Major Social Reform Movements and Reformers

Major Social Reform Movements and Reformers

Scope of Reforms

                 They had both religious and socio-economic nature to it. An interconnection between them were realized which had to be rid of the evils for the nation to progress.

Major social problems lingering at that time was:

  1. Emancipation of women from their plight including abolishing of sati, encouraging women’s education, abolishing child marriages etc.
  2. Dismemberment of social evils such as untouchability and caste system,
  3. Education needed to be propitiated among the masses for enlightenment and building the platform for nationalism.

Major Religious issues:

  1. Idolatry
  2. Polytheism
  3. Religious Superstitions
  4. Exploitation by priests.


Methods of Reforms

  • Reforms from within: It is the general enlightenment of society against societal regression through debates and organizing marches etc
  • Reforms through legislation:


British contributions

  • Female infanticide:Laws against the same were passed in 1795 and 1802
  • Sati was banned in 1829 under william bentinck
  • Widow remarriage act of 1856
  • After 1857,the british government stayed out of reforms in social customs of indians as part of an official policy.However in 1929 they passed The Sharda act which fixed minimum marriage for males at 18 and females at 14.


The Bengali Renaissance (1771-1941)

A socio-cultural and religious reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth century in undivided India’s Bengal province, although the impact of it spread in the whole of India. said to have begun with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833) and continued until the death of Rabindranath Tagore in 1941.The Renaissance was a revival of the positives of India’s past and appreciation of the impact of the Modern West, as it had emerged since the Fifteenth-century European Renaissance.Thus, the Bengal Renaissance blended together the teachings of the Upanishad in order to create public opinion against Hindu superstitions including Sati, infanticide, polygamy, child marriage, caste-division, inter-caste hatred, Dowry, untouchability etc influenced by western education.Movements such as Brahmo Samaj and Young India are synonymous to this.



Reformers in the Renaissance

Henry Vivian Derozio and the Young Bengal

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was born on 18 April 1809 in Kolkata. He  was a fiery Indian teacher and poet and as a lecturer at the Hindu College of Calcutta, he invigorated a large group of students to think independently. His students came to be known as Derozians. He encouraged students to read Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and other free-thinking texts and infused rationalism and patriotism and ,he encouraged questioning the orthodox Hindu customs. He was there from 1827 until he was expelled from the college by the Hindu dominated management in 1831. His contributions were:

  • He gave a profound intellectual backbone to the youth in the college.
  • His ideas had a profound influence on the social movement that came to be known as the Bengal Renaissance in early 19th century Bengal.
  • He also educated on the key social issues such as women upliftment ,abolition of sati and widow remarriage.
  • He also established the ‘Young Bengal’ movement which instilled spirit of free thought and included members such as Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Peary Chand Mitra, , Ramgopal Ghosh etc.
  • These and many other Derozians later managed forerunners of later organisations such as the Landholders’ Society, British India Society, and British Indian Association. Also many of them were involved in Brahmo Samaj.


 Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Roy was born into a Bengali Hindu Brahmin family in Visnagar, Hooghly, Bengal, May 22, 1772 in Murshidabad district,Bengal. Ram Mohan was sent to Patna to study Persian and Arabic in a madrasa. After that he went to Benares (Kashi) for learning the intricacies of Sanskrit and Hindu scripture, including the Vedas and Upanishads. He learnt English language at the age of 22 years. He came in contact with Christian missionaries while working as a ‘writer’ with an appellate court in Murshidabad. This interaction created radical ideas in him.

Ram Mohan viewed education as a medium to implement the social reforms. So, in 1815, Ram Mohan came to Calcutta and the very next year, started an English Hindu College by putting his own savings. He is also started a string of English schools and also, prodded the government to start colleges based on Western Education.Thus he was a great educationalist. He was also a great exponent of Bengali language.

Ram Mohan Roy was a staunch supporter of free speech and expression and fought for the rights of vernacular press. He also brought out a newspaper in Persian called ‘Mirat Ul- Akhbar’ (the Mirror of News) and a Bengali weekly called ‘Sambad Kaumudi’ (the Moon of Intelligence). In those days, items of news and articles had to be approved by the government before being published. Ram Mohan protested against this control by arguing that newspapers should be free and that the truth should not be suppressed simply because the government did not like it.

Finally in 1828 he found the Brahmo Samaj, who challenged traditional Hindu culture and superstitions and indicated the lines of progress for Indian society under British rule which finally led to abolition of sati.He also worked for the emancipation of women and was also staunch supporter for women’s rights for property inheritance and also against child marriage.                               

