Understanding Protest and Movement

  • An element of dissatisfaction with the existing system can be found in every society. Dissatisfaction may be caused by poverty, social discrimination or lack of privilege. People may develop a strong desire to change the situation by raising their voices against the existing order. They may start questioning established practices of society. This difference of opinion actually reflects a desire for change. Social movements emerge under this situation. However, a movement does not occur suddenly. It begins with dissent, moves towards protests and finally takes the form of a social movement. This sequence – dissent, protest and social movements – represents different phases of social change. But in some cases all these may be in operation at the same time.
  • The term dissent refers to ideas and activities which are different from those prevailing in a society at a given point of time. Differences of opinion and disagreement on certain issues are bases of dissent. Dissent is thus the beginning of a movement for change. For example, the struggle against the inhuman practice of untouchability in India was initiated only when the people who were suffering from this cruel practice raised their voices against it.
  • Protest is generally specific in nature. When dissent is expressed openly it assumes the form of protest When a dissenting opinion crystallizes further the situation of protest is created. Thus protest, in order to be meaningful has to be supported by dissent in respect of the institutional arrangements prevailing in society at a given point of time. In fact, a consciousness of injustice and deprivation takes place at this stage. Accordingly, we may say that the social sharing of discrimination and deprivation is the starting point of protest. Thus, we may say that dissent expresses dissatisfaction with the existing situation and registers disagreement Protest, on the other hand, is a formal declaration of dissent and represents a more crystallized state of opposition and conflict.
  • Social movements are of great sociological interest because they are a major source of social change. A social movement is a sustained collective effort that focuses on some aspect of social change. M.S.A Rao says that a social movement essentially involves sustained collective mobilization through either informal or formal organization and is generally oriented towards bringing about change in the existing system of relationships. Rao considers ideology as an important component of a social movement.
  • Protests and movements during colonial period mainly aimed at socio-religious reform. 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 all India movement which involved the lower caste people, and the poor. It 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 never tried to transform the social system radically, but advocated partial changes in the value system.
  • 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 branches in several parts of the country.

According to K. L. Sharma Socio-religious reforms in British India were felt necessary due to three reasons:

  1. The selection of texts from various commentaries on the code of Manu had not always been enlightened;
  2. The reliance on law courts for interpretation had resulted in greater conservatism;
  3. The law, as applied by the law courts and British judges, was a combination of ancient Hindu and Victorian English conservatism, particularly in regard to women, inheritance, marriage and the rights of married women.

The right to property of individual members in a joint family or the granting of property right to women took many years from their acceptance in letter to their actual acceptance. The joint family, caste and Hinduism have always been the pivoted institutions and have discouraged any legislation which would weaken them manifestly or even latently.

Besides these reasons, there were several socio-cultural and economic problems which demanded mass mobilization, awakening and action against the British Raj, feudals and upper sections of society. There was a need to attack the institutional mechanisms, which had made society rigid and exploitative.

According to A.R. Desai reform movements during British period were an expression of national awakening due to contradictions between the old value system and new socio-economic realities.

  1. The aim of these movements was to revive the old religion in the context of nationalism and democracy as the cardinal principles for the emergence of modern India. Modern society established liberty, freedom of competition, contact and freedom of the individual to own and manipulate property at will Individualism was its keynote in contrast to the pre-capitalist society which was authoritarian in character; maintained social distinctions based on birth and sex, and subordinated the individual to caste and the joint family system.
  2. The new society demanded as the very condition of its development, the abolition of privileges based on birth or sex. The reform movements were against medievalism in socio-cultural realms. They attacked the caste system and its allied institutions, polytheism, superfluous religious rites and dogmas.
  3. These religio-reform movements were national in content but religious in form.

