1820s and 1830s. We have already learnt the contribution of Bramho Samaj. During this period, another movement called ‘Young Bengal Movement’ took birth. This movement was started by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio(1809-1831). His father was a Portuguese and his mother was an Indian. Hence, Derozio is called as Anglo-Indian.

Derozio served as a professor at Hindu College of Calcutta from 1826to 1831. Many of his students who were attracted to his teaching became his committed followers. Derozio was influenced by the various movements of Europe and tried to instil the same spirit of free enquiry in the minds of his students and colleagues. He also worked towards creating text books to inculcate new education system. This angered many traditionalists. But still he went ahead and started ‘Academic Association (1828), a free thinking debate association which created new thinking across Bengal.

The young Bengal movement held discussions and debates on issues like nature, humanism, God and other various topics. Derozio worked towards spreading the message that only rational thinking would liberate people from the clutches of superstitions and social discrimination. He was an advocate of Women Rights and opposed caste based discrimination. Many of his students who had come from traditional families were deeply influenced by Derozio’s thoughts and joined their hands in spreading the movement across Bengal. The influence of this Movement was limited to Calcutta and a few areas of Bengal. Derozio had to resign from his teaching post due to the pressure from his colleagues and his opponents. These people feared that the youth are getting morally corrupted by the work of Derozio. Derozio died at the young age of 22 years due to cholera.

Arya Samaja:

The Arya Samaj was started in the year 1875 by Dayananada Saraswathi. This started in Kathewad. It was more powerful during the last two decades of nineteenth century.

Dayananada Saraswathi

Dayananda Saraswathi was born in 1824 in Kathewad of Gujarath. His name was ‘Moolashankar’. His father was ‘Amba shankar Tiwari’ and mother ‘Amruthabai’. Since he was not interested in English education, he received Sanskrit education. He left his house by the age of 21 years, and roamed across the country for about fifteen years. He outlined his ideas in a book titled ‘Sathyaratha Prakasha’. He realised that the remedies to the various maladies of India are present in Vedas. Hence, he declared ‘Back to Vedas’. He was more of a renaissance person than a reformation person. He opened the head office of Arya Samaj in Lahore in 1877. He declared that only Vedas are authentic.

Arya Samaj had the following aims

1. All Hindus should believe in one formless God
2. No one is a Shudra or Brahmin by birth and caste based system was rejected.
3. Encouragement to inter caste marriages.
4. Rejection of polygamy and child marriage.
5. Men and women are equal.
6. One should study Vedas and other ancient sacred texts and preach them. 

‘Shuddi Movement’ was one of the important programmes of Arya Samaj. It aimed at reconversion of people who had converted to Islam and Christianity from Hinduism back to Hinduism. ‘Cow Protection Associations’ were started to protect cows.

Arya Samaj had around five lakh members by 1921. After the death of Dayananda Sarswathi, ‘Dayananda Anglo-Vedic College’ was started in 1886. Similarly, ‘Gurukula Vidyalaya’ was started in Haridwara. Lala Lajapat Rai, a radical leader of Indian Freedom Movement was influenced by the principles of Arya Samaj.

Shuddi Movement:

The existence of caste and superstitions had pushed people towards other religions. In this critical juncture, Dayananda Saraswathi reinterpreted Vedas and advocated gender equality and caste equality in order to integrate Hindu society. There were opportunities to exit from Hinduism but no opportunity to enter it. In order to bring back people from other religions, Dayananda Sarswathi started Shuddi Movement.

Prathana Samaj

The influence of Bramho Samaj reached regions beyond Bengal. This Samaj took up various reformation movements influenced by Brahmo Samaj. This movement became influential in the western India, particularly in the areas of Bombay Presidency.

Prathana Samaj was founded by Dr Athma Ram Panduranga in 1867 at Bombay with the aim of finding solutions to various problems faced by women and lower caste groups. This association argued that the reinterpretation of Hinduism is needed in the light of modern western thinking. It advocated that reformation should not be a wish, but should be implemented in reality. Many programmes like education for women, rehabilitation of poor people were undertaken by the Prathana Samaj.

Justice Mahadeva Govinda Ranade, R.G. Bhandarkar and N.G. Chandravarkar were the other prominent leaders. The scope of Prathana Samaj got extended into various areas under the leadership of Justice Ranade. Ranade attempted to reject child marriages and discriminations of widows. He believed that legal intervention is needed to stop child marriages and encourage widow remarriages. Hence, he advocated taking the help of the British Government.

Sathya Shodhak Samaj

There were wide spread discriminations based on Caste and Gender in Maharashtra just like in other parts of India. During the colonial rule of the British, many movements were started to address these social problems. Sathya Shodhak Samaj was established in 1873 to provide equal rights to non- Brahimin class and women.

