Arora IAS Short Notes

India Struggle for Independence(1857-1947) Notes

Revision Notes or Short Notes


Social and Religious Reforms in 19th Century India

Context (1828):

  • Raja Rammohan Roy laments the state of Hinduism:
    • Caste divisions hinder national identity.
    • Religious rituals impede progress.
  • Need for reform driven by:
    • British conquest and exposure to Western ideas.
    • Introspection about Indian institutions.

Social Base of Reform:

  • Newly emerging middle class.
  • Traditionally and Western-educated intellectuals.

Colonial Impact:

  • Occasioned reform, but didn’t create it.

Spirit of Reform:

  • Spread across India:
    • Raja Rammohan Roy (Bengal) – Brahmo Samaj (1828)
    • Paramahansa Mandali, Prarthana Samaj (Maharashtra)
    • Arya Samaj (Punjab, North India)
    • Regional and caste movements (Kayasth Sabha, Sarin Sabha)
    • Backward castes movements (Satya Sodhak Samaj, Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Sabha)
    • Muslims (Ahmadiya, Aligarh movements)
    • Sikhs (Singh Sabha)
    • Parsees (Rehnumai Mazdeyasan Sabha)


  • Regional and religious expressions of a shared consciousness.
  • Not just religious – focused on social improvement.
  • Humanist in inspiration.

Focus on Worldly Existence:

  • Otherworldliness and salvation not a priority.
  • Raja Rammohan Roy – possible afterlife for utility, not belief.
  • Akshay Kumar Dutt, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar – agnostics.
  • Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Vivekananda – secular use of religion for material well-being.

Religion and Social Practices:

  • Deeply intertwined (e.g., Hindu daily life governed by religious rules).
  • Religious reform – a prerequisite for social reform.



19th Century Indian Society: A Web of Social Evils

Religious Condition

  • Dominated by Superstition:Max Weber observed Hinduism becoming a mix of “magic, animism and superstition.”
  • Distorted Practices:Animal sacrifice and physical torture replaced worship.
  • Powerful Priesthood:Priests held immense, unhealthy influence over people.
  • Idolatry and Polytheism:These practices strengthened the priests’ position.
  • Deceptive Religious Systems:Raja Ram Mohan Roy criticized priests’ monopoly on scripture and rituals, calling it misleading.
  • Blind Obedience:People obeyed not only God but also the whims of priests.

Social Condition

  • Plight of Women:

    • Unwelcome at birth.
    • Married young, often against their will.
    • Expected to commit Sati upon widowhood (called “murder” by Ram Mohan Roy).
    • Shunned as widows, facing lifelong misery.
  • Caste System:

    • Enforced segregation based on ritual status.
    • Hindered social mobility and individual initiative.
    • Perpetuated social divisions.
    • Untouchability: The worst humiliation, violating human dignity.

Other Social Evils:

  • Numerous practices based on restrictions, blind faith, hierarchy, blind acceptance of authority, and blind belief in fate.

Reform Movements’ Response

  • Goal:Eradicate these evils and pave the way for modernization.
  • Idealized Past:Reformers believed the 19th century situation was a distortion of a once-ideal past.
  • Selective Use of Past:They used the idealized past as a tool, not for blind adherence to tradition.
  • Scriptural Basis for Reform:Reformers like Ram Mohan Roy, Vidyasagar, and Dayanand Saraswati used religious texts to challenge social evils.
  • Not a Revival:Mahadev Govind Ranade, a leading reformer, argued the past cannot be revived but reformed for a new future.



Intellectual Basis of Reform Movements in 19th Century India


Rationalism and Religious Universalism

  • Social Relevance Through Reason:Reform movements judged social practices based on rational critique.
  • Early Leaders:Raja Rammohan Roy and Akshay Kumar Dutt were leading figures in rationalism.
  • Roy’s Views:

    • Rejected supernatural explanations.
    • Advocated for causality linking the entire universe.
    • Demanded demonstrability as the only truth criterion.
  • Dutt’s Perspective:

    • Claimed reason as the sole preceptor for understanding the world.
    • Believed all phenomena (natural and social) could be analyzed mechanically.

Impact on Reform:

  • Brahmo Samaj:Rejected the infallibility of Vedas based on reason.
  • Aligarh Movement:Reconciled Islamic teachings with modern needs through reason.
  • Emphasis on Social Utility:Reforms aimed to replace faith with reason for social good.

