Class 8 History

Women Caste Reforms

Status of Women:

Two hundred years ago, the situation of women was altogether different compared to in the modern times. The practice of child marriage was rampant. Both Hindu and Muslim men could marry more than one wife. Burning of a widow on her husband’s pyre was a gory practice in many parts of India. This was called the sati system. A widow who died in this manner was praised as a woman of high virtues. Women did not have the right to property. Most of the women had no access to education.

Status of Shudras:

People were divided along the caste lines. Brahmans and Kshatriyas were considered as the upper castes. Traders and moneylenders were placed after them. Peasants and artisans came at the third level. People who did the so called “dirty” jobs were called the shudras. People at the bottom of this hierarchy were treated as “untouchable”. They could not enter temples, nor take water from wells (used by upper castes), bathe in ponds which were meant for the upper castes.


Working Towards Change

Effect of Print Technology: From the early nineteenth century, books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets and pamphlets began to be printed in India. Printing enhanced the access of knowledge to the masses because printed material was much cheaper than manuscripts. Ordinary people could now read various texts and many of them could write to express their ideas in their own languages. People could debate all kinds of issues; like social, political, economic and religious. Such discussions could reach out to a wider public and could bring social change.

Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833):

Raja Rammohun Roy was a pioneer social reformer. He founded the Brahmo Sabha in Calcutta. Later, it came to be known as the Brahmo Samaj. He thought that unjust practices should be done away with and the society should be changed for a better future. He promoted women’s education. He began a campaign against the practice of sati. He quoted ancient texts to develop his arguments so that people could listen. It was because of Rammohun Roy’s efforts that the British banned the practice of sati in 1829.

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar:

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar was also from Bengal. He also used ancient texts to convince people against social evils. He worked towards widow remarriage. Based on his suggestions, the British officials passed the widow remarriage law in 1856.


By the second half of the nineteenth century, the widow remarriage movement spread to other parts of the country. Veerasalingam Pantulu was a reformer in the Telugu-speaking areas of the Madras Presidency. He formed an association for widow remarriage. Many young intellectuals in Bombay also worked for the same cause. Swami Dayanand Saraswati also supported widow remarriage. He founded the Arya Samaj.

In spite of all these efforts the number of widow remarriage was quite low. Those; who married often faced problems as they were not accepted by the society.

Girls begin going to school

  • Many reformers promoted girls’ education as a means to improve the condition of women. Vidyasagar set up schools for girls in Calcutta. Many other reformers set up schools for girls in Bombay.
  • Initially, people were skeptical about girls’ school. They thought that education would pollute the minds of the girls. They also feared the schools would take away the girls from home and away from their domestic duties.
  • Throughout the nineteenth century, most educated women were taught at home by liberal men in their families. Some of the women taught themselves as well.
  • In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Arya Samaj established girls’ schoosl in Punjab. Similarly, Jyotirao Phule established girls’ schools in Maharashtra.
  • In North India, Muslim women from aristocratic families learnt to read the Koran in Arabic. For them, women used to come home to teach. Mumtaz Ali was among the social reformers who interpreted the verses from the Koran to argue for women’s education.

  • From the early twentieth century, some Muslim women played important role in women’s education. The Begums of Bhopal; for example; founded primary schools for girls at Aligarh. Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain started schools for Muslim girls in Patna and Calcutta.
  • By the 1880s, Indian women began to enter universities. Some of them became doctors, some became teachers. Many women became writers and published their critical views on the status women in society.
  • Tarabai Shinde was from Poona. She got education at home. She had authored a book, Stripurushtulna which means ‘A Comparison between Women and Men’. She criticized the social differences based on gender; in her book.
  • Pandit Ramabai was a great scholar of Sanskrit. She wrote about the miserable lives of upper caste Hindu women. She founded a widows’ home at Poona. Widows who had been badly treated by their husbands’ families were provided shelter at the widows’ home. They were also trained so that they could sustain themselves economically.
  • From the early twentieth century, women began to form political pressure groups. They worked for female suffrage, and health and education for women. From the 1920s, some of them also joined different nationalist and socialist movements.
  • Nationalist leaders; like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose supported the demands for greater equality and freedom for women. They assured of universal adult franchise after the independence.

Law against child marriage: Child marriage was rampant in the society. Many Indian legislators in the Central Legislative Assembly worked towards making a law to prevent this practice. The Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in 1929. The minimum age for marriage was fixed at 18 for men and 16 for women. This was subsequently amended to 21 for men and 18 for women.