The title ‘Raja’ was awarded to him by Mughal emperor Akbar, the second in 1831 when Roy visited England as an ambassador of the King to ensure that Lord Bentinck’s regulation of banning the practice of Sati was not overturned and also for promoting free trade in Bengal. He died in Britain at Stapleton, Bristol, on 27 September 1833.

For his contributions he often referred to as the “Father of the Bengal Renaissance” and the “Maker of Modern India”.


Brahmo Samaj

It was started at Calcutta on 20 August 1828 by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Debendranath Tagore as reformation of the prevailing Brahmanism of the time and began the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century pioneering all religious, social and educational advance of the Hindu community in the 19th century. It propagates the worship of monotheistic god and also discarded idolatry. Its achievements are:

  • Abolition of sati due to the pressure put by the samajis on the then governor general William Bentinck in 1828.
  • In all fields of social reform, including abolition of the caste system and of the dowry system, emancipation of women, and improving the educational system, the Brahmo Samaj reflected the ideologies of the Bengal Renaissance.
  • Special Marriages Act of 1872 was enacted to set the minimum age of 14 years for marriage of girls.
  • It also supported social reform movements of people not directly attached to the Samaj, such as Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar movement which promoted widow re-marriage and also inter-caste marriage.
  • Tattvabodhini Sabha found in 1839 by another Brahmo leader Debendranath Tagore also worked alongside the brahmo samaj.
  • First schism of the samaj occurred in 1866 under Keshub Chandra Sen who started the Brahmo Samaj for India with the other led by Tagore; the Adi brahmo Samaj. It was an ideological split with the former reverting away from the hindu components and accepting the teachings of all religions and the doctrine of “God of Conscience” ;while the latter remain in a more inclusive and Hindu sphere of influence.
  • there was again a schism on May, 1878 when a band of Keshub Chandra Sen’s followers left him to start the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj mainly because their demand for the introduction of a democratic constitution.This group consisted of eminent nationalists like Ananda Mohan Bose,Sivanath Sastri etc.Thus the Brahmo Samaj also contributed prominent nationalists leaders who would later form the backbone of the Moderate Phase of the INC.

Debendranath Tagore and the Brahmo Samaj

Debendranath Tagore was born to the Tagore family in Jorasanko, popularly known as Jorasanko Thakurbari in North-western Kolkata. As son of Dwarkanath Tagore, a close friend of Ram Mohan Roy, Debendranath came early into the influence of Brahmoism through the Brahmo Sabha, a reformist movement in Hinduism .

  • In October 1839, he along with his friends started the Tattwa Ranjani Sabha which was later renamed to Tattwabodhini Sabha. Its object was the dissemination of the knowledge of the Upanishads and promotion of religious enquiry.
  • He along with the samaj were instrumental in the movement that led to the abolition of sati.
  • It also had a printing press and Debendranath started publishing the Tattwabodhini Patrika. This Patrika became the principal organ of the Samaj for propagating its views ushering in the era of early journalism.
  • The Brahmo Sabha was formally absorbed into the Tattwabodhini Sabha in 1842 and renamed as Calcutta Brahmo Samaj.
  • n 1848, Debendranath codified the Adi Dharma Doctrine as Brahmo Dharma Beej (Seed of the Brahmo Dharma). In 1950, he published a book titled Brahmo Dharma enshrining the fundamental principles. These principles emphasise monotheism, rationality and reject scriptural infallibility, the necessity of mediation between man and God, caste distinctions and idolatry.
  • Debendranath framed a covenant for the adoption of the Church and to introduce a regular form of Church service for converting Brahmo Samaj into a spiritual fraternity and also syncretic.
  • He thus inspired many generations of reformers and also invigorated the brahmo samaj operation leading it to fulfill its aims.


He also inspired his sons into the reform movement; the most famous being Rabindranath Tagore,


Keshab Chandra Sen

Keshub Chandra Sen was born on 19 November 1838 in kolkata. His grandfather was Ramkamal Sen (1783–1844), a well known pro-sathi Hindu activist and lifelong opponent of Ram Mohan Roy.  He had his education from Hindu college. He was involved with the activities of the British Indian Association in his early life.  He joined the Brahmo Samaj in 1857 and was considered to be youthful entity of the movement.His activities included:

  • During this time in 1860, the Sangat Sabha was established – which was a society of fellow believers to promote mutual spiritual intercourse amongst its members. This sabha sowed the seeds of new Brahmoism in syncretism with tenets of Christianity so as to form a truly universal religion. Thus he significantly enlarged brahmoism and made it more inclusive.
  • He along with the Brahmo Samaj of India, toiled with due diligence on the upliftment of girls and their education.
  • In 1862 Sen helped found the Albert College and were also instrumental in the launching of the Bethune College for ladies and a number of schools in general.
  • He was also spread the goodwill of their philosophy by extensively travelling all over india especially in the south and also through the paper “dharma tattwa” and the weekly ”Indian Mirror”.
  • He also created a syncretic religious philosophy called the “The New Dispensation” which promoted a fraternity, love and also chastised the evils that persisted and enunciated the ideology “God is Conscience” . He also started “Indian Reform Association”.
  • He was also considered close to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and also incorporated his ideologies.

