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Socio-Religious and Peasant Movement


Socio-Religious Reforms


• India in the 19th century witnessed a series of reform movements undertaken in various parts of the country which were oriented toward a re-structuring of the Indian society along modem lines.
• Impact of modern Western culture soon gave birth to a new awakening in India.
• Western conquest exposed the weakness and decay of Indian society.
• Thoughtful Indians began to look for the defects of their society and for ways and means of removing them.
• While large number of Indians refused to come to terms with the West and still put their faith in traditional Indian ideas and institutions, others gradually came to hold that modern Western thought provided the key to the regeneration of their society.
• They were impressed in particular by modem science and the doctrines of reason and humanism.


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• Reform movements which took deep roots within Bengal have often been also termed as Bengal Renaissance.
Bankim Chandra Chatterji and Bipin Chandra Pal referred to developments in the 19th century Bengal as a period of Renaissance.
• It may not be proper to compare European Renaissance with developments in Bengal as the context was entirely different and the patterns not too similar.

• The features which were referred to while talking of a Bengal Renaissance may​​ 
be clubbed under three major categories, i.e. historical rediscovery, linguistic and literary modernization and socio-religious reforms.


Raja Rammohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj

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• Raja Rammohan Roy from Bengal was the most notable reformer of the modern times.
• He is considered as the​​ 
first ‘modern man’​​ as he was the pioneer of socio-religious and political reformmovements in modern India.
• He believed in monotheism i.e. doctrine of the unity of God-head and opposed idol-worship.

• In 1803 he published a Persian treatise​​ 
named ‘Tuhfat-ul Muwahidin’​​ or ‘A Gift to Monotheists’ wherein he explains his concept of monotheism.
• He was among the first to bring political questions in the ambit of public debate.

His Atmiya Sabha, founded in 1814, discussed important social and political questions of the time. In 1828, its enlarged edition was called the Brahmo Sabha which was renamed Brahmo Samaj later on.
• He started touching upon many burning social issues of the time including the widely-prevalent practice of becoming​​ 
• He rallied support to the efforts of William Bentinck (Governor General) for abolition of this custom and wrote extensively for the cause.
• In 1829, the custom of sati was formally abolished. He also condemned polygamy and many other forms of subjugation of women.

• Roy was also an advocate of modern education. He opened an English school as well as a Vedanta college (1825).

He was a firm believer in the concept of one God. He was opposed to idolatry and​​ found Upanishads as the basis of true Hinduism.

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar

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• Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, a Bengali reformer actively raised the issues related to women.
• He was an active proponent of education of girl child as he believed that lack of education was the real cause underlying all their problems.

• He forcefully attacked child marriage and polygamy.

• He was a strong advocate of widow remarriage.

It was due to his active mobilization of support that the Widows’ Remarriage Act was passed in 1856 legalizing all widow remarriages. He arranged many such remarriages.
• He set a personal example when his son Narayan also married a widow.


Ramakrishna Mission

• During the late 19th century, another notable reform movement in Bengal, which soon spread to other parts of the country, was the Ramakrishna Mission.
• The movement began under an ascetic and priest​​ 
Gadadhar Chatterjee or Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836-86).

• Among his important disciples was Narendra Nath or Swami Vivekananda who accepted Ramakrishna as his guru in 1885.


Swami Vivekananda

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• He spread the message of spiritual Hinduism in America and Europe during his tour of 1893-97.
• He established​​ 
Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 and set up a Math at Belur.
• He pointed out that the present condition of Hindus was due to their ignorance which was helped by their being a subject race.
• He attempted to establish Hindu spiritual supremacy vis-à-vis the selfish civilization of the West.

• He believed that India had to learn work ethics, forms of organization and technological advances from the West.


Arya Samaj

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• The most profound reform movement which can be also termed as revivalist movement in the late 19th century India was the Arya Samaj.
• It started in the western India and the Punjab, and gradually spread to a large part of the Hindi heartland.

• It was founded by​​ 
Dayanand Saraswati (1824-83).
• In 1875, he wrote​​ 
Satyarth Prakash​​ (or the light of truth) and in the same year founded the Bombay Arya Samaj.
• The Lahore Arya Samaj was founded in 1877. Subsequently, Lahore became the epicentre of the Arya movement.

• Dayanand opposed a ritual-ridden Hindu religion and called for basing it on the​​ 
preaching of the Vedas. Only Vedas, along with their correct analytical tools, were true.
• He attacked puranas, polytheism, idolatry and domination of the priestly class.

• He adopted Hindi for reaching out to the masses.

• He also opposed child marriage.

• The Arya Samaj as a whole opposed conversion of Hindus to Islam and Christianity and therefore advocated re-conversion of recent converts to Hinduism.​​ 
This process was called shuddhi.
• They also advocated greater usage of Hindi in Devanagari script.



• The Prarthana Samaj was founded in 1867 in Bombay by​​ Dr. Atmaram Pandurang.
• It was an off-shoot of Brahmo Samaj.

• It was a reform movement within Hinduism and Justice M.G. Ranade and R.G. Bhandarkar joined it in 1870 and infused new strength to it.