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 Sodhak Samaj of Jotiba Phule in Maharashtra and the Sri Narayan Dharma Paripalana Sabha in Kerala were started by the backward castes. Similarly, the Ahmadiya and Aligarh movements represented the spirit of reform among the Muslims. The Sikhs had their Singh Sabha and the Parsees, the Rehnumai Mazdeyan Sabha. The major concerns of these movements and 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 Brahmo Samaj

Raja Ram Mohan Roy is considered to be the father of modern Indian renaissance. Besides English and Bengali, Ram Mohan Roy acquired knowledge of Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic. He also knew Hebrew, Latin and Greek. He made a deep study of Hindu and Muslim laws, literature and philosophy. He believed in the progressive reform of religion and a society with a liberal outlook. Ram Mohan Roy did not believe in worshipping the images of God. Monotheism was his main slogan.

On 20 August 1828, he founded the Brahmo Samaj, the literal meaning of which is “One God Society”. The orthodox Hindus did not cherish the ideals of this institution, but generally people welcomed this new organization. Ram Mohan Roy was a secularist as he was inspired by Christianity, Islam and the Upanishads. He had great faith in the uncompromising monotheism of Islam. He learnt about the concept of the unity of God as an essence of Hinduism from the study of the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Gita.

  1. Ram Mohan Roy thought that without sacrificing or discarding the genuine spiritual and cultural heritage, India could not have a new philosophy, absorbing and assimilating the modernism imported from the west.
  2. He strongly advocated use of modern science and technology in education and also use of the English language. Ram Mohan Roy was, in fact, a rationalist and a pioneer of English education and enlightened journalism.
  3. He championed the cause of the exploited peasantry.
  4. His main aim was to relate religion to all aspects of life – individual social and national
  5. Universal theism was his message. He, however, used the Vedas and the Upanishads, in worship, sermons and devotional music, with emphasis on the universality of their contents.
  6. Ram Mohan Roy champion of the cause of women. He worked against irrational institutions like sati and child marriage. Through the Brahmo Samaj, he advocated for women. Inheritance of property for women, and inter-caste marriage were special programmes undertaken by the Brahmo Samaj.
  7. He was against the caste system, as it put barriers in the ways of growth of Indian society. Ram Mohan Roy was essentially a democrat and humanist.
  8. He did not hesitate in borrowing well from the British Raj and western culture. The Brahmo Samaj was an institution for all sorts of people, without distinction, for the workship of the some Supreme God, without idolatry.

However, the historians R.C. Majumdar, H.C. Roychaudhuri and Kalikinker Datta are of the view that Ram Mohan Roy never regarded himself as anything but a Hindu. He stoutly denied that he had founded a different sect. He always entertained the recital of the Vedas even by orthodox Brahmans. No non Brahmana was allowed in the Brahmo Sabha room. Ram Mohan Roy himself wore the sacred thread of the Brahmanas up to his death.

  1. Debendranath Tagore provided a solid organizational set-up to the Brahmo Samaj after the death of Ram Mohan Roy in England.
  2. He decided to make the propagation of ‘Brahmo Dharma’ the main programme or the Brahmo Samaj. His Tattva Bodhini Sabha, or Truth Teaching Society, preached the Vedas and Vedantism as the basic of the Samaj.
  3. The system of initiation and form of divine service were introduced by the new leader. He maintained and carried the best traditions of the days of Ram Mohan Roy.
  4. He gave a new direction to Brahminism by abandoning belief in the infallibility of scriptures. The Samaj continued to work for ameliorating the condition of women and children and for modernization of education.
  5. A new phase began with the emergence of the dynamic personality of Keshub Chandra Sen. Sen advocated radical reforms with the zeal of a missionary.
  6. His mission was to broaden the activities of the Brahmo movement and to extend it to other parts of the country. In 1867, the Brahmo Samaj started functioning at Bombay under the leadership of Ranade and Bhandarkar.
  7. It organized several programmes in Madras. Keshub fervent devotion, passionate enthusiasm and powerful eloquence gave a new life to the Samaj.
  8. His rationalistic principles reached new heights. The true spirit of repentance and devotional fervour increased the strength of the movement. He toured Madras and Bombay and other places to propagate the ideals of the Samaj.