Thus he was a social as well as a religious reformer who invoked rationalism and spread education among the indians especially the Bengalis which laid a groundwork for further reformers and nationalist.



Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born in the Ghatal subdivision of Paschim Midnapore District, on 26 September 1820.He was an Indian Bengali polymath and a key figure in the Bengali Renaissance. He received the titleVidyasagar from the Calcutta Sanskrit College(where he graduated), due to his excellent performance in Sanskrit studies and philosophy. In the year 1839, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar successfully cleared his Law examination. In 1841, at the age of twenty one years, Ishwar Chandra joined Fort William College as head of the Sanskrit department and soon became the principal. He was known to be a very kind hearted man and a humanist  He was also known for his charity and philanthropy as “Daya-r Sagar” or “Karunar Sagar” – ocean of kindness, for his immense generosity. His contributions are:

  1. He was a pioneer in women’s upliftment.
  • He along with other reformers started girl’s schools in bombay and Calcutta.
  • He also encouraged women to study in colleges and personally saw to this.
  • Vidyasagar took the initiative in proposing and pushing the Widow Remarriage Act XV of 1856 (26 July) in India. He also demonstrated that the system of polygamy without restriction was not sanctioned by the ancient Hindu Shastras.
  • Also instrumental in passing of the Special Marriages Act of 1872.

2.Vidyasagar vigorously promoted the idea that regardless of their caste, both men and women should receive the best education. His remarkable clarity of vision is instanced by his brilliant plea for teaching of      science, mathematics and the philosophies of John Locke and David Hume, to replace most of ancient b  Hindu philosophy.   He also set up the Sanskrit Press and Depository, a print shop and a bookstore for this purpose.

  1. A Bengali Connoisseur.Vidyasagar reconstructed the Bengali alphabet and reformed Bengali typography into an alphabet and thus modified the Bengali language. Vidyasagar contributed significantly to Bengali and Sanskrit literature.Vidyasagar’s “Barna Porichoy” is still considered a classic.
  2. He also inspired nationalism through his poetry and was closely acquainted with other reformers such as Prof Madhusudan Dutt, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

Shortly after Vidyasagar’s death, Rabindranath Tagore reverently wrote about him: “One wonders how God, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man!”



Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Sri Ramakrishna was born on 18 February 1836 near Kolkata.Ramakrishna was born in a poor Brahmin Vaishnava family. He became a priest of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. He was a revolutionary religious reformer of his time. He found a different school of thought altogether.

  • He successfully managed to synergise the 3 main school of thoughts at the time- Bhakhti, Vedanta and tantra which was at variance at the time.
  • He broke the frontiers of Hinduism, glided through the paths of Islam and Christianity and revered all the Sikh gurus and thus created a “universal god”.
  • He also was a mystic who also spoke openly about sexuality unthinkable in a conservative society like India.
  • His teachings inspired syncretic version of brahmoism and inspired all its leaders including leaders such as Keshub Chandra Sen and Debendranath Tagore.

This school gave way to some of his greatest disciples including Swami Vivekananda who would then take his psalms to the world. It even influenced many great thinkers and indologists like Romain Rolland and even Max Mueller and enriched their views about indian philosophical thought.


Swami Vivekananda

Vivekananda was born Narendranath Dutta in Calcutta to a traditional Bengali Kayastha family on 12 January, 1853. After his education  he became a member of a Freemason lodge and a breakaway faction of the Brahmo Samaj led by Keshab Chandra Sen and Debendranath Tagore. In 1885 he became a disciple of Ramakrishna paramahamsa and took over his activities  after his death in 1886. Then evolved and emerged the reformer, Swami Vivekananda.

