Saturday, February 15, 2014

Social and Religious Reform Movements Of The 19th Century



The British rule in India acted as a catalyst to deep seated social changes in India. Western culture also influenced the Indian life and thought to several ways. The most important result of the impact of western culture on India was the replacement of blind faith in current traditions, beliefs and conventions by a spirit of rationalism. The rationalising effect of English education at first manifested itself in religious and social ideas, but it was not long before it also profoundly affected the political consciousness of the people. Western knowledge gave rise to movements whose ebb and flow, with their currents and- under-currents, have affected life in modern India. On the one hand western humanitarian and rationalist thought helped in germination of such cosmopolitan socio-religious movements as the Brahmo Samaj, the Prarthana Samaj and the Theosophical Society. On the other hand, orthodox Indian opinion and anti- British influences crystalised in the formation of Arya Samaj.

Social and Religious Reform Movements Of The 19th CenturyIf we analyse these developments during the 19th century, it will appear that there was hardly any aspect of life and society which was not deeply affected by the impact of the British rule. Side by side with the rise of new religious sects, we find a profound change in the orthodox Hindu religion. There were persistent demands for removal of social abuses and introduction of social reforms on modern lines. The ideals and methods, of education underwent a revolutionary change. Equally revolutionary was the change brought about in the domain of literature, which reflected the spirit of the socio-religious movement as well as of the modern age.


There were many causes responsible for the reform movement of the 19th century. First and foremost was the establishment of the British rule itself. The British administrative system had a few distinctive features. Since it had been established by a commercial Company, its administrative practices were of mild nature. From the very beginning the Company had adopted the council form of government, which ensured mutual discussions and decisions by a majority vote There was supremacy of the civil over the military authority on the administrative hierarchy. All these factors created conditions favourable to intellectual growth

Another contributory factor was the painstaking efforts of the Orientalists to bring into limelight India’s past. The pioneering work in this field was done by Sir William Jones, Charles Wilkin and H. H. Wilson.

A third reason for the spread of the reform movement was the determined bid of Christian missionaries to convert India to Christianity. The East India Company in its political career refrained from entering in the socio-religious life in the Indians. The Company had expelled William Carey, the earliest leader of Christian missionaries, in 1793 when he declared his intentions of carrying on propaganda work. After the passing of the Charter Act of 1813, restrictions on the immigration of missionaries to India were removed and a horde of them came here. They were filled with the zeal of reforming the Indian society of what they regarded as its backwardness and barbarism. In the process they used vile language to denigrate Hindu gods and religious practices. In the first flush of their activities, many immature youngmen were drawn towards Christianity. Indian intellectuals now felt the need of meeting this onslaught on their religion and social customs by attempting to reform it by removing some of the evil practices. The leader of this awakening was Ram Mohan Roy.


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