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How freedom movement is related to social and religious reform movement in pre independence India: An Analysis

“freedom movement and social reforms in India”


After the completion of five decades of our existence as a democratic, sovereign republic, it is but appropriate that we look back at the track that we have traversed, take note of our successes and failures in different spheres of our national life, consolidate the gains and correct the mistakes, and march ahead towards a better future. Hence this discussion on systemic reforms and its relationship with freedom movements have been discussed here.

The term Indian independence movement incorporates various national and regional campaigns, agitations and efforts of both Non violent and Militant philosophy. The term encompasses a wide spectrum of political organizations, philosophies, and movements whose aim was to free India from the clutches of Britishers and also to bring mass nationalisation and awakening among Indians.

The various socio-reforms and religious movements which took place in India during the British rule were the expression of the rising of national consciousness and spread of the liberal ideas of the west among the Indian people. These movements increasingly tended to have a national scope and programme of reconstruction in the social and religious spheres. There are certain inter relationships which exist between the way in which freedom movements started and social and religious reforms and how leaders faces problems in bringing the people together which were divided on the line of religion, language, caste, class and culture so that the notion of liability can be imbibed in them. There were many factors responsible for bringing the masses together for freedom movements and one of the ways was bringing social, economic and political reforms.

The enthusiasm of social reform waned considerably with the progress of political struggle, and it was deliberately disassociated itself from the political movement. But the spread of natural course of evolution and education increased the tempo of demand for social reforms and widened its horizons. The demand came from both individuals and organisations. For example the effort of Indian National Social Conference were ably supplemented by others associations and social reformists. The role played by freedom fighters, social and religious reformist as well as organisations and associations are equally important.

The British conquests and the consequent dissemination of colonial culture and ideology had led to an inevitable introspection about the strength and weakness of indigenous culture and institutions. The response was indeed, varied but the need to reform social and religious life was commonly shared convictions. The spirit of reform embraces the whole of India and this was possible only because of rising Nationalism. The main thread which runs through the entire socio religious reforms was the presence of the feeling of unity and mass integration of the people. Two important intellectual criteria which informed the reform movements were rationalism and religious universalism. Social relevance was judged by a rationalist critique. This century witnessed therefore two renaissances in Indian history:

Indian struggle for freedom Socio religious awakening of the masses

Therefore, my project basically deal with the interrelationship of freedom movements and social reforms and how struggle for freedom helped to attained the very needed objective of social reforms with the help of freedom fighters, social reformers as well as associations and organisations.

1.1 Research methodology:

The methodology adopted in making this project is descriptive, analytical and explanatory using quantitative as well as qualitative methods. The researcher has used historical, analytical and descriptive method of writing. Thus both primary data i.e., data collected directly from the subjects and secondary data is used. The study was undertaken in a planned manner to make the systematic investigation of the history of India.

1.2 Objective of the Project:

The objective of the project is to undertake the study of Indian struggle for Independence and social reforms movements prevalent in Indian society at that level of time. My project basically deals with the interrelationship of freedom movements with the socio-religious reforms of Indian society and how it played the most important role in mass nationalisation and integration of the society.

1.3 Hypotheses:

The hypotheses formulated in this project are:

How freedom movement is related to social reforms in Indian society? Did it lead to the awakening of mass nationalisation?

1.4 Mode of Citation:

The researcher has followed a uniform mode of citation throughout this project.

1.5 Literature Survey/Sources:

The researcher has collected the primary data in the form of information collected from different sources like

Literature in the form of books and articles, Mainly taken the help of history literature Internet

1.6 Scope and Limitation

My project basically deals with the relationship between freedom movements and social reforms in India. Though its scope is very large as I have to deal with all aspects of India’s fight for freedom and how this freedom movement was basically related to social reforms. How freedom fighters, social reformers and organisation played important role in mass nationalisation, still I tried to narrow down its scope only to the main events that transformed the entire course of Indian History or one can say that it had brought Indian Renaissance.

Chapter: 2

Interrelationship between Freedom Movements and Social Reforms

The Indian National Movement was undoubtedly one of the biggest mass movements modern society has ever seen. It was a movement which galvanised millions of people of all classes and ideologies into political action and brought to its knees a mighty colonial empire. Various aspects of the Indian National Movement, especially Gandhian political strategy, are particularly relevant to these movements in societies that broadly function within the confines of the rule of law, and are characterized by a democratic and basically liberation polity. The result of freedom movement is basically such where state power was not seized in a single historical moment of revolution, but through prolonged popular struggle on a moral, political and ideological level; where counts of hegemony were built up over the years through progressive stages; where the phases of struggle alternated with “passive” phases.[1]

The Indian freedom of Independence is perhaps one of the best examples of the creation of an extremely wide movement with a common aim in which diverse political and ideological currents could co-exist and work and simultaneously continue to contend for overall ideological and political hegemony over it. What are the outstanding features of a freedom struggle? A major aspect is the values and modern ideals on which the movement itself was based and the broad socio-economic and political vision of its leadership.[2]

Now a question arises; how to interrelate between the Indian freedom of independence and social reforms movements. Before analyzing the full concept of these aspects, it is necessary to establish a relationship between the two. When the struggle for freedom movement started, the leaders faces the major problem of mass mobilization as peoples are divided on the basis of caste, religion, race, class, culture etc. All the peoples have to be integrated so that the feeling of nationality may be imbibed in them. The main framework of our national leaders is the mass appeal which motivated all section of society to become one not only against the exploitative British practises but also against economic, political and social degradations of Indians. The Indian leaders were facing difficulties in the liberalization on two fronts:

Liberalization on horizontal terms that is mass liberalization. Liberalization on vertical terms that is elite representation.

