Socio Religious Reform Movement in India: Social Reformers, UPSC PDF

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The introduction of Western culture and education led to a pressing need for socio-religious reform movements in India, which emerged in the first half of the 19th century. To prepare for the upcoming UPSC exam, aspirants must have a good knowledge of social and religious Reform Movements. During the 19th Century, many Socio-Religious Reform Movements were started to fight the social evils that were being followed in society. India was rigid, casteist, and tilted towards cultural decline due to evil social practices. Some of the prevalent practices and customs were against humanitarian sentiments or values but were upheld in the name of religion.

A few notable evils against which the socio-religious reform movements were initiated were child marriage, female infanticide, untouchability, the purdah system, polygamy, sati, and caste discrimination. This post details the social and religious reform movement, which will be beneficial in Modern Indian History preparation for the UPSC exam. Candidates can also learn the names of significant Indian social and religious reformers.

What is Socio Religious Reform Movement?

The 19th Century socio-reform movement in India was reformist, and revivalist, and also included issue-based social movements. They systematically eliminated the evil practices of society. While a few movements focused on modernization, others worked to protect the ancient Indian culture.

  • The 19th-century socio-religious Reform Movement eradicated some of the worst evils of Indian society. Some of these prominent movements were the Brahmo Samaj, the Aligarh movement, and Young Bengal Movement.
  • Numerous leaders fought for and influenced positive change. The most important of those were: Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Jyotirao Phule, etc.
  • Many of the 19th Century’s Social and Religious Reform Movements faced initial resistance from conventional thinkers. But the founders were educated, intelligent, and forward-looking.

Social and Religious Reform Movements in the 19th Century

Many socio-religious reform movements were carried out throughout India in the 19th century in diverse regions. Through religious and social reforms, several institutions and organisations significantly contributed to establishing contemporary ideological trends in science and philosophy. The list of various social-religious reform movements in India is as follows:

Social Reform Movement in India Year
Brahmo Samaj 1828
Aligarh Movement 1875
Prarthana Samaj 1867
The Theosophical Movement 1875
Deoband Movement 1866
Ramakrishna Mission 1897
Satyashodhak Samaj 1873
Young Bengal Movement 1826
Widow Remarriage Association 1850s

Socio Religious Reform Movement: Detailed Description

The Social and Religious Reform Movements in India enhanced religion and society. It also advanced education and literature, exposing people to new literary works and languages. Industrial development, science, and the arts all existed. The most important factor is that these changes also contributed to the emergence of nationalism, which means that this socio-religious reform movement in India finally helped the country achieve independence. The social reform movement in India is explained in detail below:

Brahmo Samaj

It is one of the Socio-Religious Reform Movements in India founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1828. The movement came into action to oppose unnecessary rituals, idol worship, belief in more than 1 god, caste pressure, and other social evils like Sati, polygamy, the purdah system, child marriage, etc.

  • The society also aimed to promote women’s education and widow remarriage. The Brahmo Samaj was also against following old superstitions.
  • Traditionalists like Raja Radhakant Deb, who organised the Dharma Sabha to combat Brahmo Samaj propaganda, strongly opposed Rammohan Roy’s progressive beliefs. Rammohan Roy claimed that the Vedas and Upanishads, two ancient Hindu writings, supported the monotheistic philosophy.
  • He translated the Vedas and the five Upanishads into Bengali to support his argument.

Aligarh Movement

The Aligarh movement was another crucial Socio-Religious Reform Movement in the 19th century. Sayyid Ahmed Khan founded it in 1875 at Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College. The movement got established in the city of Aligarh. The college later became Aligarh Muslim University.

  • The main desire of launching this movement was to offer modern education to Muslims.
  • The Socio-Religious Reform Movement tried to harmonise Islam with contemporary liberal culture. Their worldview was founded on a liberal interpretation of the Quran.
  • They aimed to give Muslims a distinctive sociocultural identity that followed contemporary norms.
  • He feared that being actively involved in politics at the time would encourage hostility from the government toward the Muslim population. He disapproved of Muslim political activity as a result.
  • Unfortunately, he let himself be utilized by the colonial government’s offensive divide-and-rule approach to further Muslims’ educational and employment interests.
  • Later, he spread the idea that Muslims and Hindus have different interests. Through the publication of Tahdhib-ul-Akhlaq, Syed’s progressive social ideas were disseminated (Improving Manners and Morals).

Prarthana Samaj

Another prominent socio-religious reform movement in India was the Prarthana Samaj. The movement was established by Atmaram Pandurang when Keshub Chandra Sen visited Maharashtra in 1867. The reform movement preached believing in only one god (monotheism) and condemned the domination of priests and caste supremacy in Bombay.