  • He travelled to different parts of India like Varanasi, Lucknow up to the south to Kanyakumari spreading the message of Ramakrishna and his teachings.
  • He chided casteism and untouchability vehemently during his travails and also gathering followers.
  • He also stood for girl’s education as he and his disciple Sister Nivedita established in Kolkata.
  • He refurbished a dilapidated Baranagar Math to the first Ramakrishna Math.
  • He also established the Ramakrishna Mission headquartered at Belur which carries to this day his treatises and psalms.
  • He was the first great philosopher from India who represented and exemplified Indian philosophy and the Hindu religion before the world at the Parliament of the World’s Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. His famous Chicago speech still imbibed in the laurels of history and still remains one of India’s greatest moment till death.


Ramakrishna Math and  Mission

  • established in 1897 By Swami Vivekananda headquartered in Belur near Kolkata.;The Motto of the organisation is “Atmano Mokshartham Jagad-hitaya Cha” which means means For one’s own salvation, and for the good of the world
  • It has become an organisation which forms the core of a worldwide spiritual movement known as the Ramakrishna Movement or the Vedanta Movement which has branches here as well as abroad.
  • Also referred to as the Ramakrishna Order, the Math is the movement’s monastic organisation. Founded by Ramakrishna in 1886, the Math primarily focuses on spiritual training and the propagation of the movement’s teachings.
  • The mission works against the caste system and orthodoxy to spread the message of harmony and spiritual transformation.
  • It also has established a number of educational institutions for spreading education
  • It is also involved in the spreading of Indian culture abroad .
  • It is also involved in running destitute, old age homes and also involved in disaster relief.
  • Its libraries help spread the knowledge of Hinduism to all.
  • The mission activities include:
  1.    Education
  2. Health care
  3. Cultural activities
  4. Rural upliftment
  5. Tribal welfare
  6. Youth movement etc
  • It after its inception has resulted in a harmonious socio-religious movement and that of spirituality and is one the largest organisation working in this front; in the country.


 Reformers in Central and Western India

Swami Dayananda Saraswathi

  • Dayanand Saraswati was born on 12, February, 1824 in Tankara in Rajkot District Gujarat. He was born Mool Shankar.
  • He was a profound scholar of the Vedic lore and Sanskrit language.
  • Denouncing the idolatry and ritualistic worship prevalent in Hinduism at the time, he worked towards reviving Vedic ideologies.
  • He also encouraged widow remarriage and opposed child marriage.
  • He also was one of the foremost opponent of the caste system and the Brahmin orthodoxy calling it a fallacy created by vested interests.
  • Maharshi Dayanand advocated the doctrine of Karma (Karmasiddhanta in Hinduism) and Reincarnation (Punarjanma in Hinduism).
  • Dayananda Saraswati founded Arya Samaj 10th April, 1875 A.D. in Bombay.
  • He was the first to give the call for Swarajya as “India for Indians” – in 1876, later taken up by Lokmanya Tilak.
  • His translations of the Vedas form Vedic Sanskrit to Sanskrit and to Hindu s also his great contribution.
  • He inspired generation of nationalists including Madame Bhikaji Cama, Lala Hardayal, Madan Lal Dhingra, Ram Prasad Bismil, Bhagat Singh, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Swami Shraddhanand, Mahatma Hansraj, Lala Lajpat Rai etc.
  • His book Satyarth Prakash also remained inspirational to nationalists during the freedom movement.

       Arya samaj

  • Arya samaj preached that god is formless, omnipotent, beneficial; immortal, fearless and the maker of-the universe.
  • They established a number of Vedic schools across the country to teach the Vedas to everybody and make it accessible.
  • Thus they campaigned against caste system vehemently opposing and to try the knowledge to all and thus to take away the monopoly of the Brahmins and the Upper Castes.
  • They believed that Vedas are the storehouse of knowledge and religious rites should be performed through Havans and Yajnas
  • Focus on the expansion of education and abolition of illiteracy : A Network of schools and colleges for boys and girls was established throughout northern India to promote the spread of education.Dayanand Anglo-Vedic Schools System founded in lahore in 1886 by efforts of Lala Hansraj  manages hundreds of institutions today.
  • Arya Samajis opposed child marriages and encouraged remarriage of widows.
  • Shuddhi movement:It focussed on reconversion of hindus who had converted to other religions back to hinduism.
  • They also established their samaj abroad at many places to spread the awareness Hinduism and to cater to the spiritual needs of Hindus there.


Balshastri Jambhekar

  • Born in 1812  at Konkan region in Maharashtra.
  • He was the pioneer of intellectual movements here and vehemently opposed to Brahmin orthodoxy.
  • Also opposed the caste system.
  • through his marathi newspaper ‘Darpan’ which was the first in the language he propounded his ideas and also aroused feelings of nationalism.