The liberalization of these forces was extremely necessary to ignite the sense of bringing social and economic reforms along with the much needed religious reforms. Social stratification, values, beliefs, political ideas and administration were the modes to respond to the process of encroachment from outside, i.e.

Colonialization Imperializm Modernization

Moreover, emotional integration was also necessary for bringing people together when they had to brought up within the umbrella of nationalism. Basically, nationalisation is a process or product of historical conjecture of social forces through which the linkage not only established and expounded but also qualitatively strengthened. Nationalization is not a product but outcome of maturing social process.

The role of famous freedom fighters such as Mahatma Gandhi, Gopal Krishna Gokale, Lala Lajpat, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Beasant, and the part played by associations were also very important. Like we had Indian National Congress, Bombay Association, Indian National Association Servants of India Society etc. Through the process of socio-economic reforms, they want to bring freedom. Dissolution of prejudices among various classes was an essential instrument to generate the feeling responding to the problems of the nationalisation. These associations became significant forum for criticizing the policies of British government and also they demanded various changes in the political and social scenario. Through national movement a sort of feeling of awakening was there among masses. For example in 1905 Gopal Krishna Gokhale founded Indian National Association of Servants Society whose aim was to train national missionary to promote national interest. Gandhiji also gave new dimensions to INC and thus it became mass organisation and spread to all over India. There were many other organisations like Muslim League, Home Rule League, Hindu Mahasabha, All India Depressed Class Association, All India Depressed Class Federation, all these mass associations had played a key role in Indian freedom struggle.

Moreover, Gandhiji theory of “trusteeship” also gathered support from ideologies and philosophies. Legal environment was also created to facilitate the working of these associations and organisations. Then, mass movement and national awakening of people also played a major role in the freedom struggle like the famous movements of Non Cooperation, Swadeshi, Quit India movement. These movements were the projections of organisational strength of masses and later on it also helped in bringing social reforms in country by eminent leaders and freedom fighters.

Therefore, in the process of freedom movement, freedom fighters could not directly mobilize or influence the people, so they thought of bringing social reforms so that the fight for Independence could have mass appeal.

Further, the Nationalist strategy alternated between phases of massive mass struggle which broke existing laws and phases of intense political agitational work within the framework. The strategy accepted that mass movements by thier very nature had ups and downs, troughs and peaks, for it was not possible for the vast mass of people to engage continuously in a long drawn out extra legal battle that involved considerable sacrifice. Therefore, it becomes necessary to adopt constructive work for mass movements like promotion of khadi, national education, Hindu Muslim unity, the boycott of foreign clothes and liquor, the social upliftment of Harijans formed an important part of nationalist strategy especially during its constitutional phases.

The Indian National Movement for the struggle of freedom and its relation to mass awakening was a popular multi class movement. It was not a movement led or controlled by bourgeoisie nor did they exercise influence over it. Moreover, its multi class, popular and open ended character meant that it was open to the alternative hegemony of socialist ideas. In time, freedom for struggle developed into one of the greatest mass movements in world history. It derived its strength, especially before 1918, from militancy and self sacrificing spirit of the masses. For example Satyagraha as a form of struggle was based on the active participation of the people and on the sympathy and support of the non participating millions. Millions of man and women were mobilized in myriad ways; they sustained the movement by their grit and determination. Starting out as a movement of nationalist intelligentsia, the national movement succeeded on mobilizing the youth, women and urban pretty bourgeoisie, the urban and rural poor, urban and rural artisans, peasants, workers, capitalists and a large number of smaller landlords.[3]

Chapter: 3

The rise of Indian Independence Movement

The term Indian independence movement incorporates various national and regional campaigns, agitations and efforts of both Nonviolent and Militant philosophy. The term encompasses a wide spectrum of political organizations, philosophies, and movements which had the common aim of ending the British Colonial Authority as well as other colonial administrations in South Asia. The initial resistance to the movement can be traced back to the very beginnings of Colonial Expansion in Karnataka by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the British East India Company in Bengal, in the middle and late 1700s. The first organised militant movement was in Bengal, but it later took political stage in the form of a mainstream movement in the then newly formed Indian National Congress, with prominent moderate leaders seeking only their basic rights to appear for civil services examinations and more rights, economic in nature, for the people of the soil.

They used moderate methods of prayer, petition and protest (3p’s). The beginning of the early 1900s saw a more radical approach towards political independence proposed by leaders such as the Lal Bal Pal and Sri Aurobindo. Militant nationalism also emerged in the first decades, culminating in the failed Indo-German Pact and Ghadar Conspiracy during the World War I.

The end of the freedom struggle saw the Congress adopt the policies of nonviolence led by Mohandas Gandhi. Other leaders, such as Subhash Chandra Bose (called Netaji), later came to adopt a military approach to the movement. Yet there were others like Swami Sahajanand Saraswati who along with political freedom wanted economic freedom of peasants and toiling masses of the country. The World War II period saw the peak of the movements like INA movement led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose from East Asia and Quit India movement.

The independence movement also served as a major catalyst for similar movements in other parts of the world, leading to the eventual disintegration and dismantling of the British Empire and its replacement with the Commonwealth of Nations. Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance inspired the American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the quest for democracy in Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the African National Congress’s struggle against apartheid in South Africa led by Nelson Mandela. However not all these leaders adhered to Gandhi’s strict principle of nonviolence and non resistance.[4]

3.1 Background for the rise of Indian  Independence Movement

European traders came to Indian shores with the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498 at the port of Calicut in search of the lucrative spice trade. After the 1757 Battle of Plassey, during which the British army under Robert Clive defeated the Nawab of Bengal, the British East India Company established itself. This is widely seen as the beginning of the British Raj in India. The Company gained administrative rights over Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa in 1765 after the Battle of Buxar. They then annexed Punjab in 1849 after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839 and the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845–46) and then the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848–49).