  • Veeresalingam, a Telugu reformer, spread the movement’s activities in South India. Another social reformer was a philosopher known as Narayan Chandavarkar, who encouraged Prarthana Samaj.
  • This social and religious reform movement in India opposed child marriage and the purdah system, advocated widow remarriage, and strongly emphasized female education. It also targeted the caste system.
  • The organisation became popular after MG Ranade joined it.
    • Ranade founded the Deccan Education Society and the Widow Remarriage Association to reform Hinduism. Ranade established the National Social Conference in 1887 to bring about social reforms across the nation. One of the prominent members of the Indian National Congress was Ranade.

The Theosophical Movement

Another Socio-Religious Reform Movement was launched by Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott in New York (later moved to Madras) in 1875. Annie Besant was one of India’s most popular social reformers associated with the Theosophical Movement.

  • It facilitated the concept of universal brotherhood, as explained in the Vedas and Upanishads. The Social reform movement in India also promoted the study of Buddhism, Zoroastrian, and Hindu ideologies and emphasized the influence of supernatural powers, known as occultism.
  • This Socio-Religious Reform Movement was distinctive because it was led by foreigners who exalted Indian philosophical and religious traditions. The Central Hindu College in Banaras, which eventually became the Banaras Hindu University, was founded by Annie Besant.
  • Annie Besant, a famous figure in Indian politics, established herself permanently in India. She was chosen as the President of the Indian National Congress in 1917.

Deoband Movement

The orthodox branch of Muslim ulema was responsible for organising the Deoband Movement. The Socio-Religious Reform Movement was a revivalist movement with the dual objectives of preserving the spirit of warfare against foreign rulers and disseminating the clear teachings of the Quran and Hadith among Muslims.

A Deoband head, Mahmud-ul-Hasan (1851–1920), aimed to give the school’s theological teachings some political and intellectual substance. The liberalization of Islam led to a political awakening among its followers.

Ramakrishna Mission

Another socio-religious reform movement in the 19th century was the Ramakrishna Mission, founded in 1897 by Swami Vivekananda. The main motive of this movement was to spread the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda’s Guru, in Belur near Calcutta.

  • The mission aimed to resist untouchability and the caste system. It propagated Vedanta and concentrated on the fact that all religions are universal.
  • This culture worked hard to eradicate caste systems, rituals, priesthood, animal sacrifice, idolatry, and polytheism. Additionally, it promoted the teaching of Western scientific knowledge.
  • The socio-religious reform movement fought for social equality, improved women’s conditions, and opposed untouchability and caste rigidities.

Satyashodhak Samaj

On September 24, 1873, in Maharashtra, Jyotirao Govindrao Phule founded his socio-religious reform movement, also known as Satyashodhak Samaj. The caste system and idol worship were both targets of the reform movement’s campaigns. It defended using reason rather than blindly following the priesthood. Govindrao Phule specifically used the term “Dalit” to refer to those from lower castes.

Young Bengal Movement

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio founded the Young Bengal movement in the 1820s. Derozio was an Anglo-Indian professor at a college in Calcutta. He inspired his students to think freely and analytically.

  • Derozio spread the spirit of freedom, equality, and liberty among all.
  • Derozians’ ideas significantly impacted the Socio-Religious Reform Movement, or Bengal Renaissance, in early nineteenth-century Bengal.
  • This movement was loud and logical but could not acquire any traction. Nevertheless, it was a significant advancement since it motivated and produced a generation of activists and reformers.

Widow Remarriage Association

Another Socio-Religious Reform Movement was the Widow Remarriage Association. It was started by Pandit Vishnu Shastri in 1860.

  • The most well-known campaigner for the cause was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
  • He sent a petition to the Legislative Council, but Radhakanta Deb and the Dharma Sabha responded with a counterpetition that had nearly four times as many signatures.
  • But despite the opposition and the measure being deemed a flagrant violation of then-prevailing norms, Lord Dalhousie drafted the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act which was enacted in 1856.

