NCERT Textbook - Women, Caste and Reform Class 8 Notes | EduRev

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Class 8 : NCERT Textbook - Women, Caste and Reform Class 8 Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


107
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 2


107
© NCERT
not to be republished
OUR PASTS – III 108
Have you ever thought of how children lived about two
hundred years ago? Nowadays most girls from middle-class
families go to school, and often study with boys. On growing
up, many of them go to colleges and universities, and take
up jobs after that. They have to be adults before they
are legally married, and according to law, they can marry
anyone they like, from any caste and community, and
widows can remarry too. All women, like all men, can vote
and stand for elections. Of
course, these rights are
not actually enjoyed by
all. Poor people have little
or no access to education,
and in many families,
women cannot choose
their husbands.
Two hundred years ago
things were very different.
Most children were
married off at an early age.
Both Hindu and Muslim
men could marry more
than one wife. In some
parts of the country,
widows were praised if they
chose death by burning themselves on the funeral pyre of
their husbands. Women who died in this manner, whether
willingly or otherwise, were called “sati”, meaning virtuous
women. Women’s rights to property were also restricted.
Besides, most women had virtually no access to education.
In many parts of the country people believed that if a
woman was educated, she would become a widow.
Women, Caste and Reform
9
Fig. 1 – Sati, painted by
Balthazar Solvyn, 1813
This was one of the many
pictures of sati painted by the
European artists who came
to India. The practice of sati
was seen as evidence of the
barbarism of the East.
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 3


107
© NCERT
not to be republished
OUR PASTS – III 108
Have you ever thought of how children lived about two
hundred years ago? Nowadays most girls from middle-class
families go to school, and often study with boys. On growing
up, many of them go to colleges and universities, and take
up jobs after that. They have to be adults before they
are legally married, and according to law, they can marry
anyone they like, from any caste and community, and
widows can remarry too. All women, like all men, can vote
and stand for elections. Of
course, these rights are
not actually enjoyed by
all. Poor people have little
or no access to education,
and in many families,
women cannot choose
their husbands.
Two hundred years ago
things were very different.
Most children were
married off at an early age.
Both Hindu and Muslim
men could marry more
than one wife. In some
parts of the country,
widows were praised if they
chose death by burning themselves on the funeral pyre of
their husbands. Women who died in this manner, whether
willingly or otherwise, were called “sati”, meaning virtuous
women. Women’s rights to property were also restricted.
Besides, most women had virtually no access to education.
In many parts of the country people believed that if a
woman was educated, she would become a widow.
Women, Caste and Reform
9
Fig. 1 – Sati, painted by
Balthazar Solvyn, 1813
This was one of the many
pictures of sati painted by the
European artists who came
to India. The practice of sati
was seen as evidence of the
barbarism of the East.
© NCERT
not to be republished
109
Differences between men and women were not the
only ones in society. In most regions, people were divided
along lines of caste. Brahmans and Kshatriyas considered
themselves as “upper castes”. Others, such as traders
and moneylenders (often referred to as Vaishyas) were
placed after them. Then came peasants, and artisans
such as weavers and potters (referred to as Shudras).
At the lowest rung were those who laboured to keep
cities and villages clean or worked at jobs that upper
castes considered “polluting”, that is, it could lead to
the loss of caste status. The upper castes also treated
many of these groups at the bottom as “untouchable”.
They were not allowed to enter temples, draw water
from the wells used by the upper castes, or bathe in
ponds where upper castes bathed. They were seen as
inferior human beings.
Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many
of these norms and perceptions slowly changed. Let us
see how this happened.
Working Towards Change
From the early nineteenth century, we find debates and
discussions about social customs and practices taking on
a new character. One important reason for this was
the development of new forms of communication. For the
first time, books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets and
pamphlets were printed. These were far cheaper and
far more accessible than the manuscripts that you have
read about in Class VII. Therefore ordinary people could
read these, and many of them could also write and
express their ideas in their own languages. All kinds of
issues – social, political, economic and religious – could
now be debated and discussed by men (and sometimes
by women as well) in the new cities. The discussions
could reach out to a wider public, and could become
linked to movements for social change.
These debates were often initiated by Indian reformers
and reform groups. One such reformer was Raja
Rammohun Roy (1772-1833). He founded a reform
association known as the Brahmo Sabha (later known
as the Brahmo Samaj) in Calcutta. People such as
Rammohun Roy are described as reformers because they
felt that changes were necessary in society, and unjust
practices needed to be done away with. They thought
that the best way to ensure such changes was by
persuading people to give up old practices and adopt a
new way of life.
WOMEN, CASTE AND REFORM
Activity
Can you think of the
ways in which social
customs and practices
were discussed in the
pre-printing age when
books, newspapers and
pamphlets were not
readily available?
†
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 4


