Friday, June 25, 2010

Social Reform Movements

Social Reform Movements

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 The newly educated persons increasingly revolted against rigid social conventions and outdated customs. Nearly all the religious reformers contributed to the social reform movement. In addition, certain other organizations like the Social Conference, Servants of India Society [founded by Gopalakrishna Gokhale], and the Christian missionaries worked actively for social reform. .

After 1919 the national movement became the main propagator of social reform. While social reform was linked with religious reform in some cases in the later years of the 19th century it was increasingly secular in approach. The twin objectives of the social reform movements were the emancipation of women and the removal of caste rigidities.

Social evils like child marriages, sati, polygamy, the purdah, denial of education etc made the lives of women quite depressing. All the great social and religious reform movements of the period had made female education the chief plank in their programme. Ram Mohan Roy described Sati as “murder according to every Shastra”.

In the 19th century the social reformers were moved by humanitarian and egalitarian considerations launched powerful movement to improve the status of women. Every effort was made to spread education among women. The first Hindu Girl’s school was founded at Calcutta in 1849. With in a short period of eight years, 100 Government girl’s were founded in Bengal. Eswar Chandra Vidyasagar established 40 girls schools between 1855 and 1858. In 1916, Lady Hardinge Medical College was opened in Delhi to train women in medical science. In 1926, Lady Irwin College was started in Delhi by the All India Women’s Conference.

The widow remarriage movement had started in Bengal in the middle of the 18th century. The Hindu widows remarriage Act was passed in 1856 which legalized widow re-marriage. Maharshi Karve of Poona started a school for Hindu widows which later developed into the Indian Women’s University in 1916. The movement against child marriage also gained progress in the 19th century. The Civil Marriage Act was passed in 1872 which abolished child marriage and polygamy. This Act sanctioned widow marriage and intercaste marriage. In1937, the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act was passed which granted to the Hindu widows claim to a share in their husband’s property.

The growth of the National Movement gave great stimulus to the liberation movement of women. Mahatma Gandhi had accepted the uplift of women as an important part of his programme. Sarojini Naidu became the President of the Indian National Congress in 1925. The All India Women’s conference founded in 1927 gave new initiative and direction to the women’s liberation movement.

Struggle against the Caste System

The Hindus were divided into numerous castes. The caste into which a man was born determined his social position, profession, and everything about the individual. The untouchables had no right to enter the temples or to study the Shastras. Ownership of land was denied to them.The caste system served as a major obstacle in the growth of a united nationalist movement. The caste system hampered social mobility.
The British administration introduced equality before law and opened the doors of administrative services to all castes. Mass contact of castes was also facilitated by industries and transportation facilities.

Nearly all the reformists attacked the caste system. In 1857 M.G.Ranade founded the Indian National Social Conference to fight against caste rigidities. In 1903 the Bombay Social Reform Association was formed and in Madras Mrs. Annie Besant set up the Hindu Association. In 1932 the All India Anti Untouchability League was founded later named as Harijan Sevak Sangh. In 1926 the All India Depressed Classes Association and the All India Depressed Classes Federation were founded.
The Indian National Movement also opposed caste privileges. Mahatma Gandhi campaigned rigorously against the evils of untouchability. His open advocacy of the cause provided inspiration to people all over the country in their fight against untouchability. In 1932, he founded the All Indian Harijan Sangh for the purpose

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