Social Reforms Movements During Colonial Period
A reform movement attempts to improve conditions within an existing social system without changing the fundamental structure of the society itself. Reforms are often linked with belief systems, rituals and life styles of the concerned people. There are several examples of reform movements in India. The most well-known reform movement was the Bhakti (devotional) movement of medieval India. It was an allIndia movement which involved the lower caste people and the poor. It insisted on love of God as the most significant thing in religion. I t protested against ritualism and caste barriers. Thus, the primary objective of the movement was to reform world view and social practices of the people. It ne ver tried to transform the social system radically, but advocated partial changes in the value system.
Sati was banned after pressure was mounted by Brahmo Samaj movement
Several reform movements also engendered the socio cultural regeneration, which occurred in the nineteenth century in India. It started with the formation of the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal in 1828 which had braches in several parts of the country. Apart from the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal, the Prarthana Samaj in Maharashtra and the Arya Samaj in Punjab and north India were some of the other reform movements among the Hindus. The work of reformation was also undertaken by other organizations which were led by the backward castes and the members of other religious groups. For example, the Satya Shodhak Samaj of Jyothiba Phule in Maharashtra and the Sri Narayan Dharma Paripalan Sabha in Kerala were started by the backward castes. Similarly, the Ahmadiya and Aligarh movements represented the spirit of reform among Muslims. The Sikhs had their Singh Sabha and the Parsees, the Rehnumai Mazdeyasan Sabha. The major concerns of these movements and the organizations were no doubt religious reform, but the social content was not missing from them. These movements brought about remarkable changes in the life of the people.
- The Arya Samaj movement was an outcome of reaction to western influences. It was revivalist in form though not in content. The founder, Swami Dayanand, rejected western ideas and sought to revive the ancient religion of the Aryans.
- Mulshanker (1824-83) popularly known as Dayanand was born in a Brahmin family living in the old Morvi state in Gujarat. His father, a great Vedic scholar, also assumed the role of the teacher and helped young Mulshankar acquire good insight into Vedic literature, logic, philosophy, ethics etc. Dayanand's quest for the truth goaded him to yogabhyas (contemplation or communion) and to learn yoga it was necessary to leave home. For fifteen years (1845-60) Dayanand wandered as an ascetic in the whole of India studying Yoga. In 1875 he formally organized the first Arya Samaj unit at Bombay. A few years later the headquarters of the Arya Samaj was established at Lahore. For the rest of his life, Dayanand extensively toured India for the propagation of his ideas- Aryan religion to be the common religion of all, a classless and casteless society, and an India free from foreign rule. He looked on the Vedas as India's 'Rock of ages' - the true and original seed of Hinduism. His motto was 'Go back to the Vedas'. He gave his own interpretation of the Vedas. He disregarded later texts as the work of lesser men and responsible for the evil practices of idol worship and preached unity of god -head. His views were published in his famous work Satyartha Prakash (The True exposition).
- Dayanand launched a frontal attack on the numerous abuses (like idolatry, polytheism, belief in magic, charms, animal scarifies, feeding the dead through Shradhs etc.) that had crept into Hindu religion in the 19th century. He rejected the popular Hindu philosophy which held that the physical world is an illusion (maya), that man's soul is merely a part of God, temporarily separated from God by its embodiment in the illusory mask of the body and that man's object, therefore, was to escape the world where evil existed and to seek union with God. Against this belief, Dayanand held that God, soul and matter (prakriti) were distinct and eternal entities and every individual had to work out his own salvation in the light of the eternal principles governing human conduct. In rejecting monism, Dayanand also gave a severe blow to the popular belief in predetermination. The Swami contended that human beings were not playthings of fate and as such no one could avoid responsibility for his actions on the plea that human deeds were predetermined. Dayanand accepted the doctrine of karma, but rejected the theory of niyati (destiny). He explained that the world is a battlefield where every individual has to work out his salvation by right deeds.
- Dayanand challenged the dominant position of the Brahmin priestly class in the spiritual and social life of the Hindus. He ridiculed the claim of priests that they could act as intermediaries between man and God. The Swami asserted every Hindu's right to read and interpret the Vedas. He strongly condemned the caste system based on birth, though he subscribed to the Vedic notion of the four-Varna system in which a person was not born in any Varna (caste) but was identified as Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra according to the occupation he followed. The Swami was also a strong advocate of equal status between men and women; he pleaded for widow remarriage and condemned child marriages. In a sarcastic language he described the Hindu race as "the children of children".