107
© NCERT
not to be republished
OUR PASTS – III 108
Have you ever thought of how children lived about two
hundred years ago? Nowadays most girls from middle-class
families go to school, and often study with boys. On growing
up, many of them go to colleges and universities, and take
up jobs after that. They have to be adults before they
are legally married, and according to law, they can marry
anyone they like, from any caste and community, and
widows can remarry too. All women, like all men, can vote
and stand for elections. Of
course, these rights are
not actually enjoyed by
all. Poor people have little
or no access to education,
and in many families,
women cannot choose
their husbands.
Two hundred years ago
things were very different.
Most children were
married off at an early age.
Both Hindu and Muslim
men could marry more
than one wife. In some
parts of the country,
widows were praised if they
chose death by burning themselves on the funeral pyre of
their husbands. Women who died in this manner, whether
willingly or otherwise, were called “sati”, meaning virtuous
women. Women’s rights to property were also restricted.
Besides, most women had virtually no access to education.
In many parts of the country people believed that if a
woman was educated, she would become a widow.
Women, Caste and Reform
9
Fig. 1 – Sati, painted by
Balthazar Solvyn, 1813
This was one of the many
pictures of sati painted by the
European artists who came
to India. The practice of sati
was seen as evidence of the
barbarism of the East.
© NCERT
not to be republished
109
Differences between men and women were not the
only ones in society. In most regions, people were divided
along lines of caste. Brahmans and Kshatriyas considered
themselves as “upper castes”. Others, such as traders
and moneylenders (often referred to as Vaishyas) were
placed after them. Then came peasants, and artisans
such as weavers and potters (referred to as Shudras).
At the lowest rung were those who laboured to keep
cities and villages clean or worked at jobs that upper
castes considered “polluting”, that is, it could lead to
the loss of caste status. The upper castes also treated
many of these groups at the bottom as “untouchable”.
They were not allowed to enter temples, draw water
from the wells used by the upper castes, or bathe in
ponds where upper castes bathed. They were seen as
inferior human beings.
Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many
of these norms and perceptions slowly changed. Let us
see how this happened.
Working Towards Change
From the early nineteenth century, we find debates and
discussions about social customs and practices taking on
a new character. One important reason for this was
the development of new forms of communication. For the
first time, books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets and
pamphlets were printed. These were far cheaper and
far more accessible than the manuscripts that you have
read about in Class VII. Therefore ordinary people could
read these, and many of them could also write and
express their ideas in their own languages. All kinds of
issues – social, political, economic and religious – could
now be debated and discussed by men (and sometimes
by women as well) in the new cities. The discussions
could reach out to a wider public, and could become
linked to movements for social change.
These debates were often initiated by Indian reformers
and reform groups. One such reformer was Raja
Rammohun Roy (1772-1833). He founded a reform
association known as the Brahmo Sabha (later known
as the Brahmo Samaj) in Calcutta. People such as
Rammohun Roy are described as reformers because they
felt that changes were necessary in society, and unjust
practices needed to be done away with. They thought
that the best way to ensure such changes was by
persuading people to give up old practices and adopt a
new way of life.
WOMEN, CASTE AND REFORM
Activity
Can you think of the
ways in which social
customs and practices
were discussed in the
pre-printing age when
books, newspapers and
pamphlets were not
readily available?
†
© NCERT
not to be republished
OUR PASTS – III 110
Rammohun Roy was keen to spread the knowledge
of Western education in the country and bring about
greater freedom and equality for women. He wrote about
the way women were forced to bear the burden of
domestic work, confined to the home and the kitchen,
and not allowed to move out and become educated.
Changing the lives of widows
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, as you have read in
Chapter 7, 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.
The strategy adopted by Rammohun was used by
later reformers as well. Whenever they wished to
challenge a practice that seemed harmful, they tried to
find a verse or sentence in the ancient sacred texts
that supported their point of view. They then suggested
that the practice as it existed at present was against
early tradition.
Fig. 2 – Raja Rammohun Roy,
painted by Rembrandt Peale, 1833
Fig. 3 – Hook swinging
festival
In this popular festival,
devotees underwent a
peculiar form of suffering
as part of ritual worship.
With hooks pierced
through their skin they
swung themselves on
a wheel. In the early
nineteenth century, when
European officials began
criticising Indian customs
and rituals as barbaric,
this was one of the rituals
that came under attack.
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 5