For he is acknowledged as The Father of Marathi Journalism.

Paramahansa Mandali

  • Found in 1849 by Dadoba Pandurang and a group of his friends.
  • First ever socio-religious movement in Maharashtra.
  • It promoted monotheism and breaking caste rules. Also advocated widow remarriage and the education of women.

Mahadev Govind Ranade

He was born in 1842 at Nashik district Maharashtra. He passed his law degree and then was appointed as a judge and then became a judge at Bombay HC. He was a distinguished Indian scholar, social reformer and author.

  • He was one of the founding members of the Prarthana Samaj and propounded against prevalent social evils.
  • He would also edit a Bombay Anglo-Marathi daily paper, the Induprakash, founded on his ideology of social and religious reform.
  • He educated his wife Ramabai who later became a doctor and also was one of the founders of Seva Sadan which pioneered women’s rights movements.
  • He was also a great educationist and found a number of schools.
  • Ranade was a founder of the Social Conference movement, which he supported till his death, directing his social reform efforts against child marriage, the shaving of widows’ heads, the heavy cost of marriages and other social functions, and the caste restrictions on traveling abroad, and he strenuously advocated widow remarriage and female education.
  • He was one of the founders of the Widow Marriage Association in 1861.
  • He founded the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha which was a socio political body and later was one of the originators of the Indian National Congress.
  • He published books on Indian economics and on Maratha history. He saw the need for heavy industry for economic progress and believed in Western education as a vital element to the foundation of an Indian nation.
  • He inspired several Congress leaders the most prominent among them being Gokhale.



Prarthana Samaj

  • It was founded by Dr. Atmaram Pandurang in 1867 inspired from the Brahmo Samaj.
  • Prarthana Samaj(ists) were followers of the great religious tradition of the Maratha Sant Mat like Namdev, Tukaram and also Hindu scriptures.
  • They were against caste orthodoxy and priestly domination along with idolatry.
  • It inspired great reformers such as R.G Bhandarkar, M.G. Ranade and Veeresalingam.


Theosophical Society (India)

  • Society was introduced to India in 1879 and headquarters was set up at adyar in 1886
  • Annie besant and her associates advocated the revival and strengthening of the ancient religions of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism.
  • They glorified Indian religious and philosophical traditions and helped Indians to recover their self-confidence.
  • It fought against untouchability and advocated upliftment of women.
  • It also gave a much need philosophical and ideological emancipation to the people through Western thought which incentivised further reformers.


Mahatma Jyotirao Govindrao Phule

  • Born in 1827 in Satara, Maharashtra into a poor backward caste family.
  • He along with his wife Savitribai Jyotirao Phule were the pioneers of women’s education movement in India
  • His ‘satya shodhak samaj’, an association he formed in 1873, fought untouchability and caste differences vehemently.The samaj:
    • Opposed idolatry and the need for brahmins as priest class
    • Spread rational thinking and rejected the supremacy of vedas
    • Condemned inequality supported through religious books,customs and rituals.
  • Along with Savitribai opened schools for girls,organised widow remarriages and opened a home for newborn infants to prevent female infanticide.


‘Lokhitawadi’ G.H. Deshmukh

  • Gopal Hari Deshmukh wrote strong articles calling for social reform in a weekly called ‘Prabhakar’ under the penname ‘lokahitawadi’. He also was was involved in many other weeklies like the Gyan Prakash, Indu Prakash etc
  • That group of articles has come to be known in Marathi literature as ‘Lokahitawadi Shatapatre’.
  • Opposed caste system,dowry,child marriages,caste system etc and promoted women’s education and widow remarriage.
  • He wrote against the evils of the caste system which was strongly prevalent in India in his times, condemned harmful Hindu religious orthodoxy. He enunciated certain 15 principles for bringing about religious reform in Hindu society.
  • Was also one of the founders of the Prarthana Samaj and found its branch in Gujarat at Vadodara.


Dr. Dhondo Keshav Karve

  • Awarded bharat ratna in 1958,he was born in 1858 in maharashtra he worked for the emancipation of women.
  • After the death of his first wife,he chose to marry a widow and started to working for the education of women
  • In 1916 he started a women’s college which grew into SNDT womens university in 1920.
  • In 1936, Karve started the Maharashtra Village Primary Education Society with the goal of opening primary schools in villages which had no schools