Debendranath and Keshub soon fell out, as the two cherished different ways of functioning within the Samaj. Debendranath had a radical approach. In 1866, Keshub established the Brahmo Samaj of India. The parent body was known as the Adi Brahmo Samaj. The new organization tried to foster the sense of spiritual and national unity in India. Keshub visit to England in 1869 spread the message of the Samaj in the West.

  1. The splinter Samaj advocated radical changes, including complete abolition of the caste system.
  2. Female emancipation and female education received top priority.
  3. Due to Christian influence, greater emphasis was put on the sense of sin, the spirit of repentance, and the efficacy of prayer.
  4. Religion was treated as a practical recourse to solve human problems rather than a dogmatic doctrine.
  5. His thesis of ‘New Dispensation (Nava Vidhan) declared on 25 January1880 promoted a new synthesis of different religions.

The new phase in the Brahmo Samaj emerged when some followers of Keshub Chandra Sen left him and founded the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. The new organization was founded for the following reasons:

  1. The demand for the introduction of a new constitution was not accepted ;
  2. There was disagreement on the question of adesha or Divine Command;
  3. Keshub Chandra Sen’s daughter was married to the prince of Cooch Bihar, in violation of the Native Marriage Act of 1872.

The founder adopted a new constitution based on universal adult franchise. The old organization went into oblivion. The new Samaj is active even today, with its branches all over the country.

  1. It has followed the path of constitutionalism and radical reformism.
  2. Its programmes include the removal of the purdah system, introduction of widow remarriage, abolition of polygamy and early marriage and provision of higher education for women.
  3. It has attacked rigidities based on caste system. Inter-caste commensal relations, such as eating and drinking water, have been encouraged by the Samaj.
  4. Emphasis on monotheism continues to be its primary ideal.

The Prarthana Samaj

The Prarthana Samaj, an offshoot of the Brahmo Samaj, came into existence in1867 under the leadership of Justice Mahadeo Govinda Ranade. Keshub was a source of inspiration for this organization.

  1. The followers of the Prarthana Samaj never looked upon themselves as adherents of a new religion or of a new sect, outside and alongside the general Hindu body, but saw it simply as a movement within it. They were staunch theists in the Vaishnavite tradition of Maharashtra. The saints, like Namdeo, Tukaram and Ramdas influenced them to a large extent.
  2. They devoted themselves to social reforms such as inter-caste dining and marriages, remarriage of widows, and improvement of the lot of women and depressed classes.
  3. The Samaj founded the following organization and institutions: an asylum and orphanage at Pandharpur; night schools; a widow home; and a depressed classes mission. Justice Ranade devoted his life to the Prarthana Samaj. He contributed to the formation of the Widow Marriage Association in 1861, and the Deccan Education Society in 1884-85. Ranade conveyed two things:
  4. The whole man was his concern; and
  5. There was continuity even in face of radical transformation.
  6. He advocated that these two should become a part of the reformist philosophy.

The Arya Samaj

The Arya Samaj was founded in 1875 by Swami Dayananda Saraswati. He was a Sanskrit scholar with no English education. He gave the call “Go back to the Vedas”. He had no regard for the Puranas. Swami received education on Vedanta. His views were similar to that of Ram Mohan Roy. Disbelief in polytheism and image worship, opposition to caste-based restriction, child marriage, and opposition to the prohibition of sea voyages, and advocating female education and widow remarriage were important programmes common to the followers of Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj. Like other reforms of his times, Swami Dayananda Saraswati regarded the Vedas as eternal and infallible. His monumental work – Satyartha Prakash is an interpretation of the Vedas. Swami considered the epics – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata -as literary treasures.