- It should be clearly understood that Dayanand's slogan of 'Back to the Vedas' was a call for revival Vedic learning and Vedic purity of religion and not revival of Vedic times. He accepted modernity and displayed patriotic attitude to national problems.
- The creed and principles of the Arya Samaj first defined at Bombay in 1875 were revised at Lahore in 1877. The Ten Principles were approved by Dayanand and have remained unaltered to this day.
- The principles are:
- God is the primary source of all true knowledge.
- God who is All-truth, All-knowledge, Almighty, Immortal, Creator of universe, alone is worthy of worship.
- The Vedas are the books of true knowledge.
- An Arya should always be ready to accept truth and abandon untruth.
- All actions must conform to dharma, that means after due consideration of right and wrong.
- The principal aim of this Samaj is to promote the world's well-being, material, spiritual and social.
- All persons should be treated with love and justice.
- Ignorance should be dispelled and knowledge increased.
- Everybody should consider his own progress to depend on the uplift of all others.
- Social well-being of mankind should be placed above the individual's well being.
The logo of Arya Samaj
- Perhaps the most phenomenal achievement of the Arya Samaj had been in the field of social reform and spread of education. The Samaj based its social programme entirely on the authority of the Vedas, of course conditioned by rationalism and utilitarianism. The Arya Samaj's social ideals comprise, among others, the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, the equality of sexes, absolute justice and fair-play between man and man and nation and nation and love and charity towards all. The Arya Samaj lays great emphasis on education and enjoins on all Arya Samajists to endeavour to diffuse knowledge and dispel ignorance. The D.A.V institutions spread over the length and breadth of the country are a standing proof of the educational achievements of the Samaj. The nucleus for this movement was provided by the Anglo Vedic School established at Lahore in 1886. The education imparted in D.A.V. institutions combines the best of the modern and classical Indian studies. The orthodox opinion in the Arya Samaj which stands for the revival of Vedic ideal in modern life set up the Gurukula Pathshala at Haridwar in 1902.
- The Arya Samaj movement gave pride, self-confidence and self-reliance to Hindus and undermined the belief in the superiority of the white race and western culture. As a disciplined Hindu organization, it succeeded in protecting Hindu society from the onslaught of Islam and Christianity. Rather, the Samaj started the Shuddhi movement to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism. Further, it infused a spirit of intense patriotism. The Samaj always remained in the forefront of political movement and produced leaders of the eminence of Lala Hans Raj, Pandit Guru Dutt and Lala Lajpat Rai. Dayanand's political slogan was 'India for the Indians'.
- While the Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Society appealed to English educated elite only, Dayanand's message was for the masses of India also. The Arya Samaj movement has taken deep roots in the Panjab, Haryana, the Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.
Satya Shodhak Samaj
- In western India, Jyothirao Govindrao Phule (1827-90), struggled for the lower castes. Jyotiba was born at Poona in 1827 in a Mali caste (his family members supplied flowers, garlands etc., to the Peshwa's family and came to be called Phule).
- Some incidents of Brahminical arrogance changed the outlook of Jyotiba. Once Jyotiba was scolded and insulted by a Brahmin for his audacity in joining a Brahmin marriage procession. The Brahmins also opposed Jyotiba in running a school for the lower castes and women. The Brahminical pressure compelled Jyotiba to close the school.
- Jyotiba believed that the Brahmin under the pretext of religion tyrannized over other castes and turned them into their slaves. Jyotiba was ever critical of the Indian National Congress leaders for their neglect of the interest on the weaker sections. He maintained that the Congress could not be called truly national unless it showed general interest in the welfare of the lower and backward castes.
- In 1873, Jyotiba started the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Truth-Seeking Society) with the aim of securing social justice for the weaker sections of society. He opened a number of schools and orphanages for the children and women belonging to the all castes. He was elected as a member of the Poona Municipal Committee in 1876.
- Jyotiba's publications include Dharma Tritiya Ratiya Ratna (Exposure of the Puranas), Ishara (A Warning), Life of Shivaji, etc. In 1888, Jyotiba was honoured with the title Mahatma.