 Vitthal Ramji Shinde

  • He was born in 1873 in the Bombay State.
  • He was a liberal thinker who opposed the prevailing orthodoxy in society and also the evils plaguing the society.
  • He joined the Prarthana Samaj and started propagating their ideas in Western India.
  • He was the champion of the depressed classes and also women among
  • He established a night school for the children of all untouchables in Meethganjapeth, Pune in 1905.
  • In 1906, he set up the Depressed Classes Mission in Bombay which worked for their upliftment.
  • He also founded the Somvanshiya Mitra Samaj on March 14, 1907 to abolish the Devadasi system amongst Mahar and Mang women.
  • He succeeded in inducing the Indian National Congress to pass a resolution chastising untouchability in 1927.
  • He even established the Akhil Bhartiya Nirashrit Akhil Bhartiya Nirashrit Asprushyata Nivarak Sangha, through which he organized an All-India convention in Mumbai emphasizing on the removal of untouchability, during the years 1918 to 1920. which was supported by the Mahatma himself.

Other major reformers from maharashtra:

  • Pandita Ramabai :One of the most notable women reformers,she established many institutions aimed at education of widows and women in general.These include:
    • Sharada Sadan, an a home cum school institute for widows in Mumbai in 1889
    • Mukti Sadan ,1898 at Kedgaon and later many more such institutes.
    • She also founded the ‘Arya Mahila Samaj at Pune in 1882.
    • She also started a number of missionary schools especially for girls for their upliftment.


  • Gopal Ganesh Agarkar & Vishnushastri Chiplunkar:Cofounders of the famous Kesari (Marathi) and Maratha (english) newspapers they constantly worked for the eradication of evils like untouchability.They also worked in the field of education.Agarkar was one of the founders of the Fergusson college,Pune. He also found the Deccan Education Society in 1884,
  • Jamnalal Bajaj:Founder of the Bajaj industries he vehemently fought untouchability and worked for entry of harijan into temples.He dedicated his wealth to the upliftment of the downtrodden.


Bhim Rao Ambedkar

Ambedkar was born in Mhow in Central Provinces to the backward Mahar caste who were considered untouchables. He after his education was one the greatest emancipator of the oppressed dalits in modern India. He along with other leaders imbued measures such as Article 16 which outlawed untouchability and also other measures which gave these classes guaranteed constitutional reservations in education, profession etc.

  • While practising law in the Bombay High Court, he tried to uplift the untouchables in order to educate them.
  • In 1920, he began the publication of the weekly Mooknayak(Leader of the Silent) in Mumbai with the help of Shahu II (1874–1922), Maharaja of Kolhapur and in it vehemently opposing the untouchability.
  • He also convened and attended conferences to voiced his opinion against untouchability especially in Bombay and Pune.
  • His first organised attempt to achieve this was the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha, which was intended to promote education and socio-economic improvement, as well as the welfare of “outcastes”, at the time referred to as depressed class
  • By 1927 Ambedkar decided to launch active movements against untouchability. He began with public movements and marches to open up and share public drinking water resources, also he began a struggle for the right to enter Hindu temples. He led a satyagraha in Mahad to fight for the right of the untouchable community to draw water from the main water tank of the town.
  • Perhaps his most important satyagraha march was that to the Kalaram temple  to open up the temple for untouchables.
  • Ambedkar through the Poona pact successfully negotiated a permanent political solution for the depressed classes which ensured them political representation.
  • He also formed political movements such as the Independent Labour Party and also Schedule Caste Federation which contested the polls on their behalf.
  • Perhaps a much less talked about contribution was his revitalization of Buddhism which gained prominence under him.

The Ambedkarites as the Mahars in Maharashtra is called still remains the most emancipated and progressive of the Schedule Castes due to the efforts of this great man they lovingly referred to as “Babasaheb”.


South India


EV Ramaswami Naicker

  • Popularly known as periyar.Started the self respect movement.
  • Started a paper named ‘Kudi arasu’ and vehemently opposed caste system and brahmin supremacy and proclaimed religion and shastras as irrational.
  • Strong supporter of women’s rights,opposed child marriages and argued in favour of widow remarriage.
  • The movement,initially limited to upper class of non brahmins later turned political and became dravida kazhagam.
  • He also gave the deprived classes political and social ambitions and upliftment.


Andhra Pradesh

Kandukuri Veeresalingam

  • He was born in 1848 at Rajamundry.
  • He is widely considered as the man who first brought about a renaissance in Telugu people and Telugu literature, influenced by the ideals of Brahmo Samaj particularly those of Keshub Chandra Sen.
  • He started Vivekavardhini, a monthly journal, to point out and criticize the defects in the society and started a column exclusively to highlight the plight of women. He also ran several other journals and wrote reformist articles in them.
  • He established in 1874 a girls school at Dhavaleswaram to encourage women’s education and  followed up with a number of other schools in Seemandhra.
  • He also established an organization called Hitakarini Society and donated all his property for the social activities to improve the society and support various organizations set up by him which went on to establish a number widow’s homes and schools especially in Rajamundry.
  • He ridiculed the opponents of women’s education in many satires, lampoons and drama like Brahma Vivaham and criticized early marriages
  • He was also a great critic and writer and in his books like “Abhagyopakhyanamu” he criticized the persistent orthodoxy and backwardness in the society.



