Topic outline

    • Women, Caste and Reform

      Q28. Why did Phule dedicate his book Gulamgiri to the American movement to free slaves?

      Ans. In 1873, Phule wrote a book named Gulamgiri, meaning slavery. Some ten years before this, the American Civil War had been fought, leading to the end of slavery in America. Phule dedicated his book to all those Americans who had fought to free slaves, thus establishing a link between the conditions of the “lower” castes in India and the black slaves in America. This comparison also had the expression of hope that one day, like the end of slavery in America, there would be an end to all sorts of caste discriminations in Indian Society.

      Q29. What did Raja Ram Mohan Roy do to end the practice of sati?
      How did Raja Ram Mohan Roy abolish sati system?
      What steps did Raja Ram Mohan Roy take to eradicate sati?

      Ans.  Rammohun Roy was particularly moved by the problems widows faced in their lives. He began a campaign against the practice of sati. Rammohun Roy was well versed in Sanskrit, Persian and several other Indian and Europeon languages. He tried to show through his writings that the practice of widow burning had no sanction in ancient texts. By the early nineteenth century, many British officials had also begun to criticise Indian traditions and customs. They were therefore more than willing to listen to Rammohun who was reputed to be a learned man. In 1829, sati was banned.


      Q30. What do you know about Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai? What did they do for improving the condition of women?

      Ans.   Tarabai Shinde, a woman educated at home at Poona, published a book, Stripurushtulna, (A Comparison between Women and Men), criticizing the social differences between men and women.

      Pandita Ramabai, a great scholar of Sanskrit, felt that Hinduism was oppressive towards women, and wrote a book about the miserable lives of upper-caste Hindu women. She founded a widows’ home at Poona to provide shelter to widows who had been treated badly by their husbands’ relatives. Here women were trained so that they could support themselves economically.

      Q31. How did Jyotirao the reformers justify their criticism of caste inequality in society?

      Ans. Jyotirao developed his own ideas about the injustices of caste society. He did not accept the Brahmans’ claim that they were superior to others, since they were Aryans. Phule argued that the Aryans were foreigners, who came from outside the subcontinent, and defeated and subjugated the true children of the country – those who had lived here from before the coming of the Aryans. As the Aryans established their dominance, they began looking at the defeated population as inferior, as lowcaste people. According to Phule, the “upper” castes had no right to their land and power: in reality, the land belonged to indigenous people, the so-called low castes.


      Q32. In the British period, what new opportunities opened up for people who came from castes that were regarded as “low”?

      Ans. Many new opportunities opened up for people who came from castes that were regarded as “low” during British period.

                               i.        There was work in the factories that were coming up, and jobs in municipalities.

                              ii.        Expansion of cities in created new demands of labour. Drains had to be dug, roads laid, buildings constructed, and cities cleaned. This required coolies, diggers, carriers, bricklayers, sewage cleaners, sweepers, palanquin bearers, rickshaw pullers.

                             iii.        Some also went to work in plantations in Assam, Mauritius, Trinidad and Indonesia.

                             iv.        The army, for instance, offered opportunities. A number of Mahar people, who were regarded as untouchable, found jobs in the Mahar Regiment.

      Q33. Give an account of the movement that spread in different parts of the country in favour of widow remarriage. Did the movement get success?

      Ans.  By the second half of the nineteenth century, the movement in favour of widow remarriage spread to other parts of the country. In the Telugu-speaking areas of the Madras Presidency, Veerasalingam Pantulu formed an association for widow remarriage. Around the same time young intellectuals and reformers in Bombay pledged themselves to working for the same cause. In the north, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who founded the reform association called Arya Samaj, also supported widow remarriage.

      The movement did not get much success. The number of widows who actually remarried remained low. Those who married were not easily accepted in society and conservative groups continued to oppose the new law.


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