The British parliament enacted a series of laws to handle the administration of the newly-conquered provinces, including the Regulating Act of 1773, the India Act of 1784, and the Charter Act of 1813; all enhanced the British government’s rule. In 1835 English was made the medium of instruction. Western-educated Hindu elites sought to rid Hinduism of controversial social practices, including the varna (caste) system, child marriage, and sati. Literary and debating societies initiated in Bombay and Madras became forums for open political discourse. The educational attainment and skilful use of the press by these early reformers created the growing possibility for effecting broad reforms within colonial India, all without compromising larger Indian social values and religious practices.

Even while these modernising trends influenced Indian society, Indians increasingly despised British rule. As the British increasingly dominated the continent, they grew increasingly abusive of local customs by, for example, staging parties in mosques, dancing to the music of regimental bands on the terrace of the Taj Mahal, using whips to force their way through crowded bazaars (as recounted by General Henry Blake), and mistreating sepoys. In the years after the annexation of Punjab in 1849, several mutinies among sepoys broke out; these were put down by force

3.2 The Indian Rebellion of 1857

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was a period of uprising in the northern and central India against British rule in 1857–58. The rebellion was the result of decades of ethnic and cultural differences between Indian soldiers and their British officers. The specific reason that triggered the rebellion was the rumoured use of cow and pig fat in 557 calibre Pattern 1853 Enfield (P/53) rifle cartridges. Soldiers had to break the cartridges with their teeth before loading them into their rifles. So if there was cow and pig fat, it would be offensive to Hindu and Muslim soldiers, respectively. In February 1857, sepoys (Indian soldiers in the British army) refused to use their new cartridges. The British claimed to have replaced the cartridges with new ones and tried to make sepoys make their own grease from beeswax and vegetable oils, but the rumour persisted.

In March 1857, Mangal Pandey, a soldier of the 34th Native Infantry in Barrackpore, attacked his British sergeant and wounded an adjutant. General Hearsay, who said Pandey was in some kind of “religious frenzy,” ordered a jemadar to arrest him but the jemadar refused. Mangal Pandey was hanged on 7 April along with the jemadar. The whole regiment was dismissed as a collective punishment. On 10 May, when the 11th and 20th Cavalry assembled, they broke rank and turned on their commanding officers. They then liberated the 3rd Regiment, and on 11 May the sepoys reached Delhi and were joined by other Indians. The Red Fort, the residence of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur, was attacked and captured by the sepoys. They demanded that he reclaim his throne. He was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed to the demands and became the leader of the rebellion.

Soon, the revolt spread throughout northern India. Revolts broke out in places like Meerut, Jhansi, Kanpur, Lucknow etc. The British were slow to respond, but eventually responded with brute force. British moved regiments from the Crimean War and diverted European regiments headed for China to India. The British fought the main army of the rebels near Delhi in Badl-ke-Serai and drove them back to Delhi before laying siege on the city. The siege of Delhi lasted roughly from 1 July to 31 August. After a week of street fighting, the British retook the city.

Despite the sepoys limitations and weaknesses, their effort to emancipate the country from foreign rule was patriotic act and a progressive step. Even in failure it served a grand purpose: a source of inspiration for the national liberation movement which later achieved what the revolt could not. Freedom fighters got the understanding that for involving masses for nationalization they need thier motivation and support and this could be done only by inculcating a sense of nationality through reforms.[5]

3.3 Its Aftermath

The war of 1857 was a major turning point in the history of modern India. The British abolished the British East India Company and replaced it with direct rule under the British crown. A Viceroy was appointed to represent the Crown. In proclaiming the new direct-rule policy to “the Princes, Chiefs, and Peoples of India,” Queen Victoria promised equal treatment under British law, but Indian mistrust of British rule had become a legacy of the 1857 rebellion.

The British embarked on a program in India of reform and political restructuring, trying to integrate Indian higher castes and rulers into the government. They stopped land grabs, decreed religious tolerance and admitted Indians into the civil service, albeit mainly as subordinates. They also increased the number of British soldiers in relation to native ones and allowed only British soldiers to handle artillery. Bahadur Shah was exiled to Rangoon, Burma where he died in 1862, finally bringing the Mughal dynasty to an end. In 1877, Queen Victoria took the title of Empress of India.

3.4 Rise of Organised Movements

The decades following the Sepoy Rebellion were a period of growing political awareness, manifestation of Indian public opinion and emergence of Indian leadership at national and provincial levels. Dadabhai Naoroji formed East India Association in 1867,and Surendranath Banerjee founded Indian National Association in 1876. Inspired by a suggestion made by A.O. Hume, a retired British civil servant, seventy-three Indian delegates met in Mumbai in 1885 and founded the Indian National Congress. They were mostly members of the upwardly mobile and successful western-educated provincial elites, engaged in professions such as law, teaching, and journalism. At its inception, the Congress had no well-defined ideology and commanded few of the resources essential to a political organization. It functioned more as a debating society that met annually to express its loyalty to the British Raj and passed numerous resolutions on less controversial issues such as civil rights or opportunities in government, especially the civil service. These resolutions were submitted to the Viceroy’s government and occasionally to the British Parliament, but the Congress’s early gains were meagre. Despite its claim to represent all India, the Congress voiced the interests of urban elites; the number of participants from other economic backgrounds remained negligible.

The influences of socio-religious groups such as Arya Samaj (started by Swami Dayanand Saraswati) and Brahmo Samaj (founded, amongst others, by Raja Ram Mohan Roy) became evident in pioneering reform of Indian society. The inculcation of religious reform and social pride was fundamental to the rise of a public movement for complete nationhood. The work of men like Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Sri Aurobindo, Subramanya Bharathy, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Rabindranath Tagore and Dadabhai Naoroji spread the passion for rejuvenation and freedom.