• Mahadev Govind Ranade, also ran the Deccan Education Society.
• Several members of the Prarthana Samaj had earlier been active in the Paramhansa Mandali.

• This Samaj denounced idolatry, priestly domination, caste rigidities and preferred monotheism.


•​​ Madam H.P. Blavatsky​​ laid the foundation of the movement in the Unites States in 1875 and later Colonel​​ M.S. Olcott​​ joined her.
• The theosophical movement came to be allied with Hindu renaissance.

• The society believes in re-incarnation, Karma and draws from the philosophy of the upanishads and Samkhya, yoga and vedanta schools of thought.

She founded the Central Hindu University at Varanasi in 1898 which was later​​ developed into the Benaras Hindu University by Madan Mohan Malaviya.



• Its founder was Henry Vivian Derozio, who taught at the Hindu college between 1826 and 1831.
• His followers were known as the Derozians and their movement as the Young Bengal Movement.
• The movement attacked old traditions and decadent customs, advocating women’s rights and education and educating the public on the current socio-economic and political questions through press and public associations.


• In Western​​ India​​ Prof D.K. Karve​​ took up the cause of widow remarriage and in Madras Veerasalingam Pantulu made Herculean efforts in the same direction.
• Prof. Karve opened a widow’s home in Poona in 1899. He set up the Indian Womens University at Bombay in 1916.
• In 1873,​​ 
Satya Sodhak movement was launched by Jyotiba Phule in Maharashtra to save the lower castes from the Brahmins. He wrote ‘Gulamgiri’ and ‘Sarvajanik Satyadharma Pustak’. His theory of exploitation of lower castes was focused on cultural and ethnic factor rather than on political and economic one.
• The​​ 
Mahars were organised by Gopal Baba Walangkar in late 19th century against Brahmins in Maharashta. Baba Bhim Rao Ambedkar became their leader in the 20th century. Under his leadership the Mahars started burning Manusmriti and tried to break with the Hinduism.
• In 1932​​ Gandhiji founded the Harijan Sevak Sangh.
• Ambedkar founded the Scheduled Castes Federation.


• There was a sense of loss of power among educated and elite Muslims of India. This happened mainly because of-.

Farazis Movement

• The movement of the Farazis which arose among the peasants of early 19th century Bengal advocated return to pure Islam.
• They followed the teachings of Shah Walliullah of Delhi (1703-63) who had, a century earlier, talked about regaining purity of Islam and objected to infiltration of non-Islamic customs among Muslims.

• Founding leader of the Farazis, Shariat Ullah (1781-1839) preached religious purification and advocated return to the faraiz, i.e. obligatory duties of Islam, namely – kalimah (profession of faith), salat (or namaz), sawn ( or rozah), zakat (or alms to poor) and Hajj. He also preached tawhid or monotheism.

• Another movement which was more concerned about the decline in power of the ulema class (Muslim priestly class) arose​​ 
at Deoband in the United Provinces.
• Delhi School of Islamic Thought was derived from the Delhi College (currently Zakir Husain College) which had begun imparting a parallel education – Islamic as well as English.
• Beginning 1830s, the college helped to foster a modern consciousness in the Muslim community.

• The revolt of 1857 and consequent crackdown by the British forces ended this​​ 
intellectual excitement. However, the urge for modernization could easily be felt among a section of Muslims.


The Wahabi Movement
• The spread of Christianity and the Western culture were viewed as a threat to Islam. They resisted English education and remained aloof from Western influences.

• The Wahabi movement was introduced in India by​​ 
Syed Ahmed of Rae Bareilly​​ in Uttar Pradesh.
• The Wahabi movement aimed at the purification of Islam and to return to the simplicity of religion.

• In India the Wahibis did not restrict to the religious reforms only.

Sayyid Ahmad Khan

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• According to Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) modern education was the most important path for improvement in the condition of Indian Muslims.
• He called for the study of European science and technology.

• In 1866, he formed the British Indian Association.

• He pointed out that there was no fundamental contradiction between Quran and Natural Science and the new circumstances demanded dissemination of English language within an Islamic context.

• He founded the​​ 
Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875​​ which went on to become the most important seminary for modern higher education among Muslims.

The Deoband School

• The orthodox section among the Muslim ulema organised the Deoband Moovement. It was a revivalist movement whose twin objectives were:
• To propagate among the Muslims the pure teachings of the Koran​​ and the Hadis.

Ahmadiya Movement

• The Ahmadiya movement​​ was founded by​​ Mirza Ghulam Ahamad of Qadiyan​​ (1839-1908) in 1889, who began his work as a defender of Islam against the polemics of the Arya Samaj and the Christian missionaries.
• In 1889, he claimed to be Masih and Mahdi and later also to be an incarnation of the Hindu god Krishna and Jesus, returned to earth.

• The movement was really a heresy well within the bounds of Islam as Ghulam Ahamad, though he called himself a minor prophet, regarded Muhammad as the true and great prophet whom he followed.



•​​ Baba Dayal Das (1783-1855) was the founder of this movement of purification and return.
• In 1840s he called for the return of Sikhism to its origin and emphasized the worship of one God and nirankar (formless).


