Positive Contributions of Reform Movements

The socio-religious reform movements of the 19th century had a tremendous positive impact on Indian society. These movements and their leaders gave rise to immense churning in the socio-cultural sphere of India.

Fight against social evils

Most of the reformist leaders were deeply disturbed by the prevalent evil customs and practices of the time and wanted to rid Indian society of such evils. Rammohun Roy was among the earliest of social reformers who had started his fight against social evils. He was a great scholar of ancient Hindu texts and used that knowledge to support his claims while arguing against inhuman practices such as sati. His persistent efforts led to a ban on sati by the British government.

  • Women empowerment - Other leaders like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar worked on improving the conditions of women. His efforts led to the legalization of widow remarriage. Women's education was emphasized upon by the leaders which led to the opening of schools for girls. E.g., Jyotiba Phule's school for girls in Poona. Their efforts also nudged the British government to focus on women's education. Bethune School, founded in Calcutta in 1849, represented the outcome of a powerful movement for women's education.
  • Child marriages, polygamy etc. were among the other prevalent social evils which came under attack by the reformist leaders. Their efforts led to the passage of Child Marriage Restraint Act in 1929, also known as the Sharda Act.
  • Attack on caste system - many among the reformist leaders raised their voice against caste rigidities. Rammohun Roy, Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda and other leaders presented the knowledge from ancient Hindu texts such as Vedas and Upanishads to argue against caste-based discrimination. They argued that caste system was a distortion of Hindu social order which was never so rigid.
    • Leaders such as Jyotiba Phule, Sri Narayana Guru worked towards improving the living conditions of lower castes. Phule's efforts led to the growth of a strong backward classes movement, including the movement of the depressed classes which was later led by Dr. Ambedkar.
    • Sri Narayana Guru was instrumental in leading the temple entry movement for the Ezhavas (an erstwhile untouchable caste in Kerala), which he believed was indispensable in the fight against untouchability. His efforts led to various temple entry movements later on such as Vaikom Satyagraha, Guruvayur Satyagraha etc. which were carried on along Gandhian lines.
    • Fight against untouchability began during the reform movement. Many leaders (including Rammohun Roy, Dayanand Saraswati) had termed untouchability as an inhuman practice, which does not have any religious sanction in Hinduism. Struggle against untouchability later became an important component of Gandhiji's constructive work programme which ultimately led to the abolition of its practice by the Constitution.

Spread of modern ideas and English education

Many among the reform leaders were inspired by modern Western thought which emphasized on the scientific method, rationality, human dignity etc. International events like the American Revolution and French Revolution, which put forward the ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity etc., had deeply influenced many Indians. This made them become advocates of English education in India which can help the spread of such ideas to the masses.

Their efforts resulted in the British government taking up the responsibility for the spread of education in India, starting with the Charles Wood's Despatch, 1854.

Growth of nationalism

The reform leaders argued for the unification of Indian society by setting aside divisions based on caste religion, language etc., on the basis of a common history, culture, equality, and human dignity. They resented the subjugation of Indian people by the British, which they believed had happened due to the weaknesses within the Indian society. They fought for eliminating such weaknesses which can unite all the people of India, driven by modern national consciousness.

The efforts of the reformist leaders were instrumental in the rise of Indian National Movement and have also shaped the goals of post-independence Indian state, reflected in the Preamble to our Constitution.  

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