Sri Narayana Guru(1856-1928)

  • Born in 1856 into a ezhava (a caste considered low) family, he championed the cause of lower castes in India and led to one of the most successful reform movements in the country.
  • He gave his disciples the motto of “One Jati(Caste) One Religion, One God for Man”
  • SNDP,an organisation he formed in 1903,grew into one of the most successful ones in the field of social reform
  • SNDP today today runs hundreds of educational institutions at all levels from schools to colleges and has contributed immensely to the upliftment of not only lower castes but of the kerala society as a whole.
  • Sivagiri,an ashram he founded in 1904,holds his tomb and is a place of annual pilgrimage.

Ayyankali (1863-1941)

  • Another leader who was born among lower castes,he formed sadhu jana paripalana sangam in 1907 for the upliftment of dalits in kerala society.
  • He was nominated to the assembly of Travancore, namely, Sri Moolam Legislative Assembly in 1912 and for 28 years was the voice of dalits in the assembly.
  • Due to the struggles and efforts of SJPS and SNDP by 1914,schools were opened to dalits and dalit women who did not have the right to cover their nakedness were given the right to do so.


Vaikom satyagraha,guruvayur Satyagraha and temple entry proclamation

  • Vaikom(1924-25):It started as a movement to throw open the roads around vaikom siva temple to the lower castes.It snow balled onto a major incident after the congress took it up.
    • EV ramaswamy naicker came with his wife nagamma and joined satyagrahis.He was imprisoned for his role in satyagraha.
    • Soon Gandhiji came and personally motivated the satyagrahis.He also tried to persuade the authorities to relent.
    • After trying to brutally suppress the satyagrahis the authorities and the orthodox relented partially by opening roads on 3 sides of temple to all castes.


  • Guruvayur(1931-32):This was organised to gain entry for all hindus,irrespective of caste,into the famous temple at guruvayur.Noted for the considerable support it generated from many learned men of upper caste,the satyagraha could not achieve its objective and had to be withdrawn But it was another step closer to achieving equality of castes
  • Temple entry proclamation(1936):As a result of satyagrahas for temple entry,pressures from reform organisations like SNDP and due to his own personal conviction Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma ,the king of erstwhile princely state of travancore threw open the temples of his dominions to all hindus irrespective of their caste.The step which was hailed all over the country and earned commendations from gandhi and other leaders,was the first such of a major princely state in India.It gave a big boost to the social reform movement in Kerala and resulted in the gradual erosion of social disablities imposed upon lower castes in the state.



  • Mohammedan Literary Society was founded in Calcutta in 1863 by Nawab Abdul Latif
  • Ahmadiyya movement founded by Mirza ghulam ahmad in 1889,can be termed a reform movement in that it tried to give religious recognition to modern scientific and religious progress.

Syed Ahmed Khan and Aligarh movement

  • Syed Ahmed khan was born on October 17, 1817 in Delhi
  • After the revolt of 1857, he saw the critical role of modern education including english and science for the empowerment of the poor and backward Muslim community.
  • He also promoted the ideals of secularism and cultivated it at the hearts of the youth.
  • He was also famous for promoting the puritan ‘Urdu’ language.
  • He set up a Scientific Society in Aligarh in 1863 to create a scientific temperament among the Muslims and the society started The Aligarh Institute Gazette  in 1866 to promote its cause
  • In 1875, Sir Syed founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental School (M. A. O.), Aligarh.It became a college in 1877 and aligarh muslim university in 1920
  • He instituted All India Muslim Educational Conference in 1886
  • The Aligarh Movement motivated the Muslims to help open a number of educational institutions and was the first significant step in the reform of muslim community.