Sri Narayan Guru Dharma Paripalana Sabha (SNDP)
In the state of Kerala, another leader of the Ezhava caste (an untouchable caste), Shri Narayan Guru (1854-1928) established the SNDP (Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam). In Kerala and at many places outside Kerala; Narayan and his associates launched a two point programme for the uplift of the Ezhav as. Firstly, to give up the practice of untouchability with respect to caste s below their caste. As a second step, Narayan Guru built a number of temples which were declared open to all castes. He also simplified rituals regarding marriage, religious worship and funerals. Narayan Guru achieved notable success in transforming the untouchables groups into a backward class. He openly criticized the Congress and Mahatma Gandhi for their lip sympathy towards the lower castes. He criticized Gandhiji for his faith in ChaturVarna, which he maintained is the parent of the caste system and untouchability. He pointed out that the difference in caste is only superficial and emphasized that the juice of all leaves of a particular tree would be the same in content. He gave a new slogan "One religion, one caste and one God for mankind".
- The didactic rationalism of the Brahmo Samaj appealed more to the intellectual elite in Bengal, while the average Bengali found more emotional satisfaction in the cult of Bhakti and yoga. The teachings of Ramakrishna Mission are based on ancient and traditional concepts amidst increasing westernization and modernization. The Ramakrishna Mission was conceived and founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897, eleven years after the death of Ramakrishna.
- Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1834-86) was a poor priest at the Kali temple in Dakshineswar near Calcutta. His thinking was rooted deeply in Indian thought and culture, although he recognized the Truth in all religions. He considered and emphasized that Krishna, Hari, Rama, Christ, Allah are different names for the same God. Unlike the Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission recognizes the utility and value of image worship in developing spiritual fervour and worship of the Eternal Omnipotent God. However, Ramakrishna put his emphasis on the essential spirit, not the symbols or rituals. He stood for selfless devotion to God with a view to the ultimate absorption in Him. This spirituality and compassion for suffering humanity inspired those who listened to him.
- It was left to Swami Vivekananda (Narendranath Datta,1862-1902) to give an interpretation to the teachings of Ramakrishna and render them in an easily understandable language to the modem man.
Ramakrishna Paramhansa (left) and his disciple Swami Vivekananda (right)
- Vivekananda emerged as a preacher of neo-Hinduism. He attended the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in 1893 and made a great impression by his learned interpretations. The keynote of his opening address was the need for a healthy balance between spiritualism and materialism. He envisaged a new culture for the whole world where the materialism of the West and the spiritualism of the East would be blended into a new harmony to produce happiness for mankind.
- The Swami decried untouchability and the caste system. He strongly condemned the touch-me-not attitude of Hindus in religious matters. He regretted that Hinduism had been confined to the kitchen. He frowned at religion's tacit approval to the oppression of the poor by the rich. He believed that it was an insult to God and humanity to teach religion to a starving man. Once he said, "Him I call a Mahatma whose heart bleeds for the poor, otherwise he is a Duratma. So long as millions live in hunger and ignorance I hold every man a traitor who while educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to man". Thus, Vivekananda emphasized the fundamental postulate of his Master that the best worship of God is through service of humanity. In this way he gave a new social purpose to Hinduism.
- Ever since its inception the Ramakrishna Mission has been in the forefront of social reform in the country. It runs a number of charitable dispensaries and hospitals, offers help to the afflicted in times of natural calamities like famines, flood s, epidemics.
- Vivekananda never gave any political message. All the same, through his speeches and writings he infused into the new generation a sense of pride in India's past, a new faith in India's culture and a rare sense of self-confidence in India's future. He was a patriot and worked for the uplift of the people. “So far as Bengal is concerned” writes Subhash Bose “Vivekananda may be regarded as the spiritual father of the modern nationalist movement”.
The Theosophical Movement
- The Theosophical Society was founded by westerners who drew inspiration from Indian thought and culture. Madame H. P Blavatsky (1831-1891) of Russo German birth laid the foundation of the movement in the United States in 1875. Later Colonel M.S. Olcott (1832-1907) of the U.S army joined her. In 1882 they shifted their headquarters to India at Adyar, an outskirt of Madras. The members of this society believe that a special relationship can be established between a person's soul and God by contemplation, prayer, revelation etc. The Society accepts the Hindu beliefs in reincarnation, karma and draws inspiration from the philosophy of the Upanishads and Samkhya, Yoga and Vedanta school of thought. It aims to work for universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour. The Society also seeks to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man. The Theosophical Movement came to be allied with Hindu Renaissance.