  1. Swami launched the Shuddhi (purification) movement, conversion of non-Hindu to Hinduism. This was begun to realize the ideal of unifying India notionally, socially and religiously.
  2. Direct contact with the masses had immense in the Punjab and the United Provinces.
  3. He advocated that Vedas had all the truth. Every modern thing could be found in them.
  4. Swami strongly attacked the hereditary basis of the caste system, idolatry and the belief in the superiority of Brahmanas over caste groups.
  5. He rejected unsociability and pleaded that the study of the Vedas be made open to all. The work of the Swami after his death was carried forward by Lala Hansraj, Pandit Guru Dutt, Lala Lajpat Raj and Sawami Sradhananda.
  6. The Samaj, to prevent child marriage, fixed the minimum marriageable age at 25 years for boys and 16 for girls.
  7. Inter-caste marriage and widow remarriage were encouraged. Even today, Arya Samaj Mandirs (temples) performs such acts with sincerity and promptness.
  8. Equal status for women was their demand both in letter and spirit
  9. The Samaj also helped the people in crises like floods, famines and earthquakes.
  10. The Samaj opened orphanages and widow homes at various religious places.
  11. The Samaj has also attempted to give a new direction to education. The revival of the ‘Gurukula’ pattern, an ancient system of Hindu education, has been its goal. However, at the higher level, the value of English education was recognized. Today, the Arya Samaj has a widespread network of Dayananda Anglo-Vedic schools and colleges throughout India.

The Ramakrishna Mission

The Ramakrishna Mission is an embodiment of the synthesis of ancient India and modern western cultures. Ramakrishna Paramahansa was the founder of this socio-religious movement.

  1. He had faith in all religions and performed religious and performed exercises in accordance with Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. All the different religious views are different ways leading to the same goals – was the message of Ramakrishna.
  2. God is both one and many. He has form and is also without it. This message is a great universal spirit as well as a constellation of symbols.
  3. Thus, catholicity was the essence of the Mission s founder. He led a life of a secluded saint with broad catholicity, mysticism and spirituality.

Formally, the Mission was founded in May 1897 by Paramahansa disciple, Narendranath Dutta, who was later on known as Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda was a graduate of Calcutta University. Two objectives of the Mission are :

  1. To bring into existence a band of monks dedicated to a life of renunciation and practical spirituality, from among whom teachers and workers would be sent out to spread the universal message of Vedanta as illustrated in the life of Ramakrishna;
  2. In conjunction with lay disciples, to carry on preaching, philanthropic and charitable works, looking upon all men, women and children, irrespective of caste, creed or colour, as veritable manifestations of the Divine.

Paramahansa himself founded the Ramakrishna Math with his young monastic as a nucleus to fulfil the first objective. The second objective was taken up by Swami Vivekananda after Ramakrishna’s death. Vivekananda carried the message of Ramakrishna all over India. He was an eloquent speaker with a charming personality. Vivekananda’s followers included people of all strata including prices and priests. In 1893, he attended the famous “Parliament of Religions” at Chicago. He delivered lectures on Hindu philosophy as enunciated by Ramakrishna Paramahansa at various places in the UK and the USA.

The headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission are at Belur, near Kolkata. The Math is a religious trust dedicated to the nursing of the inner spiritual life of the members of the monastery. The Mission is a charitable society dedicated to the expression of inner spiritual life in outward collective action in the service of men.

  1. The Mission stands for religious and social reforms. The Vedantic doctrine is its ideal.
  2. Its emphasis is on the development of the highest spirituality inherent in man.
  3. Certain spiritual experiences of Ramakrishna, the teachings of the Upanishads and the Gita, and the examples of the Buddha and Jesus are the basis of Vivekananda message to the world about human values.
  4. He wanted to make the Vedanta practical. His mission was to bridge the gulf between paramartha (service) and vyavahara (behaviour), and between spirituality and day-to-day life.
  5. He advocated the doctrine of service – the service of all beings. The service of jiva (living objects) is the worship of Siva. Life itself is religion. By service, the Divine exists within man.
  6. Vivekananda was for using technology and modern sciences in the service of mankind.

The Mission has been in existence for more than a century. It has now developed into a worldwide organization. The Mission is a deeply religious body; but it is not a proselytizing body. It is not a sect of Hinduism. In fact, this one of the strong reasons for the success of the Mission. The Mission has given top priority to the idea of social service, both in terms of philanthropic work and upliftment of religious and spiritual life. It has been successful in propagating the universal principle of Vedanta and giving a true picture of India to the western world. It believes that the philosophy of Vedanta will make a Christian a better Christian and a Hindu a better Hindu.