This Samaj was founded by Mahatma Jyothibha Phule. In order to build a philosophical base for the movement, he wrote books like ‘Gulamagiri’ and ‘Shetkarayacha Aasud’ (Cultivator’s Whip cord). He opened schools for Shudras and girls. Phule who belonged to Mali caste allowed people from all castes including untouchables to draw water from his well. Savithribai Phule joined hands with him in his endeavour. They established hostel for girls. The work of Phules is important in the direction of establishing society based on equality. Ambedkar is one of the important people who were inspired by the work of this couple.

Aligarh Reformation Movement

By the end of nineteenth century, a new wave of social and religious reformation was set in Muslim society. Anti-British sentiment became strong in Muslim community after the incident of 1857. As a result, they stayed away from the English education and as result missed many opportunities that were based on English education. During this period, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan attempted to start a new movement. The Mohammadan Liberty Society established in 1863, started debates and discussions on the issues related to religion, social and political issues. The upper and middle class youth participated in these discussions and started realizing the value of English education.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan lived from 1817 to 1898. He declared that Quran is the authoritative book and others works on Islam are derived ones. 

He said one has to interpret one’s religion according to the changing times. Otherwise, religion becomes sluggish. Sir Ahmad Khan fought against traditions, superstitions, ignorance and irrationalities thoughout his life. He said without an open mind, any social and intellectual development is impossible. He did not support the Purdah system for Muslim women. He called for educating Muslim girls. He did not accept Polygamy. All these aspects were part of his struggles. In order to implement his ideals into practice, he founded Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh in 1875. He utilized this institution to spread the western scientific and cultural ideas. This institution later became Aligarh Muslim University.

Syed Ahmad Khan preached religious tolerance. He thrived for unity among Hindus and Muslims. Hindus, Parsees, Christians donated liberally for the establishment of Aligarh college. Admissions were open for students from all religions. The movement created by Syed Ahmad Khan keeping Aligarh as the centre, is called as Aligarh Movement.

Ramakrishna Mission (Ramakrishna Mutt)

Ramakrishna Mission has provided a unique contribution to India’s spiritual growth, nationalistic awareness and cultural development. Swami Vivekananda founded Ramakrishna Mission at Belur, near Calcutta in 1897. Ramakrishna Mutt was established at Mayawathi near Almora of Uttaranchal.

Ramakrishna Mission was founded to carry the message and thoughts of Sri Ramakrishna, the spiritual guru of Swami Vivekananda. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1834-1886) was a worshipper of Kali and also a priest at Calcutta Kali mandir. One has to attain Moksha through Dyana and Bhakti said Ramakrishna and his life itself was an example of this model. He had believed that all religions advocate the same. He also believed that there many ways of attaining moksha and the God. He said idol worship is inevitable.

In order to spread the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda founded this mission. Vivekananda (1863-1902) was born in Kyastha family in Calcutta. He studied both Western and Eastern philosophies. After studying the Indian philosophy from different perspectives, he started preaching the importance of Indian philosophy to Indians as well as Westerners. He roamed around India for about five years after the death of his Guru. Due to this, he could understand the social reality of India. He worked to establish a casteless society as he could see that the society was deeply involved with caste based discrimination. He also noticed exploitation, poverty, illiteracy and divisions among the Indians. Vivekananda believed that People should be educated first, and then they themselves seek reformation. He wanted legal institutions to implement appropriate rules to support reformation. He also wanted people to stop following the western ideals blindly. He believed it is the duty of the religion to provide light. Without this, religion is itself is of no use, declared Vivekananda. The one who responds to the poor is Mahatma, and the one who doesn’t is Duratma. He opposed caste system, untouchability and the idea of supremacy based on caste system.

“We should take the humanity to such a place where there are no Quran, Vedas and Bible. Still we need to attain this by attaining unity among Quran, Vedas and Bible…. In our country, there is a need for unity between Hindu and Islam, a Vedic mind in Islamic body is the only path of progress” – Swami Vivekananda’s Works. Series 7, Volume 238.

The Westerners could understand the cultural richness of India with the help of speech delivered by Swami Vivekananda at Chicago city in World Religious Congress in 1893. He attracted the attention of the listeners while speaking at ‘Congress of Religion’ held at Paris in 1900. His speeches mirror his nationalist ideas. Interestingly, he had visited Mysore before his visit to Chicago as a guest of Chamaraja Wadayer X. As per the suggestion of Swami Vivekananda, Chamaraja Wadayer X started schools for untouchable children. Swami Vivekananda wrote books on Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. His thoughts provided impetus to freedom struggle and he asserted that freedom includes social equality also.