By 1900, although the Congress had emerged as an all-India political organization, its achievement was undermined by its singular failure to attract Muslims, who felt that their representation in government service was inadequate. Attacks by Hindu reformers against religious conversion, cow slaughter, and the preservation of Urdu in Arabic script deepened their concerns of minority status and denial of rights if the Congress alone were to represent the people of India. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan launched a movement for Muslim regeneration that culminated in the founding in 1875 of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh (renamed Aligarh Muslim University in 1920). Its objective was to educate wealthy students by emphasizing the compatibility of Islam with modern western knowledge. The diversity among India’s Muslims, however, made it impossible to bring about uniform cultural and intellectual regeneration.

3.5 Rise of Indian nationalism

The first spurts of nationalistic sentiment that rose amongst Congress members were when the desire to be represented in the bodies of government, to have a say, a vote in the lawmaking and issues of administration of India. Congressmen saw themselves as loyalists, but wanted an active role in governing their own country, albeit as part of the Empire. This trend was personified by Dadabhai Naoroji, who went as far as contesting, successfully, an election to the British House of Commons, becoming its first Indian member.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first Indian nationalist to embrace Swaraj as the destiny of the nation. Tilak deeply opposed the British education system that ignored and defamed India’s culture, history and values. He resented the denial of freedom of expression for nationalists, and the lack of any voice or role for ordinary Indians in the affairs of their nation. For these reasons, he considered Swaraj as the natural and only solution. His popular sentence “Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it” became the source of inspiration for Indians.

In 1907, the Congress was split into two. Tilak advocated what was deemed as extremism. He wanted a direct assault by the people upon the British Raj, and the abandonment of all things of British. He was backed by rising public leaders like Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai, who held the same point of view. Under them, India’s three great states – Maharashtra, Bengal and Punjab shaped the demand of the people and India’s nationalism. Gokhale criticized Tilak for encouraging acts of violence and disorder. But the Congress of 1906 did not have public membership, and thus Tilak and his supporters were forced to leave the party.[6]

But with Tilak’s arrest, all hopes for an Indian offensive were stalled. The Congress lost credit with the people, A Muslim deputation met with the Viceroy, Minto (1905–10), seeking concessions from the impending constitutional reforms, including special considerations in government service and electorates. The British recognised some of Muslim League’s petitions by increasing the number of elective offices reserved for Muslims in the Government of India Act, 1909. The Muslim League insisted on its separateness from the Hindu-dominated Congress, as the voice of a “nation within a nation.” A closer look at the mass nationalisation and the reforms process reveals it to have been considerably less novel and far reaching.[7]

Chapter: 4

4.1 Types of Social Reforms

Before discussing the causes of reforms and how independence struggle and reforms went hand to hand, let us briefly analyze what are the types of social reforms were there which the social reformist had used for bringing social change in society. Reform movements are organized to carry out reforms in some specific areas. The reformers endeavour to change elements of the system for better. For example: Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation Movement, Arya Samaj Movement, Brahmo Samaj movement.

4.4.1Revolutionary Movements:

The revolutionary movements deny that the system will even work. These movements are deeply dissatisfied with the social order and work for radical change. They advocate replacing the entire existing structure. Their objective is the reorganization of society in accordance with their own ideological blueprint. Revolutionary movements generally become violent as they progress. Example: the freedom movement of 1857.

4.4.2 Reactionary or Revivalist Movement:

Some movements are known as reactionary or regressive movements. These aims to reverse the social change .They highlight the importance and greatness of traditional values, ideologies and institutional arrangements. They strongly criticize the fast moving changes of the present.

4.4.3 Resistance Movement:

These movements are formed to resist a change that is already taking place in society. These can be directed against social and cultural changes which are already happening in the country.

4.4.4. Utopian Movement:

These are attempts to take the society or a section of it towards a state of perfection. These are loosely structured collectivities that envision a radically changed and blissful state, either on a large scale at some time in the future or on a smaller scale in the present. The Utopian ideal and the means of it are often vague, but many utopian movements have quite specific programmes for social change.

4.4.5 Peasant movement:
Peasant movement is defined by Kathleen Gough as an attempt of a group to effect change in the face of resistance and the peasant are people who are engaged in an agricultural or related production with primitive means who surrender part of their or its equivalent to landlords or to agents of change. The history of peasant movements can be traced to colonial period when repressive economic policies, the new land revenue system, the colonial administrative and judicial system and the ruin of handicrafts leading to the overcrowding of land transformed the agrarian structure and impoverished the peasantry.
When the peasants could take it no longer they resisted against the oppression and exploitation through uprisings. Peasant Movements occupy an important place in the history of social unrest in India though the aims and objectives of these movements differ in nature and degree from region to region. It is in this sense that these movements also aimed at the unification of the peasants of a region, development of leadership, ideology and a peasant elite.

Some of the important peasant uprising:

1770- Sanyasi rebellion
1831- Wahabi uprising
1855- Santhal uprising
1859- Indigo revolt
1890-1900- Punjab Kisan struggle
1917-18- Champaran satyagraha
1921- Moplah rebellion
1928- Bardoli satyagarya
1946- Telangana movement
1957- Naxalbai movement

4.4.6 Women’s Movement:

The women’s movement in India is a rich and vibrant movement which has taken different forms in different parts of the country. Fifty years ago when India became independent, it was widely acknowledged that the battle for freedom had been fought as much by women as by men.

