Open In App

CBSE Class 8 History Chapter 8 – Women, Caste and Reform

Last Updated : 02 Aug, 2023
Like Article

Even after independence from British rule, women still hadn’t achieved independence and are struggling for it. But reformers have tried to reform our society and have succeeded to a large extent.

Differences were not only in gendered context but people were also divided along caste lines and certain castes were considered “polluting” and “untouchables”. They weren’t allowed to enter temples, or draw water from wells and were seen as inferior humans. Over the years many of these norms and perceptions have changed slowly.

Working Towards Change

From the early 19th century, debates and discussions about social customs and practices took a new form; due to the development of printing and new modes of communication. All kinds of issues could now be discussed in new cities and reach the wider public and be linked to movements of social change.

Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833)

Raja Rammohun Roy founded a reform association known as Brahmo Sabha ( later Brahmo Samaj) in Calcutta. He was an important reformer and felt the change was necessary for society to do away with unjust practices and the best way for this is by persuading people to give up old practices and adopt new ways of life.

He was keen on spreading knowledge of Western education in the country and also for bringing a greater sense of freedom and also equality for women. He wrote about the themes of how women were forced to bear the burden of household work and were not allowed to move out or educate.

He was moved and disturbed by the problems widows faced in their lives and began a campaign against the practice of Sati. He was well-versed in Sanskrit, Persian, and other languages. Through his writings, he wanted to convey that the practice of burning widows had no sanction in ancient texts. By the early 19th century, many British officials were criticizing Indian traditions and were willing to listen to Rammohun, and finally in 1829 sati was banned.

His strategy was used by later reformers as well of challenging a practice that seemed harmful, trying to find a verse in ancient texts that supported the point of view and suggest a practice as it existed in the present against early tradition.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

He used the ancient texts to suggest widows could remarry and this suggestion was adopted by the Britishers and a law was passed in 1856 permitting widows to remarry. Many people opposed and boycotted this change.

By the second half of the 19th century, the movement in favor of widow remarriage spread to other parts of the country as well. In Madras Presidency, Veeresalingam Pantulu formed an association for widow remarriage. In the North, Swami Dayanand Saraswati also supported widow remarriage. However, many sections of society continued to be against this practice of widow marriage.

Girls Begin Going To School

Education for girls was sought to be necessary by many reformers, in order to improve the conditions for women. Vidyasagar in Calcutta and others set up schools for girls. When the early 19th century, schools opened people were scared as they felt girls will be prevented from performing household duties and traveling through public places to reach school. Because of this, throughout the 19th century, most educated women came to be taught in homes by liberal fathers or husbands. For example, Rashsundari Debi secretly learned to read and write.

Later, schools for girls were established by Arya Samaj in Punjab and Jyotirao Phule in Maharashtra. In aristocratic Muslim homes, women were taught Koran in Arabic. Some reformers like Mumtaz Ali reinterpreted verses from Koran to argue for the education of women. Urdu novels were written that encouraged women to read about religion and domestic management in a familiar language.

Women Reformers in India

Women’s Reforms in India

Women Write About Women

Muslim women like the Begums of Bhopal played an important role in the promotion of education among women and founded a primary school for girls in Aligarh. Another one, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain started school for Muslim girls in Calcutta and Patna. She was fearless in the critique of conservative and traditional ideas and argued every religious leader accorded an inferior place to women.

From the 1880s, women began to enter universities and some trained to be doctors, some teachers, and many women began to write and publish critical views on the place of women in society. Tarabai Shinde, published “Stripurushtulna”, criticizing the social difference that existed between men and women.

Pandita Ramabai felt that Hinduism was kind of oppressive towards women and wrote a book about the miserable lives of upper-caste Hindu women and founded a widow’s home at Poona where women were trained to support themselves economically. The orthodox Hindus felt that Hindu women were adopting Western ways and corrupting Hindu culture and eroding family values and the same was felt by orthodox Muslims.

By the end of the 19th century, women were actively working for reforms and wrote books, edited magazines, and set up women’s associations by the early 20th century also formed political pressure groups to push laws for female suffrage and better health care and education and many joined various nationalist as well as socialist movements from the 1920s. Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose lent support to demands for greater freedom as well as equality for women.

Law Against Child Marriage

A number of Indian legislators in the Central Legislative Assembly fought for the prevention of child marriage. In the year 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed, according to which no man below the age of 18 and women below the age of 16 could marry, and subsequently, limits were raised to 21 for men and 18 for women.

Caste and Social Reform

 Rammohun Roy translated an old Buddhist text which was critical about castes. Prarthana Samaj adhered to the tradition of Bhakti which believed in the equality of all castes. In Bombay, Paramhans Mandali worked for the abolition of caste. These reformers were mostly from upper castes and often in the secret meetings they violate caste taboos on food and touch, to get rid of caste prejudice.