107
© NCERT
not to be republished
OUR PASTS – III 108
Have you ever thought of how children lived about two
hundred years ago? Nowadays most girls from middle-class
families go to school, and often study with boys. On growing
up, many of them go to colleges and universities, and take
up jobs after that. They have to be adults before they
are legally married, and according to law, they can marry
anyone they like, from any caste and community, and
widows can remarry too. All women, like all men, can vote
and stand for elections. Of
course, these rights are
not actually enjoyed by
all. Poor people have little
or no access to education,
and in many families,
women cannot choose
their husbands.
Two hundred years ago
things were very different.
Most children were
married off at an early age.
Both Hindu and Muslim
men could marry more
than one wife. In some
parts of the country,
widows were praised if they
chose death by burning themselves on the funeral pyre of
their husbands. Women who died in this manner, whether
willingly or otherwise, were called “sati”, meaning virtuous
women. Women’s rights to property were also restricted.
Besides, most women had virtually no access to education.
In many parts of the country people believed that if a
woman was educated, she would become a widow.
Women, Caste and Reform
9
Fig. 1 – Sati, painted by
Balthazar Solvyn, 1813
This was one of the many
pictures of sati painted by the
European artists who came
to India. The practice of sati
was seen as evidence of the
barbarism of the East.
© NCERT
not to be republished
109
Differences between men and women were not the
only ones in society. In most regions, people were divided
along lines of caste. Brahmans and Kshatriyas considered
themselves as “upper castes”. Others, such as traders
and moneylenders (often referred to as Vaishyas) were
placed after them. Then came peasants, and artisans
such as weavers and potters (referred to as Shudras).
At the lowest rung were those who laboured to keep
cities and villages clean or worked at jobs that upper
castes considered “polluting”, that is, it could lead to
the loss of caste status. The upper castes also treated
many of these groups at the bottom as “untouchable”.
They were not allowed to enter temples, draw water
from the wells used by the upper castes, or bathe in
ponds where upper castes bathed. They were seen as
inferior human beings.
Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many
of these norms and perceptions slowly changed. Let us
see how this happened.
Working Towards Change
From the early nineteenth century, we find debates and
discussions about social customs and practices taking on
a new character. One important reason for this was
the development of new forms of communication. For the
first time, books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets and
pamphlets were printed. These were far cheaper and
far more accessible than the manuscripts that you have
read about in Class VII. Therefore ordinary people could
read these, and many of them could also write and
express their ideas in their own languages. All kinds of
issues – social, political, economic and religious – could
now be debated and discussed by men (and sometimes
by women as well) in the new cities. The discussions
could reach out to a wider public, and could become
linked to movements for social change.
These debates were often initiated by Indian reformers
and reform groups. One such reformer was Raja
Rammohun Roy (1772-1833). He founded a reform
association known as the Brahmo Sabha (later known
as the Brahmo Samaj) in Calcutta. People such as
Rammohun Roy are described as reformers because they
felt that changes were necessary in society, and unjust
practices needed to be done away with. They thought
that the best way to ensure such changes was by
persuading people to give up old practices and adopt a
new way of life.
WOMEN, CASTE AND REFORM
Activity
Can you think of the
ways in which social
customs and practices
were discussed in the
pre-printing age when
books, newspapers and
pamphlets were not
readily available?
†
© NCERT
not to be republished
OUR PASTS – III 110
Rammohun Roy was keen to spread the knowledge
of Western education in the country and bring about
greater freedom and equality for women. He wrote about
the way women were forced to bear the burden of
domestic work, confined to the home and the kitchen,
and not allowed to move out and become educated.
Changing the lives of widows
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, as you have read in
Chapter 7, 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.
The strategy adopted by Rammohun was used by
later reformers as well. Whenever they wished to
challenge a practice that seemed harmful, they tried to
find a verse or sentence in the ancient sacred texts
that supported their point of view. They then suggested
that the practice as it existed at present was against
early tradition.
Fig. 2 – Raja Rammohun Roy,
painted by Rembrandt Peale, 1833
Fig. 3 – Hook swinging
festival
In this popular festival,
devotees underwent a
peculiar form of suffering
as part of ritual worship.
With hooks pierced
through their skin they
swung themselves on
a wheel. In the early
nineteenth century, when
European officials began
criticising Indian customs
and rituals as barbaric,
this was one of the rituals
that came under attack.
© NCERT
not to be republished
111
 “We first tie them down to the pile”
Rammohun Roy published many pamphlets to spread his
ideas. Some of these were written as a dialogue between the
advocate and critic of a traditional practice. Here is one
such dialogue on sati:
ADVOCATE OF SATI:
Women are by nature of inferior understanding,
without resolution, unworthy of trust … Many of
them, on the death of their husbands, become desirous
of accompanying them; but to remove every chance
of their trying to escape from the blazing fire, in
burning them we first tie them down to the pile.
OPPONENT OF SATI:
When did you ever afford them a fair opportunity of
exhibiting their natural capacity? How then can you
accuse them of want of understanding? If, after
instruction in knowledge and wisdom, a person cannot
comprehend or retain what has been taught him, we
may consider him as deficient; but if you do not
educate women how can you see them as inferior.
Activity
This argument was
taking place more
than 175 years ago.
Write down the
different arguments
you may have heard
around you on the
worth of women.
In what ways have
the views changed?
†
WOMEN, CASTE AND REFORM
Fig. 4 – Swami Dayanand
Saraswati
Dayanand founded the Arya Samaj
in 1875, an organisation that
attempted to reform Hinduism.
For instance, one of the most famous reformers,
Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, used the ancient texts to
suggest that widows could remarry. His suggestion was
adopted by British officials, and a law was passed in
1856 permitting widow remarriage. Those who were
against the remarriage of widows opposed Vidyasagar,
and even boycotted him.
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.
Yet, 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.
Source 1
© NCERT
not to be republished
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