The Mission has opened many schools and dispensaries, and helped the victims of natural calamities. Millions of men and women suffering from dumbness have been helped by the Mission.The Mission has published books on the Vedanta, and it also publishes about ten journals and magazines in English and other Indian languages.

The Servants of Indian Society

Like other nineteenth century organizations for socio-religious reforms, the Servants of Indian Society undertook various welfare programmes in the early twentieth century. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a liberal leader of the Indian National Congress, founded the Society in 1905.

  1. The aim of the Society was to train “national missionaries for the service of India, and to promote, by all constitutional means, the true interests of the Indian people”.
  2. Its members were called upon “to devote their lives to the cause of the country in a religious spirit”.
  3. It was a society dedicated to the service of the country. Its aim was to prepare a cadre of selfless workers.

Srinivas Shastri succeeded Gokhale as its president, after Gokhale’s death in 1915. Some of the members devoted themselves to selfless politics, others took up welfare activities. In 1911, Narayan Malhar Joshi, a follower of Gokhale, founded the Social Service League in Bombay.

  1. Its aim was “to secure for the masses of the people better and reasonable conditions of life and work”.
  2. In 1926, they ran 17 night nurseries. They organized over libraries and reading rooms and 2 days nurseries. They organized over a hundred cooperative societies.
  3. Other activities included Police Court, Agent’s work, legal advice and aid to the poor and illiterate, excursions for slum-dwellers, facilities for gymnasia and theatrical performances, sanitary work, medical relief and Boys’ Clubs and Scout Corps. Joshi also founded the All-India Trade Union Congress in 1920.

Reform Movements Among Muslims, Sikhs and Parsis

The Muslims had Four Revivalist Movements :

  1. The Ahmadiya movement; the Aligarh movement; Sir Mohammad Iqbal’s movement; and Sheikh Abdul Halim Sharar’s movement.
  2. These movements stressed upon universal brotherhood, liberal education and liberal interpretation of the Quran.
  3. Parsis and Sikhs also launched several socio-religious reforms in their respective communities.
  4. Parsis vowed to discard orthodoxy, particularly in regard to education of women, marriage and social position of women.
  5. The Sikhs did a lot of work to reform the management of the Gurudwaras. There was practically a revolt against the Mahants of these shrines. The Khalsa College at Amritsar was established by the end of the nineteenth century.

The Swadeshi Movement

The Swadeshi movement aimed at the indigenization by discarding use of foreign goods and inculcation of nationalist spirit among the people of India. Ganesh Vasudev Joshi (Lokahitawadi), a reformer in Maharashtra, an ardent advocate of the Swadeshi movement, listed the following points for reforming society:

  1. All should devoutly worship God;
  2. All ceremonies, except those connected with initiation, marriage and death should be abolished. Ceremonials and prayers should be performed in one’s own language;
  3. Every person should have liberty to act, speak and write according to what he thinks;
  4. Men and women should have equal rights in social and religious functions;
  5. Morality is higher than performance of ritual;
  6. No person is to be treated with contempt Pride of caste is unbecoming. All men are to be treated with charity. Do good to all;
  7. Love of the motherland and good of the country should always be borne in mind;
  8. The rights of the people are higher than those of the governments,
  9. The rules laid down by the government and rules suggested by reason should be observed;
  10. Everybody should strive for the growth of learning; and
  11. Truth should be the abiding principle of conduct.

These canons of conduct show that India was trying to rejuvenate its socio-cultural fabric and make a dignified place for itself in the changed circumstances. It had become necessary to change, to discard and to adopt some elements simultaneously. Striving for synthesis had become a necessity. Condemnation of ritual paraphernalia, caste system, rules of marriage, and of differences between the sexes had become absolutely necessary.

The Satyashodhak Samaj Movement

Jyotiba Phule organized a powerful movement against the Brahmanas in Maharashtra. He started a school for girls, and one for girls, and one for the untouchables’,and also a home for widows. He challenged the supremacy of the Brahmanas. His two writings – Saravajanik Satyadharma Pustak and Gulamgiri became sources of inspiration for the common masses.