Sikh reform movements

Sikhism was a simple region as envisaged by Guru nanak.But in due course started to degrade due to accumulation of power and wealth,development of complex rituals etc.thus reform was necessary

Nirankari movement

  • By baba dayal dass(contemporary of Ranjit singh)
  • Introduced Anand Karaj which simplified marriage rituals,condemned worship of graves
  • .His son Baba Darbara singh and brother Baba Rattaji took the movement forward after him.
  • Nirankari means formless god because he preached worship of a formless god instead of human gurus

Namdhari movement (Turned into KUKA revolt)

  • Also called Kuka sect.started by bhagat jawahar mahal.Strengthened under baba ram singh
  • Opposed caste system,Infanticide,child marriages and Advocated vegetarianism,use of white clothes.
  • Founding of Namdhari sect is believed to be around 1840.
  • Movement later turned fanatic and many butchers were killed by kukas in amritsar malerkotla etc
  • Due to political nature acquired by movement,a serious outbreak of violence against british occurred and many leaders were blown by cannons in 1872 and ramsingh was exiled

Singh sabha movement(founded 1873)

  • Progressive non political and focused on education of sikhs
  • Created schools,colleges (eg:Khalsa college amritsar founded 1892)etc and often received patronage from british officials.

The Akali movement

  • During time of persecution control of Gurdwaras passed to control of udasis who were initially of high integrity and character.Later some udasis turned controllers of religious institutions and came to be called mahants and Mahants started enjoying wealth of temples and jagirs attached to them as their property.
  • Aimed at regaining control of shrines.started by the political wing of singh sabha.
  • After gaining control of shrine at sialkot,Akalis turned to golden temple and the akal takht at amritsar. Golden temple was governed by a government appointed 10 member committee lead by a sarbarah.The priests at golden temple did not allow prayer offerings by lower castes which was against the basic tenets of sikhism.
  • Akalis marched to the golden temple and gained control of it and formed a committee for its management which became the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.
  • Nankana tragedy: 20 feb 1921,the akalis who marched to Nankana (birth place of Guru nanak) to take control of shrines there were attacked by the men led by the mahant of gurdwara janam asthan.130 men were killed.Gandhiji visited nankana and advised akalis to broaden their movement.
  • Toshakhana Key’s affair: The keys of Toshakhana (treasury) of golden temple was taken away by british deputy commissioner.Akalis joined by congress volunteers launched a strong agitation and the british were forced to give the keys back.
  • Guru ka bagh morcha: 1922,Akalis who collected wood from trees attached to the gurdwara guru ka bagh were arrested by police who claimed the wood was property of the mahant of the gurdwara.Agitations started and government arrested over 5000 people.and started cruelly beating them up.This drew criticism and again british relented by releasing all arrested and leaving the wood free to use for the community kitchen.

The akali movement came to its end with the passing of gurdwara bill 1925 which gave right to govern shrines to elected bodies of sikhs.The movement was significant in that it ended the caste system among sikhs,destroyed the evil authority of mahants and ended immoral practices that were practiced in gurdwaras.



  • Rahnumai maz’dayan sabha or religious reform association founded by nauroji furdoonji,dadabhai naoroji,ss bengali etc in 1851 with support by KR Cama
  • Behramji Malabari:a Parsee journalist and writer,he was an advocate of women’s social reform in India and a champion of women’s suffrage.


Kharshedji Rustomji Cama

  • He was born in 1831 at Bombay.
  • He also lifelong advocate of education and also women’s upliftment on the whole especially among the Parsis. He was a founding director of the Alexandra Native Girls’ English Institution
  • Cama supported the major reformist publication Rast Goftar (“Herald of Truth”), founded in 1851.
  • Cama was a member of the Amelioration Society set up in 1855 by Merwanji Framji Panday, which brought together reformers and conservative Parsis.
  • Cama emerged as the leading religious reformer of the period, and founded an association, the Zartoshti Din ni Khol Karnari Mandali (“Society for Promoting Research on the Zoroastrian Religion”) to promote his views, based on a meeting with dasturs in 1864.
  • His studies in Europe of Avestan and Pahlavi gave him assurance in criticising scholarly deficiencies of the local priesthood and their orthodoxy.
  • Cama worked for the organization of Parsi madressas (madrasas) and also started teaching their in Pahlavi.
  • His treatise Peqambar Asho Zarthosht na Janmara no Eheval, a Life of Zoroaster based on Avestan sources created a broad understanding among the parsis of their religion and in a progressive manner.


Organisation year Founders
Sevasadan 1908 BM malabari and DD gidumal
servants of india society 1905 Gopalkrishna gokhale
social service league 1911 NM joshi
Mahar movement   BR ambedkar
Nair service society 1914 Mannathu padmanabhan


One thought on “Major Social Reform Movements and Reformers”

  1. Dr. Ambedkar didn’t started Mahar Movement, his work was, Humans Liberation from the confinement of religious and caste evil system by socio-eco and educational means.

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