Religious and Social Reformers of 19th Century

In the first half of 19th century, the Indian society was backward due lack of education and subordination of women. This prevented society’s progress. Many reformers came up during this period who contributed to religious and social awakening helped in transforming the society for betterment.

Reformers blended positive Indian values with western ideas and the principles of democracy & equality.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy: founded Brahmo Samaj in 1828.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: dedicated his entire life to social reforms.

Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekanand: Ramkrishna Paramhansa (1836 - 1886) highlighted unity of religions; Swami Vivekanand (1863 - 1902) was his foremost disciple.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan: believed that religion and social life of Muslims could be improved only by imbibing modern western scientific knowledge and culture.

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule: Along with his wife Savitri bai Phule in Maharashtra worked for education of women and lower castes.

Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade: established Poona Sarvajanik Sabha and Prarthna Samaj in 1867 in Bomay to bring about religious reforms.

Swami Dayanand Saraswati: founded Arya Samaj in 1875 in North India for reforming Hindu religion.

Pandita Ramabai: fought for the rights of women and spoke against the practice of child marriage in Maharashtra; started Arya Mahila Samaj in 1881.

Annie Besant: Member of Theosophical Society; came to India in 1893.

Muslim Reform Movement: Mohammedan Literary Society of Calcutta founded by Abdul Latif in 1863.

The Akali Reform Movement: A powerful Satyagraha in 1921 against the Mahants forced the Government to pass a new Gurdwara Act in 1925.

Reform Movement among the Parsis: In mid 19th century, Narouji Furdonji, Dadabhai Naoroji and S.S. Bengalee began religious reform movement among Parsis in Mumbai.

All movements worked to improve women’s status and criticised the caste system, advocated social equality and strived towards liberty, equality and fraternity. Law was passed in 1872 for inter-caste and inter-communal marriages. Marriageable age of girls was raised to ten in 1860 by law and further to 14 for girls and 18 for boys under the Sharda Act, 1929.