Another outstanding reformer in Bengal was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891 A.D.). A scholar of great depths, he dedicated himself to the cause of the emancipation of women. It was due to his sincere efforts that obstacles to the marriage of widows were removed through a law in 1856. He played a leading role in promoting education of girls and started and helped the setting up a number of schools for girls. Vidyasagar did not concern himself much with religious questions. However, he was against all those who opposed reforms in the name of religion.
Jyotirao Govindrao Phule from Maharashtra worked to attain equal rights for peasants and the lower caste.
He and his wife, Savitribai Phule, are most known for their efforts to educate women and the lower castes as well as the masses.
he first educated his wife, after which both of them opened a school for girls in India in August 1848.took up the cause of women and started a girls’ school in Poona (Pune) in 1851.
He is also remembered for his efforts towards promoting widow remarriage.
He wrote Gulamgiri (1873), Shetkarayacha Aasud, or Cultivator’s Whipcord (1881),Satyashodhak Samajokt Mangalashtakasah Sarva Puja-vidhi (1887)
In 1851, Jyotiba established a girls’ school and asked his wife to teach the girls in the school. Later, he opened two more schools for the girls and an indigenous school for the lower castes, especially for the Mahars and Mangs.
He opened his home to people from all castes and backgrounds. He was a believer in gender equality and he exemplified his beliefs by involving his wife in all his social reform activities. He believed that religious icons like Rama are implemented by the Brahmin as a means for subjugating the lower caste.
Phule was appointed commissioner (municipal council member) to the then Poona municipality in 1876 and served in this unelected position until 1883
What was Satya Shodhak Samaj , How it fought against casteism ?
In September 1873, Jyotirao along with his followers formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) with the main objective of liberating the lower castes and protecting them from exploitation and atrocities.
He undertook a systematic deconstruction of existing beliefs and history, only to reconstruct equality promoting version.
Jyotirao vehemently condemned the Vedas, the ancient holy scriptures of the Hindus.
He traced the history of Brahmanism through several other ancient texts and held the Brahmins responsible for framing the exploitative and inhuman laws in order to maintain their social superiority by suppressing the “shudras” and “atishudras” in the society.
The purpose of the Satya Shodhak Samaj was to decontaminate the society from caste discrimination and liberate the oppressed lower-caste people from the stigmas inflicted by the Brahmins.
Jyotirao Phule was the first person to coin the term ‘Dalits’ to apply to all people considered lower caste and untouchables by the Brahmins.
Membership to the Samaj was open to all irrespective of caste and class. Some written records suggest that they even welcomed participation of Jews as members of the Samaj and by 1876 the ‘Satya Shodhak Samaj’ boasted of 316 members.
In 1868, Jyotirao decided to construct a common bathing tank outside his house to exhibit his embracing attitude towards all human beings and wished to dine with everyone, regardless of their caste.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan believed that the religious and social life of the Muslims could be improved only by imbibing modern western scientific knowledge and culture. His major concern was the removal of social and educational backwardness among the Muslims. He worked hard to raise the status of the Muslim women. He was against the purdah system, polygamy, easy divorce and lack of education among the girls. Though he was opposed by the orthodox Muslims, he made commendable efforts in promote women’s education. He tried to interpret the Quran in the light of reason and spoke out against fanaticism and ignorance. He also initiated social reforms for the upliftment of Muslim society.
Throughout his early life, he advocated the study of the English language even against the opposition of the orthodox Muslims. He considered that only modern education could lead Muslims towards progress. He established an English school in Ghazipur (present-day Uttar Pradesh) in 1864. He started the Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College (M.A.O.) at Aligarh in 1875 which later developed into the Aligarh Muslim University. It provided education in humanities and science through English medium. He also established a scientific society for translating English books. He also published a journal for spreading awareness among the Muslims towards social reforms especially towards modern education. He started the Mohammadan educational conference for spreading liberal ideas among the Muslims. The movement for reform started by him is known as the Aligarh Movement which proved to be an important step towards social and political awakening among the Muslims.