Secular Approach to Social Practices

  • Akshay Kumar Dutt’s Example:

    • Advocated widow remarriage, opposed polygamy and child marriage.
    • Based arguments on societal effects, not religious sanction.
    • Cited medical opinions against child marriage.
    • Held advanced views on marriage: courtship, partnership, equality, and legal/customary divorce.

Maharashtra: A Different Approach

  • Gopal Hari Deshmukh (Lokahitavadi):

    • Religion irrelevant for social reform.
    • Advocated changing religion if it hindered progress (man-made and potentially outdated).

Religious Universalism in Reform

  • Raja Rammohan Roy:

    • Viewed different religions as expressions of universal theism.
    • Envisioned Brahmo Samaj as a universalist church.
    • Defended core principles across religions (monotheism in Vedas and Christianity).
    • Attacked polytheism (Hinduism) and Trinitarianism (Christianity).

Shared Ideas of Universality

  • Syed Ahmed Khan:

  • Believed all prophets shared the same “din” (faith).
  • Keshub Chandra Sen:

    • All established religions hold truth.
    • Universalist perspective led to social implications: recognizing fellow countrymen as brothers, dismantling caste.

Universalism’s Influence

  • Political and Social Outlook:Shaped by universalism until religious particularism rose later in the 19th century.
  • Examples:

    • Raja Rammohan Roy: Considered Muslim lawyers more honest than Hindu counterparts.
    • Vidyasagar: Did not discriminate against Muslims in his social work.
    • Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay: Judged superiority based on “dharma” (righteousness), not religion.

Clarifying “Muslim Yoke”

  • Not a religious but a political term describing pre-colonial rule’s arbitrary nature.
  • Emphasis on “tyranny,” not “Muslim.”
  • Syed Ahmed Khan: Pre-colonial rule was neither Hindu nor Muslim, but based on oppression.

Limits of Universalism

  • Religious identity still influenced social outlook.
  • Challenge of Colonial Culture: Universalism gave way to religious particularism, not secularism.



Cultural and Ideological Struggle in 19th Century India



  • 19th century: Struggle against traditional and colonial cultures.

Focus of Reform Movements:

  • Religious Sphere:

    • Opposed idolatry, polytheism, and priest control.
    • Sought to simplify rituals for a more personal experience.
    • Translated religious texts and encouraged individual interpretation (breaking the hold of religious dogmas).
  • Caste System:

    • Recognized as a social evil hindering progress and democracy.
    • Leaders like Raja Rammohan Roy, Ranade, Dayanand, and Vivekananda criticized it.
      • Dayanand offered a utopian view of the four varnas based on virtue.
    • Lower caste movements led by Jyotiba Phule and Narayana Guru strongly opposed the system.
      • Narayana Guru’s call: “One religion, one caste, one God for mankind” (later changed to “no religion, no caste, no God”).

Women’s Upliftment:

  • Crucial for social progress and a reformed society.
  • Education and improved status for women were essential.

Modernization vs. Westernization:

  • Reformers aimed to modernize, not blindly adopt Western culture.

Challenges of Reform:

  • Breaking traditions caused emotional and social tension.
  • Examples:

    • First widow marriage in Bengal faced public scrutiny.
    • First inter-caste marriage in Maharashtra required police protection.
    • Rukmabhai’s defiance of child marriage created a stir.
    • Leaders like Ranade and Telang struggled between tradition and modernity.


  • Reforms, though limited, paved the way for a new India and its citizens.
  • This struggle led to the emergence of “new men” and a “new society.”



Response to Colonial Culture in 19th Century India



  • Colonial rule challenged traditional Indian culture.


  • Defense of Indigenous Culture:

    • Cultivation of vernacular languages.
    • Creation of an alternate education system.
    • Revival of Indian art, literature, dress, and food.
    • Defense of religion and traditional medicine.
    • Reassessment of pre-colonial technology and knowledge.
  • Examples:

    • Raja Rammohan Roy’s debates with Christian missionaries.
    • Tattvabodhini Sabha’s activities.
    • Memorial on education signed by 70,000 in Madras.
  • Resentment against the Lex Loci Act (1845-1850).

Later Movements:

  • More assertive defense against colonial cultural dominance.
  • Not necessarily retrogressive, aimed at reviving cultural identity.
  • Examples (names not mentioned in excerpt).


  • Some movements became sectarian and obscurantist.
  • Lack of integration between cultural and political struggles.


  • Cultural-ideological struggle formed national consciousness.
  • Intellectual and cultural break for a new vision of India.
  • Resistance against colonial cultural hegemony.
  • Led to a “modern cultural situation” with “new men, new homes, and a new society.”

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