In India, society and religion are interconnected. Hence the religious evils, such as, superstition, blind faith and others have affected the society again and again. Alongside the religious leaders the Indian social reformers also strove to liberate the people from such prevalent vices. Hailing from different religious and social backgrounds, they have adopted simple methods to educate the masses. Songs, poetry in colloquial languages, moral tales, organising community works and others are some of the methods that the Indian social reformers implemented to achieve their aims.
Famous Indian Social Reformers
The Indian social reformers’ consistent efforts were recognised even by the British imperialists. Indian personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Dayanand Saraswati, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others spoke up for the development and enlightenment of women. Under the British rule the Indian social reformers also popularised Western education. Amongst the most prominent Indian social reformers, Mahatma Gandhi, Shriram Sharma Acharya, Virchand Gandhi, Gopal Hari Deshmukh, Jamnalal Bajaj, Balshastri Jambhekar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vinoba Bhave, Dhondo Keshav Karve, Annie Besant, B R Ambedkar, Vitthal Ramji Shinde, Pandurang Shastri Athavale, Kandukuri Veeresalingam and Kiran Bedi are worth mentioning.
Raja Rammohan Roy: Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the first person who recognized these inhuman practices and decided to fight against the same. He is considered as the architect of Indian Renaissance and father of modern India. This Indian social reformer was the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, a socio-religious reform movement in the Indian subcontinent, which crusaded against Hindu customs as sati, polygamy, child marriage and the caste system. Raja Ram Mohan Roy also demanded the property inheritance rights for women.
Swami Vivekananda: Though Swami Vivekananda had not initiated any particular social reform but his speeches and writings were full of messages against all kinds of social and religious evils. His main focus was on removing the weakness of India’s youth of the time, both physical as well as mental. Vivekananda was one of the main Indian social reformers who preached Neo-Vedanta, which roughly translates to Hindu modernism. His reinterpretation of the concept is still very successful which has created a new understanding and appreciation of Hinduism within and outside India. It was his influence that was the principal reason for the enthusiastic reception of yoga, transcendental meditation and other forms of Indian spiritual self-improvement in the West.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati: Swami Dayanand was the great believer in the teachings of Vedas. He criticized Hindu religious texts for perpetuating Idol worship and other superstitions. He argued against all wrong things being propagated in the name of Hinduism.
Jyotirao Phule: Jyotirao Phule devoted his whole life for the weaker and depressed section of society. He was also against child-marriages and was a great supporter of widow remarriage. He was very sympathetic to the cause of distressed women and opened a home for such poor and exploited women where they could be taken care off. He and his wife, Savitribai Phule, were pioneers of women education in India. The couple was among the first native Indians to open a school for girls of India.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: His major contribution in eradicating social evils was fighting for the rights of the untouchables and so-called lower caste people. His contribution towards making the downtrodden people acquire self-respect and their rightful place is immeasurable. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was one of the Indian social reformers, who inspired the Dalit Buddhist movement and also supported the rights of women and labour. He was independent India's first law and justice minister, the principal architect of the Constitution of India, and a founding father of the Republic of India.
Vinoba Bhave: Vinoba Bhave was one of the most prominent humanist and social reformers of modern India. He remained loyal throughout his life to the Gandhian principles and kept working selflessly for the welfare of society.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: A Bengali polymath, Vidyasagar other than being an Indian social reformer he was also a philosopher, academic educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur and philanthropist. It was Vidyasagar who forced the British to pass the widow remarriage act. He also reconstructed the Bengali alphabet and simplified Bengali typography into an alphabet of 12 vowels and 40 consonants, eliminating the Sanskrit phonemes.
Begum Rokeya: Regarded as the pioneer of women’s liberation in South Asia, Begum Rokeya was a Bengali feminist thinker, writer, educationist, political activist, and advocate of women’s rights. In her writings, she advocated that both men and women should be treated equally as rational beings, and the lack of education is the main reason of women lagging behind. Every year on 9th December, the country of Bangladesh observes Rokeya Day to commemorate her works and legacy and on that day the Bangladeshi government also confers the Begum Rokeya Padak on individual women for their exceptional achievement.
Kavi Nazrul Islam: The national poet of Bangladesh, Kavi Nazrul Islam was a poet, writer, musician and revolutionary. Nazrul's writings explored themes such as freedom, humanity, love, and revolution. He opposed all forms of bigotry and fundamentalism, including religious, caste-based and gender-based.
Basavanna: A 12th century Hindu philosopher, poet from Karnatakaand one of the Indian social reformers during the reign of the Kalachuridynasty under king Bijjala I. Basavva advocated that every human being was equal, irrespective of caste, and that all forms of manual labour was equally important.
Owing to their endeavours and reforms, Indian society underwent a sea of changes. In contemporary India the practice of Sati is banned; girls are provided proper education and most significantly, women are confident and aware to fight for their rights, irrespective of the fact they are homemakers or employed. Few other Indian social reformers are Keshub Chandra Sen, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Baba Amte, Virchand Gandhi, Narayana Guru, T.K. Madhavan, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati, and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad among others.