The first to join the freedom struggle was Sarojini Naidu, who went on to become the first woman President of the Indian National Congress in 1925. Her presence was a signal for hundreds of other women to join, and eventually the salt protest was made successful by the many women who not only made salt, but also sat openly in marketplaces selling, and indeed, buying it. The trajectory of this movement is usually traced from the social reform movements of the 19th century when campaigns for the betterment of the conditions of women’s lives were taken up, initially by men.

By the end of the century women had begun to organize themselves and gradually they took up a number of causes such as education, the conditions of women’s work and so on. It was in the early part of the 20th century that women’s organizations were set up, and many of the women who were active in these later became involved in the freedom movement. .

4.4.7 Backward Caste Movement:

The Backward castes have been deprived of many social, economic, political and religious privileges. These people provided manual labour and the untouchables occupied the lowest position among the caste hierarchy. They were subjected to extreme form of exploitation. The colonial power accentuated the disparities in the distribution of economic power. The atrocities united the lower castes against the upper castes.

Some of the important backward caste movement which came up was Satyashodak Samaj and Nadar Movement which consolidated the masses along the castelines. E.V Ramaswamy started Self-Respect movement against the Brahmins in South India. The SNDP movement in Kerala was more of a reformist movement.[8]

Chapter: 5

Causes of the Social and Religious reforms movements: Its all embracing Scope

The 19th century India witnessed a strong wave of reformative activities in religion and society. There were attempts made by the educated young Indians to end the evils and abuses in religion and society. Western ideas of reason, equality, liberty and humanity inspired them. They tried to remove defects in thier culture. They wanted to revive the glory of Indian culture. Hence, we call the socio-religious movement of the 19th century India as the “Indian Renaissance” movement.

Causes for the social religious reforms movement:

1. Political Unity:

India was politically united because of the expansion and consolidation of British rule. It led to the understanding of many common problems of the Indians. The nature of British rule provoked many young Indians to find out the causes of thier misery and degradation.

2. Reaction against propaganda of Christian missionaries:

The Christian missionaries made all possible attempts to spread Christianity particularly among the poor and the oppressed. Educational Institutions, hospitals, charity services and official support were also made use for this purpose. Therefore, both the Hindus and Muslims made attempt to safe thier religion.

3. Contribution of foreign scholars:

Many foreign scholars like Max Muller and William Jones rediscovered India’s past. They studied the scholarly work of Indians of past. They brought to light rich cultural heritage which was even superior to western culture. They translated many literary and superior works. These works received worldwide recognition. It made the educated Indians develop faith in thier culture. They wanted to establish the superiority of Indian culture against the western culture.

4. Indian press:

The European introduced the printing press in India. It made possible the appearance of many newspapers and magazines. Books were also published in different Indian languages. Mostly thier subject matter was Indian. It certainly helped to open eyes of the educated Indians with regard to natural heritage and glory. They therefore, started to work for Indian glory and culture.

5. Western Education:

The spread of western education led to the spread of western concept of democracy, liberty, equality and nationalism. The Indians who went abroad came in direct contact with the working of these concepts. After they returned they were too pained to see the lack of awareness among the Indians about such concepts. They did the spade work for the spread of such ideas.[9]

5.5.1 Debate of Medievalism versus Liberalism

There are many aspects of socio-religious reforms were there which are needed to be discussed here.

Medievalism basically, on the whole instigated the man to take the pessimistic view of life and concentrate his attention on the other world. Liberalism intensified man’s appetite to live up pointing out the unlimited scope to make up pleasure bringing material things in this world by means of modern machinery and science.

The old religion was based on the low level of economic and cultural development of old society. It had to be remodelled to meet the needs of the society. It had to be revised in the spirit of nationalism, democracy, an optimistic and positive attitude to life, and even rationalist philosophy.

On the whole, national progress became the main objective of these reconstructed religions. When religion itself was not repudiated or reformed, nationalism became identified with religion (e.g. the religion of nationalism as propounded by B.C. Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh and others.) thus, the religious revival movement like the religious reform movement, was inspired with the national ideal.[10]

5.5.2. Growth of rationalism and materialism

Rationalist and materialist philosophical ideas slowly began to spread in India after 1930.This was due to numerous reasons such as wider spread of Indian intelligentsia in the political, sociological and philosophical literature of the west after the war of 1914-18.

The pioneers and leaders of nationalism were the educated class and bourgeoisie. They based themselves on the new capitalist society which, historically the higher type, increasingly replaced the medieval social system in India. They accepted its economic foundations. They desired the free development of society. Liberalism was the philosophy of rising capitalism. It was a body of principles which guaranteed its growth. And just as capitalism was higher social system than the pre-capitalist one, liberalism with its principles of national unification, individual liberty, democracy, equal rights of man, democratic institutions and rationalism, was higher a philosophy than pre capitalist philosophies which were mostly based on religious obscurantism and defended ranks and privileges based on birth.

Logically, the Indian intelligentsia, the pioneers of Indian nationalism, should have adopted the liberal philosophy in toto. However, since liberalism originated in the west and since the Indian people were ruled by the western power, they rather remobilized the masses.[11]

5.5.3 Religious reform movements, thier reactionary role and progressive significance

In its initial stages, when Indian nationalism was immature, just sprouting, it found expression in such liberal religio-reform movement as Brahmo Samaj. The religious form of the national movement was conditioned by its very immaturity. As such these movements played a progressive role in mass awakening against the freedom struggle, in spite of thier limited rationality.