• It was founded by​​ Baba Ram Singh​​ (1816-1885) in 1857, who in 1841 became a disciple of Balak Singh of the Kuka movement.
• The movement was founded on a set of rituals modeled after Guru Gobind Singh’s founding of the Khalsa with the requirement of wearing the five symbols but instead of the sword the followers were supposed to carry a stick.

• The movement required the followers to abandon the worship of gods, idols, tombs, trees, snakes, etc. and abstain from drinking, stealing, falsehood, slandering, backbiting, etc.

Gurudwara Reform Movements

• Before 1920 the Sikh Gurudwara were governed by the Udasi Sikh mahants, who treated the Gurudwara offerings and other income of the Gurudwaras as their personal income.
• The British government supported these mahants as a counterpoise to the rising tide of nationalism among the Sikhs.
• Matter came to such a pass that the priest of the golden temple issued a hukmnama (injunction) against Ghadarites, declaring them renegades, and then honored General Dyer, the butcher of Jalianwala massacre with a saropa.
• The movement for liberation of Gurudwaras soon turned into Alkali movement, which later on got divided into three streams, namely moderate nationalist reformers, pro-government loyalists and political organ of Sikh communalism.




• The Permanent Settlement made the zamindar the owner of the land, but this land could be sold off if he failed to pay the revenue on time and this forced the zamindars and the landlords to extract money from the peasants even if their crops failed.
• The peasants often borrowed money from the moneylenders, who were also called mahajans.
• The impoverished peasants could never pay back this borrowed money. This led to many hardships like extreme poverty and were forced to work as bonded labourers. Hence the lower and exploited classes often attacked their exploiters.
• Failure to pay by the zamindars also meant that the land would be taken away by the Britishers. The British then auctioned the land to the highest bidder, who often came from the urban areas.
• The new zamindars from the urban areas had little or no interest in the land. They did not invest money in seeds or fertilizers to improve the fertility of the land but only cared to collect as much revenue as they could. This proved destructive for the peasants who remained backward and stagnant.
• To get out of this situation, the peasants started producing commercial crops like indigo, sugarcane, jute, cotton, opium and so on. This was the beginning of commercialisation of agriculture.

Some of the important peasant revolts are discussed below:

a) The Mappila Uprisings (1836-1854)

• The Mappilas were the Muslim cultivating tenants, landless labourers and fishermen of Malabar region.
• British occupation of Malabar region and their new land laws along with the atrocities of the landlords (mainly Hindus) led the Mappilas to revolt against them in 1836.


b) Indigo Revolt (1859-1860)

• The peasants were forced to grow indigo in their lands by the European factory owners which exploded into a revolt in Govindpur village of​​ Nandia district in Bengal under the leadership of Digamber Biswas and Vishnu Biswas.
• Others who played an important role included Harish Chandra Mukherjee (editor of the newspaper Hindu Patriot), Dinbandhu Mitra and Michael Madhusudan Dutta.

• As a result the government appointed an Indigo Commission in 1860 and removed some of the abuses of the indigo cultivation.


c) Pabna Agrarian Unrest

• Peasants unrest broke out due to the efforts of the zamindars to enhance rent beyond legal limits & prevent the tenants from acquiring occupancy right under Act X of 1859.
• As a result in May 1873, an agrarian league was formed at Yusuf Shahi Pargana in Pabna district of East Bengal to resist the zamindari oppression.
• Like the Indigo Revolt, the Pabna Movement was non-communal despite the fact that majority of the zamindars were Hindus and the peasants from Muslim background.

d) Champaran Satyagraha

• This satyagraha formed the base of the transition of peasant movement from a localized one to mass movement.
• The cultivation of​​ 
indigo on tinkathia system​​ was in existence in Champaran earlier.
• In the 20th century, with the declining market of indigo in the face of synthetic dyes, the planters were now willing to release the farmers from their irksome crop, but only by recurring increase in revenue and other dues.
• In 1917, Gandhiji offered civil disobedience in Champaran on the persuasion of Raj Kumar Shukla.

• The Government ordered an enquiry involving men like​​ 
Rajendra Prasad and J. B. Kriplani and recording statements of peasants.
• Ultimately, the first experiment of Mahatma Gandhi in India succeeded with the abolition of the tinkathia system.


e) Kheda Satyagraha

• Again led by Gandhiji, this Satyagraha was directed against the distress of the​​ Kunbi Patidars peasants of Kheda in Gujarat.
• It was well-supported by leaders like Indu Lal Yagnik and Vallabbhai Patel.

• Gandhiji urged the peasantry to withhold the revenue.

f) Bardoli Satyagraha

• It was one of the important satyagrahas fully based on the Gandhian method of struggle.
• It started in 1928 at​​ 
Bardoli in Surat district, it incorporated both the land owning peasants as well as the low caste untouchables and tribes like Kali-praja (dark people).
• These tribes were given the name of Ranipraja (inhabitants of the forest).

• When the Bombay government announced an enhanced revenue by 22% in spite of the fall in the prices of cotton, the followers of Gandhiji, like the Mehta brothers persuaded Vallabbhai Patel to organize a sustained no-revenue campaign.