Social Reformers in India: Their contribution to society
Many societies consist of different and diverse kinds of persons; persons with various faiths, genders, colors, castes, religions, and so forth. It is expected that they all must live in harmony without any discrimination. An ideal situation will exist when there are brotherhood, freedom, and equality amongst all sections of society.
But, human society all over India shows that different kinds of exploitative practices do prevail; these practices originate from superiority, authority, human greed for power like the so-called higher caste people who exploit the so-called lower caste people. For instance, a white would exploit a black, believer of one religion would downgrade other, males would dominate over female, and many more.
These exploitative and discriminatory practices take the form of social evils in the long run and become a scar on the face of civilized society. India, in its history, has had many bright individuals who lived and worked for the upliftment and progress of the down-trodden persons in the society. Because of their efforts, it became possible to abolish many extreme social evils like Sati Pratha, racism, and more.
In this article, you will study the life and works of different great social reformers of India, alongside understanding what is a social evil is, its causes, and who is a social reformer.
- 1 Who is a social reformer?
- 2 Social Reformers of Indian and their contributions
- 2.1 1. Raja Ram Mohan Roy
- 2.2 2. Swami Vivekananda
- 2.3 3. Swami Dayananda Saraswati
- 2.4 4. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
- 2.5 5. Jyotiba Phule
- 2.6 6. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
- 2.7 7. Baba Amte
- 2.8 8. Mother Teresa
- 3 Conclusion
A person who is concerned about mankind and humanity above anything else and wants to change the existing state of things for the betterment is a social reformer.
Also, a person who has an enlightened thought process, who cannot stand the suffering of the weaker section of people, and above all one who believes in the duty given leave the earth behind him as a better place than it was. Social reformers are ordinary humans that want to serve the cause of humanity extraordinarily.
India is fortunate to have many extraordinary humans who have devoted their lives for the better of the society and the upliftment of the downtrodden. A few among them are:
- Vinoba Behave
- Mother Teresa
- Anne Besant
- Jyotiba Phule
- Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
- Raja Ram Mohan Roy
In this article, you will find a look into the life and works of these extraordinary men and women and will appreciate their efforts in making today’s India.
Social Reformers of Indian and their contributions
1. Raja Ram Mohan Roy
At the beginning of the 19th century, India was plagued by different social evils like religious superstitions, caste system, sati pratha and many more. Ram Mohan was the foremost one who identified the in-human practices and makeup mind to fight against the social evils. He is thus known to be the “father of modern India” and “architect of India Renaissance”.
Ram Mohan was born on 22nd, May 1772 in Radhanagar, in the Hoogli dist. of West Bengal. His parents’ name was Ramakant Roy and Trivani Devi. His father had a very good position serving at the court of Nawab.
Ram Mohan got his education at Varanasi and Patna and worked in the East India Company from 1803 to 1814. Belonging to a traditional Brahmin family, he married off at a very young age, and prior to attaining the age of ten, he was married thrice.
Finally, he died of meningitis in Bristol, England, on 27 Sept in 1833.
Work and Reforms
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a very open-minded and of very questioning brains. He was much influenced by western progressive thoughts and well versed in the teachings of different religions. He was influenced by Vedanta philosophy of Upanishad, Ethics and morals of Christianity, Mysticism of Sufi philosophy, and monotheism of Islam.
His major focus was towards the evil which had surrounded the Hindu society of the times like:
Ram Mohan criticized idolatry and engaged to prove his thoughts from the verses of Veda.
However, the major contribution for which he is known everywhere was his relentless effort in eradicating the practices of sati pratha. He fought against it when his elder brother died, and sister in law was made a sati. He began a movement to abolish this custom, and for that, he persuaded the British Govt on passing an Act to eradicate sati pratha. Thereafter the Bengal sati Regulation Act, 1829, was passed by Bentinck, the Governor-General of West Bengal.
On Aug 20, 1828, Ram Mohan established the Brahma Samaj, which later became the Brahmo Samaj, a movement and organization to uplift the pitiful condition of women, opposing widespread of Brahmanism, criticizing idol-worshipping, promoting monotheism, etc.
Other Important Works
In 1820, he published a book called “Percepts of Jesus”: The Guide to Peace & Happiness; in this book he explained the morality and simplicity of Christian religion.
He also published two newspapers called Pragya Chaand and Samvad Kaumudi in the year 1821 to spread his views and ideas to the common people. He also started a Persian newspaper.
Apart from this, Ram Mohan established one Vedanta College & Hindu College in Calcutta.