You have just read about reform within the Hindu religion, its practices and social institutions. A similar reform movement was also taking place within Islam. The Muslim upper classes had tended to avoid contact with Western education and culture and it was only after the revolt of 1857 that modern ideas of religious reform began to appear. The beginning was made by the Muhammedan Literary Society founded in Calcutta in 1863 founded by Nawab Abdul Latif 1828-1893. It promoted discussion of religious, social and political questions in the light of modern ideas and encouraged upper and middle class Muslims to adopt Western education. It also played an important role for Muslim Unity. The Muslim masses were also influenced by movements carried on by the Chishti sufis who preached not only submission to God but also promoted the veneration of saints. Another movement is associated with Shah Waliullah in Delhi, who opposed the unorthodox religious practices and revived the Shia sect and strict monotheism. The philosophical and learned tradition of the Firangi Mahal in Lucknow was incorporated into the new educational syllabus and propagated throughout India during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sharitulla of Bengal was the leader of the Faraizi movement Bengal which took up the cause of the peasants and even spoke against the caste system among the Muslims.
The most notable of the Muslim reformers was Sayyid Ahmed of Rai Bareilly, in Uttar Pradesh. He attracted the Muslim artisans of the declining weaving towns of Allahabad and Patna finding a ready audience and giving the common people dignity and an identity through a common faith at a time of social dislocation. He realised that unless the Muslims adapted themselves to the changed circumstances of British rule, they would be deprived of all new opportunities for status and prosperity. He was highly impressed by modern scientific thought and worked all his life to reconcile it with Islam. He interpreted the Quran in the light of rationalism and science. He urged the people to develop a critical approach and freedom of thought. He also warned against fanaticism, narrow-mindedness and exclusiveness. He asked the people to be broadminded and tolerant. In 1883 he said: “Now both of us (Hindus and Muslims) live on the air of India, drink the holy waters of the Ganga and Jamuna. We both feed upon the products of the Indian soil… we are a nation and the progress and welfare of the country, and both of us, depend on our unity, mutual sympathy, and love, while our mutual disagreement, obstinacy and opposition and illfeeling are sure to destroy us”.
Syed Ahmed Khan rightly felt that isolation would harm the Muslim community and to prevent that he did his best to create a link with the progressive cultural forces of the outside world. He worked hard to remove the hostility of the British rulers towards the Muslims whom they considered as their real enemies.
He felt that the religious and social life of the Muslims could be improved only with the help of modem Western scientific knowledge and culture. Therefore, promotion of modern education was the first task. As an official, he founded schools at many places. He got many Western books translated into Urdu. He started the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875 at Aligarh. It was meant to be a centre for spreading Western sciences and culture. Later, this college grew into the Aligarh Muslim University.
The liberal, social and cultural movement started by Sayyid Ahmad Khan among the Muslims is known as the Aligarh Movement as it originated in Aligarh. The Anglo-Oriental College was the centre of this movement. It aimed at promoting modern education among Muslims without weakening the ties with Islam. It became the central educational institution for Indian Muslims.
The Aligarh Movement was largely responsible for the Muslim revival that followed. It provided a focal point for the scattered Muslim population in different parts of the country. It gave them a common fund of ideas and a common language – Urdu. A Muslim press was developed for the compilation of works in Urdu.
Sayyid Ahmad’s efforts extended to the social sphere as well. He worked for social reforms. He wanted women to be educated and advocated the removal of the purdah. He was also against polygamy.
There were several other socio-religious movements which in one way or the other helped the national awakening of the Muslims. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had founded the Ahmediya Movement in 1899. Under this movement, a number of schools and colleges were opened all over the country, imparting modern education. In the field of religion the followers of this movement emphasized the universal and humanitarian character of Islam. They favoured the unity among Hindus and Muslims.
One of the greatest poets of modern India, Muhammad Iqbal, (1876-1938) also profoundly influenced through his poetry, the philosophical and religious outlook of the younger generation of Muslims as well as of Hindus. He urged the adoption of a dynamic outlook that would help change the world. He was basically a humanist.
Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836-1886) highlighted the essential unity of religions and the need to lead a spiritual life. He believed that the different religions of the world are only different ways to reach the same god. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) was his foremost disciple.
The history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves. That faith calls out the Divinity within. You can do anything. You fail only when you do not strive sufficiently to manifest infinite power. As soon as a man or a nation loses faith in himself or itself, death comes. Believe first in yourself, and then in God. – Swami Vivekananda.
Vivekananda was the first spiritual leader who thought beyond religious reforms. He felt that Indian masses needed secular as well as spiritual knowledge to empower them to believe in themselves. Vivekananda established the Ramakrishna mission after the name of his guru Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Through his speeches and writings, he brought out the essence of Hindu culture and religion. He believed in the spirit of Vedanta and the essential unity and equality of all religions. He laid stress on the removal of religious superstitions, obscurantism, and outdated social customs. He tried to remove caste rigidities and untouchability. He motivated the people to respect women while he himself worked for women’s upliftment and education. Vivekananda attached primary importance to the removal of ignorance among the people.
Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya (l836-86) was a poor Brahmin priest who later came to be known as Ramakrishna Paramahansa: His education did not proceed beyond the elementary stage and he had no formal education in philosophy and Shastras. He dedicated his life to God. He believed that there were many roads to God and the service of man was the service of God, because man was the embodiment of God. Hence sectarianism had no place in his teachings. He realised the divinity in humanity and looked upon the service of mankind as a means to salvation.
Narendra Nath Datta (l863-1902) later known as Swami Vivekananda was the most devoted pupil of Ramakrishna Paramahansa who carried the message of his Guru Ramakrishna all over the world, specially in America and Europe.
Vivekananda was proud of India’s spiritual heritage, but he believed that no individual or nation can live by holding himself or itself apart from the community of others. He condemned the caste system, rigid rituals, century old superstitions and advocated liberty, free thinking and equality.
Vivekananda was indeed, a patriot from the core of his heart. He had tremendous faith in the evolution of Indian culture and an intense zeal to revive all that was good and great in her culture so as to serve her in all possible ways for her onward march.
Swami Vivekananda laid stress on Ramakrishna’s teaching on the essential oneness of all religions. He promoted the Vedanta philosophy which he considered the most rational system.
The principal feature of Vivekananda’s social philosophy was his insistence on the upliftment of the masses. For him, service to the poor and downtrodden was the highest religion. To organise such service, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897. This Mission to date has played an important role in providing social service in times of national distress like famine, floods, and epidemic. Many schools, hospitals, orphanages are run by it.
In 1893 he participated in the All World Religious Conference (Parliament of Religions) at Chicago in the United States of America. He argued that Vedanta was the religion of all and not of the Hindus alone. His address there made a deep impression on the people of other countries and thus helped to raise the prestige of Indian culture in the eyes of the world. Though his mission was mainly of religious nature, he was keenly interested in the improvement of all aspects of national life. He expressed his concern for the miserable and poor conditions of the people and said that neglect of the masses is a sin. He frankly stated, “It is we who are responsible for all our misery and all our degradation.” He urged his countrymen to work for their own salvation. For this purpose bands of workers devoted to this cause were trained through the Ramakrishna Mission. Thus Vivekananda emphasized social good or social services.
Ramakrishna and Vivekananda
Ramaknshan Paramhansa (1836-1886), a priest at a temple in Dakshineshwar near Calcutta, emphasized that there were many roads to God and salvation and that sender of man was service of God. for man was the embodiment of God,
His great disciple, Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), popularised his religious message. However, not just concerned with spirituality, he called for social action to remove squalor and poverty. In 1896, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission to carry on humanitarian relief and social work. The Mission had many branches in different parts of the country. Vivekananda condemned the caste system and the current Hindu emphasis on rituals, ceremonies an, superstitions, and urged the people to imbibe the spirit of liberty, equality and free thinking.