Women, Caste and Reform (Class 8 History Chapter 8 Notes)

Jyoti Rao and Savitri Bai Phule
Jyoti Rao and Savitri Bai Phule
Two hundred years ago, things were very different. There were many practices that could be deemed as total abusive in nature. Some of these are child marriages, polygamy (marrying more than one woman), sati (burning of widows on the pyre of their husband), no women property right, caste system and so on. Many of these practices have died, thanks to efforts from several people.

Working Towards Change
  1. In the 19th century, with the rise of printing and level of education, there was rise in social, political, economic and religious debates. These debates when reached a wider audience and became the source of social movements.

Widow Remarriage and End of Sati
  1. Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) was one such social reformer who worked toward equal access to education and greater freedom and rights for women. He founded Brahmo Sabha (later Brahmo Samaj) in Calcutta for his cause. He was particularly moved by the problems of widows and campaigned against Sati practice. With his efforts, the sati practiced was banned in 1829.
  2. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is another name who worked toward social reforms in India. Because of his efforts, the Widow Remarriage Act was passed in 1856 making widows marriage legal.
  3. Veerasalingam Pantulu and Swami Dayanand Sarawati were other reformers who supported widow remarriage. They used ancient Indian text in their arguements. Moreover, Swami Dayanand Sarawati founded Arya Samaj to spread the awareness toward the cause.

Girl's Education
  1. Several reformers felt the need of girl's education in order to improve the condition of women. In this cause, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar setup the girl's school in Calcutta and several other schools were also opened in Bombay.
  2. Initially, these schools worried people as they thought schooling would take away girls from domestic duties. They also felt girls have to travel long distances and this could have corrupting effect on them. Additionally, they thought it would be unsafe for girl to travel such long distances.
  3. Those who were educated either taught by their fathers or husbands at home.
  4. At the end of the 19th century, there were more girl's school opened by Arya Samaj in Punjab and Jyotirao Phule in Maharashtra.
  5. From early 20th century onward, noble women also played a significant role in promoting girl's education. The Begums of Bhopal founded a primary school in Aligarh. Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain started school for Muslim girls in Patna and Calcutta.
  6. Women writers such as Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai emerged in this age. Tarabai Shinde wrote Stree-Purusha Tulna criticising the social difference between men and women. Pandita Ramabai wrote about the oppressive lives of upper caste Hindu women.
  7. By the end of 19th century, women started working toward the rights of women themselves and with the rise of the 20th century, they formed political groups for female suffrage (voting rights), better healthcare and other important women related issues.

Caste and Social Reforms
  1. There were reformers who worked toward bridging the gap made by the caste system. Raja Rammohun Roy is again first prominent personality to raise this issue in modern times. He translated old Buddhist texts to support his arguements.
  2. The Prarthana Samaj is another example of a society working toward the abolition of caste system. The society was founded as the Paramhans Mandali in Bombay 1840. By the end of the 19th century, many more such societies were founded. In their meetings, their members would violate their caste taboos and do the activities which are forbidden.
  3. During the same time, Christian missionaries also began to set up schools for tribal groups and lower-caste children.
  4. Moreover, the labour demand from urban centres provide an opportunity to poor low-caste groups to get away from their oppressive upper-caste landowners.

Demands for equality and justice
By 1850s, Non-Brahman voices started rising against the caste discrimination. The Satnami movement in Central India by Ghasidas is one such example. In eastern Bengal, Haridas Thakur’s Matua sect raised voice for Chandala cultivators. In present day Kerala, Shri Narayana Guru asked his followers to unite against the caste differences.

Jyotirao Phule
  1. Jyotirao Phule was one of the prominent low-caste voice. Born in 1827, he studied in a Christian missionary school. He launched a fierce attack on the Brahman superamacy and argued if Brahmans consider themselves as Aryans. They have no rights on the Indian land. As Aryans were foreigners who came from outside and defeated and subjugated the inhabitants of the country.
  2. Phule argued that Shudras (labouring castes) and Ati Shudras (untouchables) were actual inhabitants of the land and they should unite to challenge caste discrimination.
  3. He founded the Satyashodhak Samaj, an association which worked toward equality. In 1873, he wrote a book named Gulamgiri, meaning slavery. He dedicated his book to all those Americans who fought against the slavery. Thus establishing a link between the conditions of the “lower” castes in India and the black slaves in America.
  4. His movement against the caste discrimination was continued by Dr BR Ambedkar in North and EV Ramsawmy Naicker in South.

BR Ambedkar
  1. BR Ambedkar was born into a Mahar family. As a child, he faced discrimination on caste lines. In school, he was asked to sit outside the room and not allowed to drink water from taps meant for upper caste children.
  2. On his return to India after his higher studies in 1919, he wrote extensively about upper-caste domination in contemporary society.
  3. In 1927, he started a temple entry movement, in which his Mahar caste followers participated. He led 3 such movements between 1927 and 1935 with an aim to highlight the power of caste prejudices in India.

EV Ramaswamy Naicker
  1. EV Ramaswamy Naicker, or also known as Periyar, came from a middle-class family. Interestingly, he joined Congress in his youth and only left after a feast where seating arrangements were made on caste lines.
  2. He founded the Self Respect Movement and felt the untouchables had to free themselves from all caste and religious divide in order to achieve social equality.
  3. He was an outspoken critic of Hindu scriptures and argued these texts were developed and used to establish the authority of Brahmans over lower castes and the domination of men over women.

These anti-caste assertions did not go unchallenged. These were challenged by orthodox Hindu groups like Sanatan Dharma Sabhas, Bharat Dharma Mahamandal and the Brahman Sabha. The debate and struggle for caste equality had gone beyond the colonial period and still going on.