Theosophical Society

This society was basically founded by Madam Blavatsky and Colonel H.S. Olcott.They came to Adyar near Madras and established the head office of Theosophical Society in 1886. The main aim of the society was to do a comparative study of various religions, philosophies and science. Another goal was to discover the indomitable spirit hidden in the human. It declared that Universal Brotherhood is important. The society took its basic principles from Hindu sacred scriptures like Veda, Upanishads, Sankya yoga and Vedanta Philosophy and spread these basic principles. The society attempted to find solutions to present problems by studying the ancient Indian thoughts, philosophies and theoretical ideals. Hence, the society basically tried for the reformation of Hindu religion. Interestingly, foreigners took more interest in this process.

With the arrival Irish lady Annie Besant in India by 1893, the movement of the theosophical society started to grow more. She arrived in India as a member of the society. She was born in 1847 in London. She divorced her husband who was a priest at an Anglican Church and became an active member of the society in 1889. She had more knowledge in Vedanta Philosophy. She advocated that Indian culture is far more superior to the western culture which is based on materialism. This movement was reformation movement of Hinduism. She also did a comparative study of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Translating Bagvath Geetha to English is one of the major achievements of her. She was called as ‘Shwetha Saraswathi’. She wanted education for all. She opened schools. She started Central Hindu Benaras College in 1898. The same institution became a university due to the forethought of Madan Mohana Malaviya in 1916. She started two periodicals ‘New India’ and ‘Common Wealth’ to initiate discussion on current problems and social issues. She started Home Rule League in 1916 and initiated Home Rule Movement in Madras region. The credit of creating religious reformation movement and a new sensibility for Hinduism in the early nineteenth century should go to the Theosophical Society and its part and parcel Ms Annie Besant. Ms Besant was active in the freedom struggle movement and became the first women president of Indian National Congress.

Home Rule:

The Irish people who were under the rule of the British, started Home Rule movement to assert their rights of self-governing. Influenced by this, Annie Besant started home rule movement in India also. Two Home Rule movements were in existence in India by 1916. One movement based itself in Poona and covered areas like Maharastra, central provinces, Birar region and northern part of present of Karnataka under the leadership of Tilak. Another Home Rule movement was based at Madras under the leadership of Annie Besant. Tilak ran periodicals like ‘Maratha’ and ‘Kesari’ whereas Annie Besant ran periodicals like ‘New India’, ‘Common Wealth’ and ‘Young India’.

 Sri Narayana Dharma ParipalanaYogam

Sri Narayana Guru started reformation movement in 1903. This started Elavu of Kerala. This movement aimed at strengthening the backward and exploited communities. Narayana Guru (1854-1928) and his companions Dr. Pallpu and Kumaran Assan led the movement.

The caste differences were too much in Kerala and there were many prohibitions in place. During that period, all were not allowed to use facilities like tanks and roads. They were barred from wearing footwear. Restrictions were there on women’s dress also. These communities had to live without basic human rights. In order to address this issue, Sri Narayana Guru started Dharma Paripalana Yogam movement. One Caste, One Religion and One God for human beings was the basic idea of Sri Narayana Guru. Education is the only path to achieve this he declared. He built temples for the backward communities as they were denied entry into temples.

Narayana Guru and his companions started ‘Viakom Movement’, a temple Entry movement in 1924. Gandhiji and Periyar, the architect of selfrespect movement participated in this. The temple entry of Guruvayoor temple was a major incident.


By the beginning of twentieth century, a Non-Brahmin movement started in South India. The majority Non-Brahmins launched agitations demanding representations in government sector as per their population. It became a major movement in many states like Karnataka later. The non- Brahminical communities opposed restrictions against them. This was possible due to the English Education. The census reports published after 1870s, provided a picture of their population. The Justice Party started in 1916 continued the movement in TamilNadu.

Non-Brahmin movement took a new shape under the Justice Party. This became more radical. ‘Self-Respect Movement’ led by E.V.Ramaswami Naicker became a new force. Ramaswamy who came out of Congress in 1925, started Self Respect League in 1926. He was called Periyar (Senior Person) out of love by people. Periyar was born in Erode to a rich family. He believed that Congress is in favour of Varna system and started a new movement based Dravida Racial identity. He rejected the racial supremacy in the name Arya and Brahmin. He said Tamil is language of Dravidians. He opposed Sanskrit language and literature. He also rejected Rama as the Vedic leader and accepted Ravana as the Dravidian leader. Angered by a bad experience at Banaras, he converted Sanskrit, Rama and Ravana as cultural ideals and patronized Ravana. He championed equality and criticized caste and gender based discrimination. He participated in temple entry movement held at Vaikom of Kerala. He became the president of Justice Party in 1939. He started an association called “Dravida Kalagam’. He also started Justice Periodical.

Even today, Periyar remains as an ideological symbol in TamilNadu politics. This is more evident in all the political parties of TamilNadu retaining the word ‘Dravida’ with their names. The ideological Non- Brahminical movement started by Ayonthidas and T.M.Nayar was turned into a cultural movement by Periyar. His life goal was to establish an equal society where there will be no inequality based on caste, religion and gender.

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