  1. He founded the Satyashodhak Samaj (Truth Seekers’ Society) to carry out his crusade against the Brahmana hegemony.
  2. The Satyashodhak Samaj, besides being anti- Brahmanic, had a programme of positive action for women liberation, propagating education, and for economic betterment.
  3. Mahatma Phule used the symbol of Rajah Bali as opposed to the Brahmana’s symbol of Rama.
  4. The middle castes, the Kunbis, Malis and Dhangars, developed a sense of identity as a class against Brahmanas, who are thought of as exploiters.
  5. In the 1990s, the Maharaja of Kolhapur encouraged the non-Brahmana movement. The movement spread to the southern states in the first decade of twentieth century. Kannnas, Reddis and Vellalas, the powerful intermediate castes, joined hands against the Brahmanas. Muslims also joined them.

The SNDP Movement

A number of backward class movements were launched in the pre-independence period. The backward classes organized themselves against the Brahmanas in particular as they thought that most of the socio-economic advantages were cornered by them depriving the agricultural intermediate castes and communities. These were similar to Jotiba Phule’s Satyashodhak Samaj movement, with the similar aim of ending oppression by the Brahmanas. The Brahmanas were the first to exploit modern educational and employment opportunities. The upper non-Brahmana castes failed to get access to these opportunities. The Sri Narayan Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) movement, among the Ezhavas of Kerala, is an example of conflict between the depressed classes and the upper non-Brahmana castes. The Ezhavas were a caste of toddy-tappers in Kerala. They were like the Nadars of Tamil Nadu and the Idigas of Karnataka. The Ezhavas were the largest single caste group constituting 26 per cent of the total population of Kerala. In a developing country like India, movements led by the backward classes speak of their low status, disadvantages, discriminations and deprivations which they suffered for a long time at the hands of the ruling classes and communities.

The SNDP movement is an example of a ‘regional’ movement. It pertains to the Ezhavas of Kerala who were untouchables. The ideology of the movement was formulated by Sri Narayan Guru Swamy. He formed a programme of action known as the ‘SNDP Yogam’.

  1. The Yogam took up several issues, including the right of admission to public schools, recruitment to government employment, entry into temple, on roads and political representation.
  2. Most of these objectives were realized that The movement, as a whole, brought about transformative structural changes which included upward social mobility, shift in the traditional distribution of power, and a federation of ‘backward castes’ into a large conglomeration.
  3. Caste reforms and mobility movement were launched in almost all parts of India during the British period.
  4. These movements had two objectives: to protest against the hegemony of Brahmanas, in particular and of other upper castes, in general; and to elevate the position of the backward castes in the caste hierarchy by imitating lifestyles of the upper castes, including having higher education and prestigious jobs.
  5. These movements invariably created ‘ethnic’ awareness and politicization among various caste groups.
Far reaching impact of these movements

The greatest impact of the nineteenth century socio-religious reform movements was:

  1. The creation of national awakening among the masses;
  2. The revival of Hinduism as a tolerant rational religion to restore its lost prestige in the wake of Islam in the past and Christianity in the nineteenth century;
  3. An onslaught on the indignities committed on women, untouchables and other oppressed and depressed sections of Indian society;
  4. The creation of the feelings of sacrifice, service and rationalism;
  5. An attack on the hereditary character and rigidities of the caste system; and finally
  6. A sense of equality, indigenization and co-existence of cultures and religions.

It has been noted earlier that atrocities on women through purdah, child marriage, hypergamy, dowry and sex-based inequality in regard to division of work, education, occupation, freedom, etc., moved all the reformists. Not only were legislations against these ills passed, but concrete social actions were also taken to ameliorate the plight of women. It was an era of new enlightenment, of indigenization with an open mind, welfarism, liberalism and equalitarianism. This sort of awakening contributed a lot to India’s freedom struggle.