Contribution to the Society
Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s efforts and works gave the first touch to modern ideas that he reeled under the dual burden of old age social ills and British exploitation. His spreading of modern ideas was the nascent beginning of the long struggle of India’s independence. As such, his contribution is like a bed stone in the making of modern Indians.
2. Swami Vivekananda
Vivekananda, born to Vishwanath Datta & Bhuveneshwari Devi in Calcutta on 12th Jan 1863, was a one-of-a-kind person.
As a kid, Narendranath Datta (which was his childhood name) was a very bright student, his reading and memory capability was the exception, and he was also a voracious reader. Being a brilliant student, he was interested in a huge array of subjects like social studies, music, culture, art, biology, and philosophy, etc.
Mostly, he was interested in religious texts and philosophy and read the works of western thinkers and philosophers like Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Spenoza, Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill, Hegel, Kant, and many more. He was so well versed with all religious and philosophical texts of Hinduism either it is Mahabharata, Ramayana, Vedas or Upanishads.
All those writeups made him a very solitude person, and his thirst and search for knowledge and truth led him to Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa, and he was transformed as Vivekananda.
Even if Vivekananda hadn’t initiated any specific social reform, however, his writings and speeches were full of messages against all types of religious and social evils.
His major focus was on removing the weakness of India’s youth of the time, both mental and physical. Further, to gain strength, he suggested attaining knowledge and physical exercise. For Swami, strength is life & weakness is death, for the entire wrong happenings of the country, whether political or social, the solution is self-respect in India’s philosophy and culture.
Next, he was against religious superstitions and dogmas, and in his lecture, he repeatedly argued against the social evils that befall upon men. He saw that women could do a lot more than just being in the house and can so change the face of the country.
His real contribution was to revive the true meaning of Hinduism as he propagated the real culture and philosophy to the world at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, through his speeches and proved that Hindu religion is no inferior to anyone.
Swami Vivekananda died on 4th July 1902 while in meditation at Belur Math, Bengal, India.
3. Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s childhood name was Mool Shankar. He was born on 12th Jan 1824, a Maurvi, Gujarat. He left home when he was 21 years & kept wandering in the company of one Dandi Swami Poornanada, who had him the name Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
He was a great believer in the teachings of Vedas and gave the slogan: “Return to Vedas”. He criticized Hindu religious texts like Puranas for perpetuating superstitions and idol worship. He tried to reinitiate true Hindu philosophy, beliefs & argued against all the wrongs that were propagated in the name of Hinduism.
Further, he aggressively attacked social evils such as the caste system by birth and argued that it must be based on work and occupation. He also advocated and supported women’s right to education and social worker female and their right to social status
Swami started campaigns against child marriage and untouchability and many other causes. He supported inter-caste marriages, and widow remarriages also supported Sudras and women’s right to read Veda and attain higher studies.
He established “Arya Samaj” in the year 1875 to propagate his ideas. The objective was to reform and revive the Hindu religion, establish Vedic religion and its true form, unify India socially, politically and religiously, and stop western culture effect’s on Indian civilization and culture.
But, apart from all the good deeds of Arya Samaj, it also became controversial for the “Shuddhi Movement” under which people were allowed to return to Hinduism, who had converted to other religions.
But, Swami’s Contribution in removing social evils in India gave a sense of pride, as told by Annie Besant for him that he was one among many who proclaims: “India is for Indians.”
4. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Ishwar was one of the most astounding social reformers of the 19th century. He was born on 26th Sept 1820 in Paschim Midnapur District of West Bengal to Thakurdas Bandhopadhyaya & Bhagwati Devi.
Ishwar’s childhood was spent in poverty without much fulfillment of necessary things. But he was a brilliant student and used to study under street lamps as there were no lamps at home. By performing well at schools and colleges, he received various scholarships and used to do part-time teaching jobs to support his family and studies. At Sanskrit College Calcutta, he studied Astronomy, Law, Sanskrit Grammar, Literature, and more.
Further, Vidyasagar was a very courageous social reformer, and he never hesitated to challenge the upcoming social evils in India.
Vidyasagar’s main contribution was to uplift the status of women. He greatly supported widow remarriage. Looking at those eras, the condition of widows amongst Hindus was very agonizing, and so he worked persistently to elevate their position.
He persuaded the British Govt to make a law legalizing widow remarriages, so the Widow Remarriage Act, 1856, was passed, giving widows the full support and right to marry again and bring forth child which will be legal.
Further, he argued against child marriage and polygamy and said that there is no sanction in Hindu religious texts for these practices. In the field of education, he had a vast contribution.