During the 19th century, Christian missionaries began to set up schools for tribal groups and lower caste people. Poor from the villages and small towns, many of which were from lower castes, began moving to cities for the demand of labor and some even went to plantations in Assam, Mauritius, etc. Working in new locations was hard, but however, the poor and people from lower castes saw this as one of the important opportunity to get away from the oppressive hold of upper caste landowners and also the humiliations suffered by them. Army also offered opportunities and a number of people from the Mahar community found jobs in Mahar Regiment.

Demands for Equality and Justice

From the second half of the 19th century, Non-Brahman castes organized movements against caste discrimination and demanded equality and justice.

Satnami movement in Central India was founded by Ghasidas, who worked as a leatherworker, and in eastern Bengal, Haridas Thakur’s Matua sect worked among Chandala cultivators and questioned the Brahmanical texts which supported the caste system. Shri Narayan Guru of Kerala, of the Ezhava caste, proclaimed the ideals of unity for his people and argued against discrimination based on caste.

Jyotirao Phule and Gulamgiri

Jyotirao Phule attacked Brahman’s claim that they were superior to others since they were the Aryans. According to him, the Upper caste had no right over land and power, since they were Aryans and outsiders; but land belonged to the indigenous people, the low castes. He proposed that Shudras and Ati Shudras should unite to challenge caste discrimination. Satyashodhak Samaj, an association founded by him, propagated caste equality.

In 1873, he wrote booked titled Gulamgiri. He dedicated the book to all those Americans who fought to free slaves and form a link between the lower caste of India and the slaves of America. He argued against any forms of inequality and was also concerned about the plight of upper-caste women, the miseries of laborers, and the humiliation of lower castes. These movements were continued by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and E.V. Ramaswamy.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Temple Entry

Ambedkar was born into a Mahar family and experienced caste discrimination early in life. In 1927, he started the temple entry movement, in which Mahar caste followers participated. Brahmans were outraged when Dalits used water from the temple tank. He led three such temple entry movements between 1927 and 1935 and the main aim was to make everyone see the power of caste prejudices within society.

Dr. B.R.Ambedkar

Non-Brahman Movement

The non-Brahman movement was an initiative from the non-brahman castes who had acquired education and wealth and argued Brahmans were heirs of Aryans and conquered southern lands from the original Dravidian races.

E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker or Periyar became a member of Congress but left it due to caste distinctions and convinced that lower castes had to fight for their dignity and organized the Self Respect Movement. He argued untouchables were true upholders of Tamil and Dravidian culture which has been subjugated by Brahmins. He criticized the Codes of Manu and Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana; as he said these texts were used to establish the authority of Brahmans over lower castes and women.

These assertions did not go unchallenged and also did lead to a rethinking of self-criticism among upper-caste nationalist leaders. But orthodox Hindus also reacted by forming Sanatan Dharma Sabhas and Bharat Dharma Mahamandal, the main objectives of which were to uphold caste distinctions and how it is sanctified by scriptures. Debates of caste and prejudice are prevalent even today but obviously with many changes and adjustments.

Organizing Criticizing, for Reform



The Brahmo Samaj It was formed in 1830, prohibited all forms of idolatry and sacrifice, believed in Upanishads, and forbade its members from criticizing other religious practices.
Derozio and Young Bengal Henry Loius Vivian Derozio, a teacher at Hindu College, Calcutta, in the Paramahansa1820s, promoted ideas of radical reforms and encouraged them to question all authority. Students demanded education for women, attacked tradition and custom, and demanded freedom of thought and expression.
Ramakrishna Mission and Swami Vivekananda Named after Ramakrishna Paramahansa, the Guru of Vivekananda stressed the ideals of salvation through social service and selfless action. He believed in equality and that the world should come together on equal footing.
Prarthana Samaj Established in 1867 in Bombay, sought to remove caste restrictions, abolish child marriage, encourage women’s education, and end the ban on widow remarriage.
Veda Samaj Established in Chennai in 1864, inspired by Brahmo Samaj and worked to abolish caste distinctions and promote widow remarriage and women’s education.
Aligarh Movement Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, founded by Sayyid Ahmed Khan in 1875, is known to have had an enormous impact in areas of educational reform.
Singh Sabha Movement First Singh Sabhas were formed in Amritsar in 1873 and at Lahore in 1879. Sought to get rid of Sikhism of superstitions, caste distinctions, and practices seen by them as non-Sikh.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q 1. What is the status of women in Indian society?


Principle of gender equality is enshrined in Indian Constitution. However, many discrepancies still prevail in the Indian society and mindset of people against gender equality and women are often pushed to the boundaries of the main society.

Q 2. What is the role of women in Indian society?


Three central roles of women in a society includes reproduction, productive and community management.

Q 3. Discuss the issues faced by women in Indian society.


Women have to many issues which includes, harassment, gender discrimination, lack of education, dowry related, gender pay gap and many more.

Q 4. What is the role of caste in Indian politics?


The caste system has been very influential in Indian state and one’s caste control access to political power, land and judicial assistance. Caste also tend to influence local politics.

Q 5. How many castes are in India?


Approximately 3,000 castes are there in India and around 25,000 sub-castes in India.

Like Article
Suggest improvement
Share your thoughts in the comments

Similar Reads