These socio-religious movements were for introducing humanistic social reforms by stopping the moral and material decadence of India. Even radical westernization was pleaded for by Ram Mohan Roy as a means to rejuvenate the decaying Indian culture and society. These movements did not have an all-India character. They were localized in Bengal Maharashtra, Punjab, etc. Their impact was generally limited to the educated, upper middle and middle classes. Assimilation of the values of rationalism, universal brotherhood, and freedom of man and equality of sexes was not easy with the Indian tradition and culture. These movements have been called “denationalized and hyper-westernized” by some critics. It is certainly undeniable that these movements made tremendous and everlasting impact in terms of socio-cultural awakening against social evils.

Positive aspect of reform movements and social reform

The orthodox sections of society could not accept the scientific ideological onslaught of the socio religious rebels. As a result of this, the reformers were subjected to abuse, persecution, issuing of fatwa and even assassination attempts by the reactionaries.

  1. However, in spite of opposition, these movements contributed towards liberation of the individual from the conformity bom out of fear and from uncritical submission to exploitation by the priests. The translation of religious texts into vernacular languages, emphasis on individual’s right to interpret the scriptures and simplification of rituals made worship a more personal experience. The movements emphasised the human intellect’s capacity to think and reason.
  2. By weeding out corrupt elements, religious beliefs and practices, the reformers enabled their followers to meet the official taunt that their religions and society were decadent and inferior. It gave the rising middle classes the much needed cultural roots to cling to, and served the purpose of reducing the sense of humiliation which the conquest by a foreign power had produced.
  3. A realization of the special needs of modern times, especially in terms of scientific knowledge, and thus promoting a modern, this-worldly, secular and rational outlook was major contribution of these reform movements.
  4. Socially, this attitude reflected in a basic change in the notions of “pollution and purity’. Although traditional values and customs were a prominent target of attack from the reformers, yet the reformers aimed at modernization rather than outright westernizing based on blind imitation of alien western cultural values. In fact, the reform movements sought to create a favourable social climate for modernization. To that extent these movements ended India’s cultural and intellectual isolation from the rest of the world. The reformers argued that modern ideas and culture could be best imbibed by integrating them into Indian cultural streams.
  5. The underlying concern of these reformist efforts was revival of the native cultural personality which had got distorted by colonial domination. This cultural ideological struggle was to prove to be an important instrument of evolution of national consciousness and a part of Indian national resolve to resist colonial cultural and ideological hegemony.
  6. However, not all these progressive, nationalist tendencies were able to outgrow the sectarian and obscurantist outlook. This was possibly due to divergent duality of cultural and political struggles resulting in cultural backwardness despite political advancement.
Negative aspect of reform movements and social reform
  1. One of the major limitations of these religious reform movements was that they had a narrow social base, namely the educated and urban middle classes, while the needs of vast masses of peasantry and the urban poor were ignored.
  2. The tendency of reformers to the greatness of the past and to rely on scriptural authority encouraged mysticism in new garbs and fostered pseudo-scientific thinking while exercising a check on full acceptance of the need for a modern scientific outlook. But, above all these tendencies contributed at least to some extent, in compartmentalizing Hindus, Muslims,Sikhs and Parsis, as also alienating high caste Hindus from low caste Hindus.
  3. An overemphasis on religious and philosophical aspects of the cultural heritage got somewhat magnified by an insufficient emphasis on other aspects of culture – art, architecture, literature, music, science and technology.
  4. To make matters worse, the Hindu reformers confined their praise of the Indian past to its ancient period and looked upon the medieval period of Indian history essentially as an era of decadence. This tended to create a notion of two separate peoples, on the one hand on the other; an uncritical praise of the past was not acceptable to the low caste sections of society which had suffered under religiously sanctioned exploitation precisely during the ancient period
  5. Moreover, the past itself tended to be placed into compartments on a partisan basis. Many in the Muslim middle classes went to the extent of turning to the history of West Asia for their traditions and moments of pride.
  6. The process of evolution of a composite culture which was evident throughout Indian history showed signs of being arrested with the rise of another form of consciousness -communal consciousness – along with national consciousness among the middle classes.
  7. Many other factors were certainly responsible for the birth of communalism in modern times, but undoubtedly the nature of religious reform movements also contributed to it.

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very precise 🙂