Social Reformers of India in the 19th Century

For Indian society to meet the challenges of the West, certain progressive Indians, including Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dayanand Saraswati, Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar, and many others, formed various socio-religious reform movements. The list of notable social reformers of India is as follows:

Social Reformers of India
Swami Vivekananda Ramakrishna Paramhansa
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar Kandukuri Veeresalingam
Ramalinga Swamigal Prabodhankar Thackeray
Shishunala Sharif Shahu of Kolhapur
Keshub Chandra Sen Kirity Roy
Sahajanand Saraswati Mahadev Govind Ranade
Anurag Chauhan T. K. Madhavan
Subhash Chandra Bose Savitribai Phule
Begum Rokeya Raja Ram Mohan Roy
Virchand Gandhi Vitthal Ramji Shinde
Dayananda Saraswati Dhondo Keshav Karve
Gopal Hari Deshmukh Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar
BR Ambedkar Subramanya Bharathiyaar
Basavanna Narayana Guru
Gopal Ganesh Agarkar Debendranath Tagore
Dwarkanath Ganguly Kazi Nazrul Islam
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar Acharya Balshastri Jambhekar
Rabindranath Tagore Baba Amte
Periyar E. V. Ramasamy Pandurang Shastri Athavale
Jyotiba Phule Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar
Vinoba Bhave Javaid Rahi
Pandita Ramabai Mahatma Gandhi

Causes of Social and Religious Reform Movements in India

Now we will address the leading cause of these social and religious reform movements in India. English and other contemporary concepts were introduced to India by the British when they arrived.

  • These concepts, which had a significant influence on Indian society, were liberty, social and economic equality, democracy, fraternity, and justice. Indian culture in the nineteenth century was entangled in a web of social obscurantism and religious superstition.
  • The study of the history, philosophy, science, religions, and literature of ancient India began in the late 19th century by several European and Indian academics.
  • The Indian people felt a sense of pride in their civilization due to their expanding understanding of India’s former splendour. Additionally, it aided the socio-religious reform movement in its fight against all kinds of barbaric customs and superstitions.

Impact of Social and Religious Reform Movements in India

The Socio-Religious Movements led to an enormous impact on society. The conversion of religious texts into vernacular languages paved the way for interpreting the scriptures, reduction of the rituals, and making worship a personal experience. It strongly highlighted the potential of human intelligence and the power of reasoning. The socio-religious movements also facilitated cultural identities for the middle classes. The movements made the way for the incorporation of nationalism.

  • These movements also led to the elimination of some of the evil practices. The arguments and debates did not lead to an immediate change but paved the way for the rise in the consciousness amongst the people.
  • The reform movements were based on the principles of Humanism and Rationalism. The orthodox segment of society did not accept the changes.
  • The caste system was vehemently opposed because of the social division created by it. Numerous movements like the one initiated by Jyotibha Phule and Sree Narayana Guru led to the loosening of the caste system.
  • These movements led to the liberalization of individuals and acknowledged the needs of modern society.

Socio-Religious Reform Movements UPSC

The Social and Religious Reform Movement attempted to create a social environment conducive to modernization. This is an essential concept from the viewpoint of the UPSC exam. The questions pertaining to this topic can be asked in the Prelims and Mains exam.

A well-enlightened knowledge of the topic will lead the candidates in establishing the core concepts and picking out the right options in the exam. On the basis of the suggestion by the experts, the candidates must practice the UPSC previous year papers and get in touch with the essential topics pertinent to the exam.

Socio-Religious Reform Movements UPSC

The socio-religious reform movement topic is an essential segment of the UPSC syllabus. The candidates must practice the questions to be able to gain proficiency in the topic. Getting accustomed to the type of questions asked in the exam will enlighten the candidates to frame an effective strategy for the exam. Check here the questions pertaining to the socio-religious reform movements and accelerate your preparation strategy to the next level.

Question: Who instituted the Atmiya Sabha, a forerunner of the socio-religious reforms in Bengal? [A] Dayanand Saraswati [B] Vivekanand [C] Raja Ram Mohan Roy [D] Aurobindo

Answer: (Option C) Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Question: Who is the founder of Arya Samaj? [A] Swami Dayananda Saraswati [B] Atma Ram Pandurang [C] Raja Ram Mohan Roy [D] Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar

Answer: (Option A) Swami Dayananda Saraswati

UPSC Articles
Morley Minto Reforms Appointment and Removal of Supreme Court Judges
42nd Amendment Act Right to Constitutional Remedies
Ashoka Inscriptions and Major Rock Edicts Committees of Constituent Assembly
National Education Policy Public Interest Litigationl
Mauryan Empire Statutory Liquidity Ratio
Medieval History of India Buddhist Council
Ordinance Making Power of the President Multipurpose River Valley Projects
Our Apps Playstore
SSC and Bank
Other Exams
GradeStack Learning Pvt. Ltd.Windsor IT Park, Tower - A, 2nd Floor, Sector 125, Noida, Uttar Pradesh 201303
Home Practice Test Series Premium