It is true that nationalist movement headed by Gandhi had a programme for nationalist democratic transformation of India and not the establishment of any Hindu raj. It is true that that Indian National congress was a national organisation, a mustering centre for all conscious nationalist forces, but Gandhi declared conception that politics should be spiritualised, be in line with religio-ethnic principle, alienated those who wanted the freedom movement to be secular. Further, it introduced a mystical element in political calculations, often distorting the strategy of movement.[12]

Chapter: 6

Social and religious reforms movements and the expression of National Democratic


The various socio reform and religious reform movements which took place in India during british rule were the expression of the rising national consciousness and spread of the liberal ideas of the west among the Indian people. These movements increasingly tended to have the national scope and programme for reconstruction in the social and religious spheres.

In the social spheres there were movements of caste reform and caste abolition, equal rights for women, a campaign against child marriage, and a ban on widow remarriage, a crusade against social and legal inequalities.

In the religious spheres, there sprang up movement which combated religious superstitions and attacked idolatry, polytheism and hereditary priesthood.

These movements, in varying degrees, emphasized and fought for the principles of individual liberty and social equality and stood for nationalism. So, in a sense, these movements provide a backbone for the mass awakening as far as freedom struggle were concerned.

The reformers argued that such reforms are necessary to built up a sound national unity to achieve political freedom and social, economical and cultural advance of the Indian people. The national democratic awakening found expression in all fields of national life. In politics, it gave birth to the movement of administrative reform, self government, Home rule, Dominion Status and finally Independence. In a social and religious sphere, Indian Nationalism proclaimed the principles of individual liberty, equality and self determination. It attacked the undemocratic principle of birth and exclusive privileges based on birth, on which such institutions as castes were reared. Indian Nationalism was thus democratic in essence and, as such, struggled against both medievalism and foreign rule. The socio-reform and religious-reform movements were the expression of the national awakening in India and aimed at a revision of the medieval social structure and religious outlook on a more or less democratic basis, i.e. on the principle of individual liberty and human equality.[13

“I regret to say,” write Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1828, “that the present system of religion adhered to by the Hindus are not well calculated to promote thier political interests. The distinction of caste introducing innumerable divisions and sub divisions among them have entirely deprives them of patriotic feeling, and the multitude of religious rites and ceremonies and the laws of purification has totally disqualified from undertaking any difficult enterprise. It is, I think necessary that some change should take place in their religion at least for the sake of thier political advantage and social comfort.”[14]

Written at the time when Indians has just begun to experience the intellectual and cultural turmoil that characterized social life in the nineteenth century India this represented the immediate Indian response.

The spirit of reform embraced almost the whole of India beginning with the efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in Bengal leading to the formation of Brahmo Samaj in 1828. Apart from the Brahmo Samaj, which has branches in several parts of country, the Paramhansa Mandali and the Prarthna Samaj in Maharashtra and the Arya Samaj in Punjab and North India were some of the prominent movements among Hindus. There were several other regional and caste movements like the Kayastha Sabha in Uttar Pradesh and the Sarin Sabha in Punjab. The backward class also started the work of reformation with the Satya Sodhak Samaj in Maharashtra and the Shri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Sabha in Kerala. The Ahmadiya, the Aligarh Movement, the Singh Sabha and the Rehnumayai Mazdeyasan Sabha represented the spirit of reform among Muslims, the Sikhs and Parsees respectively. Despite being regional in scope and content and confined to a particular religion, thier general prospective were remarkably similar; they were regional and religious manifestations of a common consciousness.

Although religious reformation was a major concern of these movements, none of them is exclusively religious in character. Strongly humanist in inspiration, the idea of other worldliness and salvation were not a part of thier agenda; instead thier attention was focussed on worldly existence.

Given the interconnection between religious beliefs and social practises, religious reformation was a necessary pre-requisite for social reform. Religion was the dominant ideology of the times and it was not possible to undertake any social action without coming to grips with it.

Indian society in 19th century was caught in a vicious web created by religious superstitions and social obscurantism. Social conditions was equally depressing, the most distressing was the position of women. The birth of a girl was unwelcome, her marriage a burden and her widowhood as inauspicious. Attempts to kill girl infants at birth were not unusual. Those who escaped initial brutality were subjected to the marriage at tender age.[15]

Another debilitating factor was caste. It sought to maintain a system of segregation, hierarchically ordained on the basis of ritual status. The rules and regulations of caste hampered social mobility, fostered social division and sapped individual initiative. Above all was the humiliation of untouchability which militated against human dignity.

There were innumerable human practises marked by constraint, credulity, status, authority, bigotry and blind fatalism. Rejecting them as features of decadent society, the reform movement sought to create a social climate for modernization. Since practises based on faith cannot be challenge without bringing faith itself into question. Hence, Raja Ram Mohan Roy demonstrated that sati had no religious sanction, Vidyasagar did not take up his pen in defence of widow remarriage without being convinced about scriptural support and Dayanand based his anti casteism on Vedic society.

Two important intellectual criteria which informed the reform movements were rationalism and religious universalism social relevance was judged by a rationalist critique. It is difficult to match the uncompromising rationalism of the early Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Akshay Kumar Dutt. This prospective not only enabled them to adopt a rational approach to tradition but also to evaluate the contemporary socio-religious practises from the stand point of social utility and to replace faith with rationality. In the Brahmo Samaj, it led to the repudiation of infallibility of Vedas, and in Aligarh Movement, to the reconciliation of teaching of Islam with the needs of the Modern age. Holding that religious tenet is not immutable, Syed Ahmad Khan emphasised the role of religion in the progress of the society: if religion did not keep pace with the meet and demands of the time, it would be fossilized as in the case of Islam in India.

The prospective on reform were not always influenced by religious considerations. A rational and secular outlook was very much evident in posing an alternative to prevalent social practises. In advocating widow marriage and opposing polygamy and child marriage Akshay Kumar was not concerned about religious sanctions or whether they existed in the past. His arguments were mainly based on effect on society.