He activated and made known the Bengali language to the people of those times by making the literature simple in a popular book, Barno-Porichay, meaning “Introduction to the letter.” This book is still considered a classic in the Bengali language.
Ishwar popular for his kind-heartedness and was always there to help poo in distress, for poor kids and people on streets. He continued the reform process started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and remained active with the “Brahmo Samaj” activities.
He died on 29th July 1891 in Calcutta.
5. Jyotiba Phule
Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was born on 11th April 1827 in Satara, Maharashtra, in a family of vegetable vendors. He couldn’t finish his education because of his family’s poor condition but later completed it with the help of a few people who recognized his potential.
Phule was married at the age of 12 with Savitribai Phule. His life changed when he was insulted by one of his Brahmin friends and then realized the caste discrimination and division present in society. This event brought about a hardcore change in Phule’s life.
Jyotirao began to observe and realize different kinds of social evils being practiced in society and decided to fight against them. A book by writer Thomas Paine, “The Right of Man,” gave him further push to start a movement against prevailing social evils like poor conditions of peasants, women’s pathetic condition, untouchability, and the caste system.
Works and Social Reforms
Phule’s first work was in the field of women’s education, and his first disciple was his wife herself, who always shared his dreams and supported him throughout his life.
In order to fulfill his aspirations and ideas of creating an equitable and just society, in 1848, Jyotiba opened a school for girls; it was the first school ever in the country. His wife taught there as a trainer/teacher.
But, taking into consideration for educating the girls, a highly curious act, forced Phule to leave his home. But, those pressures and threats by the society didn’t deter him from doing his work and kept creating awareness among people regarding social evils.
In 1851, Phule started a bigger and better school for girls that became famous, and there was no discrimination in the line of caste, creed, or any line of religion, and everyone was welcomed to study there.
Jyotiba was also actively involved in the reconciliation and eradication of lower castes regimes and also of the untouchables. As such, he was the one who haas untouchable the name “Dalit” as signifying someone who is exploited, depressed, or broken and is outside the so-called Verna system.
In order to uplift the lower caste people and untouchables, on 24th Sept 1873, he formed the Satyashodhak Samaj otherwise “The Society of Truth Seekers,” where the main objective was to create an equitable and just social order free from discrimination based on gender, religion or caste. This samaj also was opposed to religious superstitions and dogmas like idolatry, irrational rituals, and others.
So, Jyotiba Phule devoted his entire life to the depressed and weaker section of society in his worked and thinking; he was well ahead of his times.
6. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
Grate social reformer Dr. Bhimrao is also known as Babasaheb was born on 14th April 1891 in Mhow, a military cantonment town of Central Province of the country. His father, Ramji, was a Subedar in army & mother Bhimabai was a homemaker.
Babasaheb belonged to a so-called lower caste Mahar and was treated as untouchables. As such, he faced various kinds of social discrimination since childhood. Now, his father being an army officer, had all the resources to make a better startup life along with studies for Bhimrao despite different resistance from society.
Bhimrao was seen as untouchable in the school along with other “Dalit” children, and so they were kept afar with other higher caste kids and were not allowed to drink water from common water vessels.
He was very meritorious in studies, and so after completing his education in Bombay, he moved to the US for post-graduation and research. He did his PG and Ph.D. from Columbia University, New York City, and further studied at the London School of Economics and completed his masters and doctorates from there.
Work and Social Reforms
Dr. Bhimrao, in spite of different odds, got the best education from very good institutions because of his merit and talent. He also received a degree in law.
His prime contributions in eradicating social evils were fighting for the right of the lower caste people and untouchables. At that time, Govt of India Act, 1919, he advocated for separate electorate for lower caste and untouchable people and so demanded reservation for them.
Dr. Ambedkar started a range of publications like Bahiskrit Bharat, A Weekly, Mook Nayak, a periodical to create awareness and fight for the right of the lower castes people and the untouchables.
He founded Bahishkrit Hitakarni Sabha on 20th July 1924 at Bombay and aimed to create socio-political awareness among untouchables and also for making Govt sensitive towards their problems. He called upon the Dalits to organize, agitate, and educate for their rightful place in the society.
He launched various public movements against discriminations faced by untouchables like burning of Manusmriti and ancient Hindu text that gave sanction to the caste system and the rights of low caste to enter into Hindu temples, and opening the public water resources for untouchables.
Ambedkar participated in the British announced infamous Communal Award that spoke there was a provision of the separate electorate in British India for a range of communities. As such, untouchables were considered as a separate electorate.
