Topic outline

    • Women, Caste and Reform

      Q34. 'Movements were organised by people from within the lower castes against caste discrimination'. Explain.
      Give a brief description of movements that were organised by people from within the lower castes against caste discrimination.

      Ans.   Gradually, by the second half of the nineteenth century, people from within the Non-Brahman castes began organising movements against caste discrimination, and demanded social equality and justice. The Satnami movement in Central India was founded by Ghasidas who worked among the leatherworkers and organised a movement to improve their social status. In eastern Bengal, Haridas Thakur’s Matua sect worked among Chandala cultivators. Haridas questioned Brahmanical texts that supported the caste system. In what is present-day Kerala, a guru from Ezhava caste, Shri Narayana Guru, proclaimed the ideals of unity for his people. He argued against treating people unequally on the basis of caste differences.

      Q35. Why were changes necessary in Indian society?

      Ans.  Indian society had been a prey to many evil practices for long time. Some were:

                               i.        Most children were married off at an early age. Both Hindu and Muslim men could marry more than one wife.

                              ii.        In some parts of the country, widows were praised if they chose death by burning themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands.

                             iii.        Women’s rights to property were also restricted.

                             iv.        Besides, most women had virtually no access to education.

                              v.        In most regions, people were divided along lines of caste. Brahmans and Kshatriyas considered themselves as “upper castes”.

      The above mention social customs and practices made the changes necessary in Indian society.


      Q36. How did women involve themselves in their upliftment?

      Ans.  By the 1880s, Indian women began to enter universities. Some of them trained to be doctors, some became teachers. Many women began to write and publish their critical views on the place of women in society. Tarabai Shinde, a woman educated at home at Poona, published a book, Stripurushtulna, criticizing the social differences between men and women.

      Pandita Ramabai founded a widows’ home at Poona to provide shelter to widows who had been treated badly by their husbands’ relatives. By the end of the nineteenth century, women themselves were actively working for reform. They wrote books, edited magazines, founded schools and training centres, and set up women’s associations. From the early twentieth century, they formed political pressure groups to push through laws for female suffrage (the right to vote) and better health care and education for women.

      Q37. Who was E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker? What did he do to improve the condition of untouchables?

      Ans.  E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker, or Periyar, as he was called, came from a middle-class family. Interestingly, he had been an ascetic in his early life and had studied Sanskrit scriptures carefully. Later, he became a member of the Congress, only to leave it in disgust when he found that at a feast organised by nationalists, seating arrangements followed caste distinctions – that is, the lower castes were made to sit at a distance from the upper castes.

      Convinced that untouchables had to fight for their dignity, Periyar founded the Self Respect Movement. He argued that untouchables were the true upholders of an original Tamil and Dravidian culture which had been subjugated by Brahmans. He felt that all religious authorities saw social divisions and inequality as God-given. Untouchables had to free themselves, therefore, from all religions in order to achieve social equality.


      Q38. Why were Christian missionaries attacked by many people in the country? Would some people have supported them too? If so, for what reasons?

      Ans. Christian missionaries began setting up schools for tribal groups and “lower”-caste children. They were also involved in reform activities as they denounced caste system, sati and advocated education of girls. They were opposed by the orthodox section of the society as they believed that they were trying to interfere in their religious matters. Many people also believed that the ultimate motive of the Christian missionaries was to convert the people into Christianity. Thus, they were attacked mainly by conservative section of people in the society.

      Christian missionaries were supported by many progressive Indians like the reformers and the intellectuals who wanted the Indian society to reform. Many people who had benefitted from the reform activities of the missionaries like the people belonging to various tribes and lower castes also supported them.

      Q39. Why were Jyotirao Phule and Ramaswamy Naicker critical of the national movement? Did their criticism help the national struggle in any way?

      Ans. Both Jyotirao Phule and Ramaswamy Naicker were critical of the national movement. Phule believed that mostly the upper caste leaders were involved in the nationalist movement against the British. He believed that once the British would leave, the people of upper caste would again use their power and authority oppress and subjugate the people belonging to lower castes. This would result in division amongst the people.

      Naicker had joined Congress early in his years. He gradually realised that even Congress was not free from the evil practice of casteism. When a feast was organised by the nationalists within the party, different seating arrangements were made for the people of upper and lower castes. This made Naicker to believe that the lower castes have to fight their own battle.

      Their criticisms did help in the nationalist movement. The forceful speeches, writings and movements of lowercaste leaders did lead to rethinking and some selfcriticism among upper-caste nationalist leaders.

      Q40. Write a short note on the following: The Brahmo Samaj, Derozio and Young Bengal, The Ramakrishna Mission and Vivekananda, The Prarthana Samaj, The Veda Samaj, The Aligarh Movement, The Singh Sabha Movement

      Ans.  The Brahmo Samaj - The Brahmo Samaj, formed in 1830, prohibited all forms of idolatry and sacrifice, believed in the Upanishads, and forbade its members from criticising other religious practices. It critically drew upon the ideals of religions – especially of Hinduism and Christianity – looking at their negative and positive dimensions.

      Derozio and Young Bengal -  Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, a teacher at Hindu College, Calcutta, in the 1820s, promoted radical ideas and encouraged his pupils to question all authority. Referred to as the Young Bengal Movement, his students attacked tradition and custom, demanded education for women and campaigned for the freedom of thought and expression.

      The Ramakrishna Mission and Vivekananda - Named after Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda’s guru, the Ramakrishna Mission stressed the ideal of salvation through social service and selfless action.

      The Prarthana Samaj - Established in 1867 at Bombay, the Prarthana Samaj sought to remove caste restrictions, abolish child marriage, encourage the education of women, and end the ban on widow remarriage. Its religious meetings drew upon Hindu, Buddhist and Christian texts.

      The Veda Samaj - Established in Madras (Chennai) in 1864, the Veda Samaj was inspired by the Brahmo Samaj. It worked to abolish caste distinctions and promote widow remarriage and women’s education. Its members believed in one God. They condemned the superstitions and rituals of orthodox Hinduism.

      The Aligarh Movement - The Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, founded by Sayyid Ahmed Khan in 1875 at Aligarh, later became the Aligarh Muslim University. The institution offered modern education, including Western science, to Muslims. The Aligarh Movement, as it was known, had an enormous impact in the area of educational reform.

      The Singh Sabha Movement - Reform organisations of the Sikhs, the first Singh Sabhas were formed at Amritsar in 1873 and at Lahore in 1879. The Sabhas sought to rid Sikhism of superstitions, caste distinctions and practices seen by them as non-Sikh. They promoted education among the Sikhs, often combining modern instruction with Sikh teachings.

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