Although the ambit of reform were particularistic, thier religious prospective was universalistic. Raja Ram Mohan Roy considered different religions as National embodiment of universal theism. The Brahmo Samaj was initially conceived by him as a universalistic church. He was defender of basic and universal principles of all religions- the monotheism of the Vedas and the Unitarianism of Christianity, and at the same time attacked polytheism of Hinduism and trinitarianism of Christianity. Syed Ahmad Khan echoed the same idea: all Prophets have the same din (faith) and every country and Nation had different Prophets. These prospective found clearer articulations in Keshub Chandra Sen’s ideas. He said “our position is not that truths are to be found in all religions, but all established religions of the world are true.” He also gave expression to the social implications of all this universalistic ideas.

The 19th century witnessed a cultural –ideological struggle against the backward elements of traditional culture, on the one hand and the fast hegemonising colonial culture and ideology on the other. The initial reforming efforts represented the former. In the religious spheres they sought to remove idolatry, monotheism and priestly monopoly of religious knowledge and to simplify religious rituals. They were important not only for religious reasons but equally for their social implications.

The socially debilitating influence of the caste system which perpetuated social distinctions was universally recognised as an area which called for urgent reform. It was morally and ethically abhorrent; more importantly, it militated against patriotic feelings and negated the growth of democratic ideas. Raja Ram Mohan Roy initiated, in ideas but not in practise, the opposition which became loud and clear as the century progressed. Ranade, Dayanand and Vivekananda denounced the existing system of caste in no uncertain terms.

The campaign for the improvement of the condition and status of women was not purely humanitarian measure also. No reform could be really effective without changes in domestic conditions, the social space in which the initial socialization of the individual took place. A crucial role in this process is played by women. Therefore, there could be no reformed men and reformed homes without reformed women. Viewed from the standpoint of women, it was indeed a limited prospective. Nevertheless, it was recognised that no country could ever make a ‘significant progress in civilization whose females were sunk in ignorance’.

If the reform movement had totally rejected tradition, Indian society would have easily undergone a process of westernization. But the reformers were aiming at modernization rather than westernization. A blind initiation of western cultural norms was never an integral part of reform.

Faced with the challenge of intrusion of colonial culture and ideology, an attempt to reinvigorate traditional institutions and to realise the potential of traditional culture developed during the 19th century. This concern embraced the entire cultural existence, the way of life and all significance practises like language, religion, art and philosophy. Two features characterized this concern:

The creation of an alternate ideological system Regeneration of traditional institutions.

Therefore, the cultural ideological struggle, represented by the socio-religious movements, was an integral part of the evolving national consciousness. This was so because it was instrumental in bringing about the initial intellectual and cultural break which made a new vision of the future possible. Second, it was the part of the resistance against colonial cultural and ideological hegemony. Out of this dual struggle evolved the modern cultural situation: new men, new home and new society. [16]

So, basically, to concise one can say that these were the effects of movements and social reforms:

The reform movements brought about remarkable changes in the society and religion. Initially, the great changes affected a small group of people but afterwards spread among large masses. The reform movements strengthened the Hindu and Muslim religions and made effort to remove social evils among them. The educated Indians started to think reasonably. The caste system began to lose its hold in the society and there was a significant achievement in the field of emancipation of women, some legal measures were also adopted to improve thier status. The reform movements led to the mass awakening and strengthened the emotional, social and economical bond among Indians which provide as a great pillar to our fight for Independence.

A new inspiration was abroad and under its urge the medieval moulds, already weakened, began to break down. The individual realised the significance of the self as well as new responsibility towards society. The circumference of his society which had been limited to the family, the caste and the tribe now owe its allegiance to the Nation, and in this way socio-religious reforms helped in mass awakening.[17]


Contribution of the freedom fighters as well as social reformists in mass nationalisation

7.1 Mass appeal: Mahatma Gandhi

Struggle for Indian Independence (1916–1945)[18] In 1915, Gandhi returned from South Africa to live in India. He spoke at the conventions of the Indian National Congress, but was primarily introduced to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a respected leader of the Congress Party at the time. Champaran and Kheda Gandhi’s first major achievements came in 1918 with the Champaran agitation and Kheda Satyagraha, although in the latter it was indigo and other cash crops instead of the food crops necessary for their survival. Suppressed by the militias of the landlords (mostly British), they were given measly compensation, leaving them mired in extreme poverty. The villages were kept extremely dirty and unhygienic; and alcoholism, untouchability and purdah were rampant. Now in the throes of a devastating famine, the British levied a tax which they insisted on increasing. The situation was desperate. In Kheda in Gujarat, the problem was the same. Gandhi established an ashram there, organizing scores of his veteran supporters and fresh volunteers from the region. He organized a detailed study and survey of the villages, accounting for the atrocities and terrible episodes of suffering, including the general state of degenerate living. Building on the confidence of villagers, he began leading the clean-up of villages, building of schools and hospitals and encouraging the village leadership to undo and condemn many social evils, as accounted above.[19]

But his main impact came when he was arrested by police on the charge of creating unrest and was ordered to leave the province. Hundreds of thousands of people protested and rallied outside the jail, police stations and courts demanding his release, which the court reluctantly granted. Gandhi led organized protests and strikes against the landlords who, with the guidance of the British government, signed an agreement granting the poor farmers of the region more compensation and control over farming, and cancellation of revenue hikes and its collection until the famine ended. It was during this agitation, that Gandhi was addressed by the people as Bapu (Father) and Mahatma (Great Soul). In Kheda, Sardar Patel represented the farmers in negotiations with the British, who suspended revenue collection and released all the prisoners. As a result, Gandhi’s fame spread all over the nation. He is also now called as “Father of the nation” in India.