This scheme was opposed by Gandhiji and other Congress leaders as being divisive and communal that would divide Hindus into two separate groups. But, Dr was in favor as he was viewing of having separate electorate more and more of the legislature of depressed class to get elected.
Dr. Ambedkar’s biggest contribution to the making of modern India was his momentous effort as the chairman of the constitution drafting committee. Dr. forced himself to advocate for the rights of OBCs, STs, SCs, and women. Further, special proceedings were added for their upliftment and for the eradication of various discriminations that they face.
Later in his life, he was converted to Buddhism after getting fed up with discriminatory practices, superstitions, caste system of Hinduism.
So, all through his life, socially and politically, he kept fighting against prevailing social evils of India and made his contribution towards making the down-trodden people acquire a rightful place in immeasurable.
He was surely said to be a one-of-a-kind man of personality being born in the country. He died on 6th Dec 1956 in Delhi after a prolonged illness because of diabetes.
7. Baba Amte
Baba Amte was one of the most well-known social reformers of modern India. He was born on 26th Dec 1914 in Wardha District of Maharashtra. His parents’ names were Devilal Singh, and Laxmibai Amte, and his childhood name was Murlidhar.
His father was a high profile British Govt officer, and so he was wealthy, leading a luxurious life in his youth. But, he was always at liberal at thinking and used to be friends of all religions and castes.
He studied law and was grounded to have a legitimate career-scope at Wardha. He was also involved in the Freedom Movement against the British and participated in a different movement led by Gandhiji. He was influenced by Gandhi, and all his life followed his way of life and his principles.
Work and Reforms
His crucial contribution to India and society is his work for the rehabilitation, empowerment, and care of people suffering from leprosy. Leprosy was a kind of disease that has a lot of stigmas attached to it, more on those days than now. And Baba tried to spread the awareness about the disease that it is non-contagious and so allowed the virus from a leprosy patient to be injected into him to prove this point.
For rehabilitation, care, and treatment of leprosy patients disowned by the society and family, he formulated 3 Ashrams in Maharashtra. Further, he founded a hospital on 15th Aug 1949 in Anandvan.
Also, he worked to create awareness among masses towards the conservation of wildlife protection, ecological balance, and forest protection. He was associated with Narmada Bachao Andolan and worked for the rights of displaced people because of the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam.
As such, he devoted his entire life for the welfare of the society and for India’s better future. He died on 9th Feb 2008 at Anandvan, Maharashtra.
8. Mother Teresa
The great lady was born on 26th Aug 1910 at Skopje, Macedonia, named as Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was a Roman Catholic religious sister and great social reformers. She was born to Nikolle Bojaxhiu and Dranafile Bojaxhiu and completed her education from Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, and Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
When she was 12 years of age, something made her listen to a calling to religious life for the first time. At the age of 18, she decided to be a nun and so joined the Loreto Sister of Dublin. There, she was named as “Mary Teresa.” After working in Dublin for so many years, she traveled to Darjeeling, India.
She made her way to Calcutta and was given a position to teach girls of Saint Mary’s High School. This school was dedicated to teaching girls the city’s poorest Bengali families. After working there for six years on 24th May 1937, she took on the title of “Mother” as a custom for Loreto nuns and so was named as “Mother Teresa.”
In Aug 1948, she left the Loreto Convent and went out seeking out for her calling. She took six months of basic medical training and gave up her entire life to the unloved, uncared, unwanted, and untouchable people of Calcutta.
She devoted her life to serving the poor and needy people of the society. She began her mission in India, Calcutta, 1948, and was successful in bringing the people of different religions and caste to help the poor and needy people of India.
Untouchables and lower caste people who were not treated and touched by vaidya or doctors died because of a lack of care and medicine by their loved ones. After seeing their situation, she decided to open a school and establish a home for the people who are rejected by their families due to untouchable diseases. In 1950 she opened “The Missionaries of Charity” with 12 members since its inception.
Further, she took care of the poor, sick, and dying people. She and the members of her mission went out into the city streets and picked up dying and homeless people. They would serve them, feed, and clean them with all the necessities of life so that they could spend their last days in dignity. So far, she made 20 missionaries home for street people.
For her long life selfless service for the down-trodden and weak, she was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and Bharat Ratna in 1980. At the age of 87, on 5th Sept 1997, she died in Kolkata because of the old-age problem.
The social reformers of India were one of those people who carved their names in a historical book. Everyone should salute for those persons who struggle a lot with the revolution of the country.