- In India the movement became somewhat popular with the election of Mrs. Annie Besant (1847-1933) as its President after the death of Olcott in 1907. Early in her life Mrs. Besant lost all faith, in Christianity, divorced her husband, an Anglican clergyman, and came in contact with theosophy (1882). In 1882 she formally joined the Theosophical Society. After the death of Madame Blavatsky in 1891, Mrs. Besant felt lonely and decided to come to India. Mrs. Besant was well acquainted with Indian thought and culture and her approach was Vedantic as is very evident from her remarkable translation of the Bhagavad Gita. Madame Blavatsky's main emphasis had been on the occult than spiritualism. Mrs. Besant found a bridge between matter and mind, Gradually Mrs. Besant turned a Hindu, not only in her views but also in her dress, food, company and social manners. In India, under her guidance, Theosophy became a movement of Hindu revival.
- Talking of the Indian problem, Annie Besant once said: "The Indian work is, first of all, the revival, strengthening and uplifting of ancient religions. This has brought with it a new self-respect, a pride in the past, a belief in the culture, and as an inevitable result, a great wave of patriotic life, the beginning of the rebuilding of a nation". Besant laid the foundation of the Central Hindu College in Benares in 1898 where both the Hindu religion and western scientific subjects were taught. The College became the nucleus for the formation of Benares Hindu University in 1916. Mrs. Besant also did much for the cause of female education. She also formed the Home Rule League on the pattern of the Irish Home Rule movement.
- The Theosophical Society provided a common denominator for the various sects and fulfilled the urge of educated Hindus. However to the average Indian the philosophy of Theosophical Movement seemed rather vague and deficient in positive programme and as such its impact was limited to a small segment of the westernized class.
Muslim Reform Movements
- If Hindu mind had responded to western influences with a desire to learn, the first reaction of the Muslim community was to shut themselves in a shell and resist western impact.
- The earliest organized Muslim response to western influences appeared in the form of the Wahabi movement (which may more aptly be called the Walliullah Movement). It was essentially a revivalist movement. Shah Walliullah (1702-62) was the first Indian Muslim leader of the 18th century who expressed concern at the degeneration which had set in among Indian Muslims. He voiced his anguish at the ugly departures from the purity of Islam. His contribution to the Muslim reform movement was twofold (a) He urged the desirability of creating a harmony among the four schools of Muslim jurisprudence which had divided the Indian Muslims. He sought to integrate the best elements of the four schools (b) He emphasized the role of individual conscience in religion. He held that in cases where the Quran and the Hadith could be liable to conflicting interpretations, the individual could make a decision on the basis of his own judgement and conscience.
- Shah Abdul Aziz and Syed Ahmed Barelvi popularized the teachings of Walliullah but also gave them a political colour. They aimed at creating a homeland for the Muslims. The beginning was made by a fatwa (ruling) given by Abdul Aziz declaring India to be dar-ul-harb (land of kafirs) and the need to make it dar-ul-Islam. The campaign was initially directed against the Sikhs of the Panjab. After the British annexation of the area in 1849, the movement was directed against the British. The movement was crushed by the superior military force of the British in the 1870s.
The Aligarh Movement
- A legacy of the Revolt of 1857 was the official impression that the Muslims were the arch conspirators in 1857-58. The Wahabi political activities of 1860s and 1870s confirmed such suspicions. However, a wind of change was perceptible in the 1870s. W.W. Hunter's book The Indian Musalman made a vigorous plea for reconciling and rallying the Muslims around the British government through thoughtful concessions. A section of the Muslim community led by Syed Ahmed Khan was prepared to accept this stance of official patronage. These Muslims felt that the Muslim community would forgo its rightful share in the administrative services if they shut themselves in shell and resist modern ideas.
- Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's (1817-98) name stands out conspicuous among the Muslim reformers of the nineteenth century. Born in Delhi in 1817 in a respectable Muslim family, he received education in the traditional Muslim style. He was in the judicial services of the company at the time of the Rebellion of 1857 and stood loyal to the government. He retired from service in 1876. In 1878 he became a member of the Imperial Legislative Council. His loyalty earned him a knighthood in 1888. Syed Ahmed tried to modernize the outlook of the Muslims. He tried to reconcile his co-religionists to modern scientific thought and to the British rule and urged them to accept services under the government. In this objective, he achieved great success.