Non-cooperation movement

Gandhi employed non-cooperation, non-violence and peaceful resistance as his “weapons” in the struggle against British. In Punjab, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of civilians by British troops (also known as the Amritsar Massacre) caused deep trauma to the nation, leading to increased public anger and acts of violence. Gandhi criticized both the actions of the British Raj and the retaliatory violence of Indians. He authored the resolution offering condolences to British civilian victims and condemning the riots which, after initial opposition in the party, was accepted following Gandhi’s emotional speech advocating his principle that all violence was evil and could not be justified. But it was after the massacre and subsequent violence that Gandhi’s mind focused upon obtaining complete self-government and control of all Indian government institutions, maturing soon into Swaraj or complete individual, spiritual, political independence.[20]

In December 1921, Gandhi was invested with executive authority on behalf of the Indian National Congress. Under his leadership, the Congress was reorganized with a new constitution, with the goal of Swaraj. A hierarchy of committees was set up to improve discipline, transforming the party from an elite organization to one of mass national appeal. Gandhi expanded his non-violence platform to include the swadeshi policy — the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi (homespun cloth) be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. Gandhi exhorted Indian men and women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement.[21] This was a strategy to inculcate discipline and dedication to weed out the unwilling and ambitious, and to include women in the movement at a time when many thought that such activities were not respectable activities for women. In addition to boycotting British products, Gandhi urged the people to boycott British educational institutions and law courts, to resign from government employment, and to forsake British titles and honours.

“Non-cooperation” enjoyed widespread appeal and success, increasing excitement and participation from all strata of Indian society. Yet, just as the movement reached its apex, it ended abruptly as a result of a violent clash in the town of Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, in February 1922. Fearing that the movement was about to take a turn towards violence, and convinced that this would be the undoing of all his work, Gandhi called off the campaign of mass civil disobedience.[22] Gandhi was arrested on 10 March 1922, tried for sedition, and sentenced to six years imprisonment. He began his sentence on 18 March 1922. He was released in February 1924 for an appendicitis operation, having served only 2 years.

Without Gandhi’s uniting personality, the Indian National Congress began to splinter during his years in prison, splitting into two factions, one led by Chitta Ranjan Das and Motilal Nehru favouring party participation in the legislatures, and the other led by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, opposing this move. Furthermore, cooperation among Hindus and Muslims, which had been strong at the height of the non-violence campaign, was breaking down. Gandhi attempted to bridge these differences through many means, including a three-week fast in the autumn of 1924, but with limited success.

Swaraj and the Salt Satyagraha (Salt March)

Gandhi at Dandi, 5 April 1930, at the end of the Salt March.

Gandhi stayed out of active politics and as such limelight for most of the 1920s, preferring to resolve the wedge between the Swaraj Party and the Indian National Congress, and expanding initiatives against untouchability, alcoholism, ignorance and poverty. He returned to the fore in 1928. The year before, the British government had appointed a new constitutional reform commission under Sir John Simon, which did not include any Indian as its member. The result was a boycott of the commission by Indian political parties. Gandhi pushed through a resolution at the Calcutta Congress in December 1928 calling on the British government to grant India dominion status or face a new campaign of non-cooperation with complete independence for the country as its goal. Gandhi had not only moderated the views of younger men like Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, who sought a demand for immediate independence, but also reduced his own call to a one year wait, instead of two. The British did not respond. Gandhi then launched a new satyagraha against the tax on salt in March 1930, highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from 12 March to 6 April, marching 400 kilometres (248 miles) from Ahmedabad to Dandi, Gujarat to make salt himself. Thousands of Indians joined him on this march to the sea. This campaign was one of his most successful at upsetting British hold on India; Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people. The government, represented by Lord Edward Irwin, decided to negotiate with Gandhi. The Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931. The British Government agreed to set all political prisoners free in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement.

In 1932, through the campaigning of the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar, the government granted untouchables separate electorates under the new constitution. In protest, Gandhi embarked on a six-day fast in September 1932, successfully forcing the government to adopt a more equitable arrangement via negotiations mediated by the Dalit cricketer turned political leader Palwankar Baloo. This was the start of a new campaign by Gandhi to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he named Harijans, the children of God. On 8 May 1933 Gandhi began a 21-day fast of self-purification to help the Harijan movement.[23] This new campaign was not universally embraced within the Dalit community.

World War II and Quit India Movement

In 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Initially, Gandhi had favoured offering “non-violent moral support” to the British effort, but other Congressional leaders were offended by the unilateral inclusion of India into the war, without consultation of the people’s representatives. All Congressmen elected to resign from office en masse. After lengthy deliberations, Gandhi declared that India could not be party to a war ostensibly being fought for democratic freedom, while that freedom was denied to India itself. As the war progressed, Gandhi intensified his demand for independence, drafting a resolution calling for the British to Quit India. This was Gandhi’s and the Congress Party’s most definitive revolt aimed at securing the British exit from Indian shores.[24]

Quit India became the most forceful movement in the history of the struggle, with mass arrests and violence on an unprecedented scale.[25] Thousands of freedom fighters were killed or injured by police gunfire, and hundreds of thousands were arrested. Gandhi and his supporters made it clear they would not support the war effort unless India was granted immediate independence. He even clarified that this time the movement would not be stopped if individual acts of violence were committed, saying that the “ordered anarchy” around him was “worse than real anarchy.” He called on all Congressmen and Indians to maintain discipline via ahimsa, and Karo Ya Maro (“Do or Die”) in the cause of ultimate freedom.

7.2 Gopal Krishna Gokhale

(May 9, 1866 – February 19, 1915)

He was one of the founding social and political leaders during the Indian Independence Movement against the British Empire in India. Gokhale was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and founder of the Servants of I

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