Aligarh Muslim University is today ranked amongst top Indian Universities
- Sir Syed also tried to reform the social abuses in the Muslim community. He condemned the system of piri and muridi. The pirs and faqirs claimed to be followers of the Sufi school and passed mystic words to their disciples (murids), He also condemned the institution of slavery and described it as un-Islamic. His progressive social ideas were propagated through his magazine Tahdhib -ul-Akhlaq (Improvement of Manners and Morals)
- In his masterly work Commentaries on the Quran, Sir Syed criticized the narrow outlook of traditional interpreters and gave his own views in the light of contemporary rationalism and scientific knowledge His emphasis was on the study of Koran. The word of God, he said, should be interpreted by the work of God which lies open before all to see.
- In the field of education, Sir Syed opened the M.A.O College at Aligarh in 1875, where instruction was imparted both in western arts and sciences and Muslim religion. Soon Aligarh became the centre of religious and cultural revival of the Muslim community. The school became the nucleus for the formation of the Muslim University in 1920.
The Deoband School
- The orthodox sections among the Muslim Ulema who were the standard bearers of traditional Islamic learning were organized:
(i) to propagate among the Muslim the pure teaching of the Koran and the Hadith and
(ii) to keep alive the spirit of jihad against the foreign rulers.
Darul Uloom Deoband in Saharanpur district, Uttar Pradesh is majestic
- The Ulema under the leadership of Muhammad Qasim Wanotavi (1832- 80) and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (1828-1905) founded the school at Deoband in the Saharanpur district of the U.P. in 1866. The object was to train religious leaders for the Muslim community. The school curricula shut out English education and western culture. The instruction imparted was in original Islamic religion and the aim was moral and religious regeneration of the Muslim community. In contrast to the Aligarh movement which aimed at welfare of the Muslim community through western education and support of the British government, the Deoband school did not prepare its students for government jobs or worldly careers but for preaching of Islamic faith. It was for its religious instruction that the Deoband school attracted students not only from all parts of India but from the neighboring Muslim countries also.
- In politics, the Deoband school welcomed the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. In 1888 the Deoband Ulema issued a religious decree (fatwa) against Syed Ahmed Khan's organizations (the United Patriotic Association, and The Muhammaden Anglo-Oriental Association). Some critics observe that the Deoband Ulemas' stance did not stem from any positive political philosophy or any opposition to British government but was mainly influenced by their determination to oppose Sir Syed Ahmed's activities.
- The new Deoband leader Mahmad-u Husan (1851-1920) sought to impart a political and intellectual content to the religious ideas of the school. He worked out a synthesis of Islamic principles and national aspirations. The Jamiat -ul-Ulema gave a concrete shape to Hasan's ideas of protection of the religious and political rights of the Muslims in the overall context of Indian unity and national objectives.
Sikh Reform Movements
- The rationalist and progressive ideas of 19th century also influenced the Sikh community. In 1873 the Singh Sabha movement was founded at Amritsar. Its objective was twofold. It planned to bring to the Sikh community the benefits of western enlightenment through modern education. It also countered the proselytizing activities of the Christian missionaries as well as Hindu revivalists. The Sabha opened a network of Khalsa schools and colleges throughout the Punjab.
- The Akali movement was an offshoot of the Singh Sabha movement. The Akali movement aimed to liberate the Sikh Gurudwaras from the control of corrupt mahants who enjoyed the support of the government. In 1921 the Akalis launched a non-violent, non-cooperation Satyagrah movement against the mahants. The government resorted to repressive measures but had to bow before popular opinion and passed the Sikh Gurudwaras Act in 1922 which was later amended in 1925.
- The Akali movement was a sectarian or a regional movement but not a communal movement. The Akali leaders played a notable role in the national liberation struggle though some dissenting voices were heard occasionally.
Parsi Reform Movement
- The Parsi community could not remain unaffected by the changes that swept India. In 1851 a group of English educated Parsis set up the Rehnumai Mazdeyasan Sabha or Religious Reform Association for the object of "the regeneration of the social condition of the Parsis and the restoration of the Zoroastrian religion to its pristine purity". Naoroji Furdunji, Dadabhai Naoroji, K.R. Cama were in the forefront of the movement. The newspaper Rast-Goftar (Truth-Teller) propagated the message of the Association. Parsi religious rituals and practices were reformed and Parsi creed redefined. In the field of social reform, attention was focused on improvement of lot of Parsi women in society like removal of pardah system, raising the age of marriage and education of women. Gradually the Parsis emerged as the most westernised section of Indian society.