The advent of western culture and education in India by the nineteenth century revealed some serious matters of concern prevailing in the Indian Society. The society was caught in the vicious web created by religious superstitions, dogmas, and beliefs like magic and animism. The priests had an upper hand over the thought process of the people. This eventually made the people irrational and they started getting indulged in practices like sacrifice and physical torture, believing that it might please their Almighty.
The social condition of the society wasn’t any better either. The situation in which women were forced to live was heart-wrenching. They were considered nothing more than a burden. Practices like female infanticide, child marriage, and sati system give pieces of evidence of the same. Widows were considered inauspicious and were treated as a bad omen. Division of society on the basis of caste had given rise to several socially apathetic practices marked by constraint, status, authority, bigotry, and blind fatalism.
These weaknesses of the Indian society became a matter of concern for the educated section of the society because they were quite aware that these practices were killing the nation from within. They realized the urgent need for social and religious reforms for their removal. Just because these practices were being carried on for centuries didn’t mean they had to continue. The social intellectual revolution that this awakening brought in the fields of philosophy, literature, science, politics and social reforms of Indian Society has been termed as the Indian Renaissance.
Several reformers including Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, Anne Besant, Mother Teresa, Vinoba Behave, etc. worked for the upliftment and betterment of India.
With these reforms, people were set free from fear and exploitation of the priests. They were finally able to develop a liberal, rational and intellectual thought process. The translation of religious texts into vernacular languages simplified the scriptures and people were able to interpret the essence of various rituals making the worship of God a more personal experience. The various reform movements helped the people in developing their intellect’s capacity to think and reason, eventually eliminating the corrupt elements, religious beliefs, and practices. People were able to discover the relevance and the real essence of their culture. This worldly, secular and rational outlook opened up new ways towards growth and development.
The social reformers of India aimed at modernization of the society to end the cultural and intellectual isolation of the country from the rest of the world. They aimed at adopting modern ideas and culture without compromising Indian culture and tradition. This cultural ideological struggle proved to be an important weapon in the awakening of national consciousness.
However, despite the commendable achievements, one of the major limitations of these reform movements was that they focused on a particular section of the society, making their social base very narrow. Because of this the needs of a huge section of society remained ignored. As these reformers appealed to the ancient scriptures, it gave rise to mysticism amongst people. Furthermore, intentionally or unintentionally it fragmented the society in Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Parsis, and even worse it resulted in the estrangement of the lower caste from the upper caste. Along with the rising national consciousness, these reforms resulted in the rise of communal consciousness as well.
In a way, the reform movements helped in creating a new India and undeniably these reforms will have an ever-lasting impact in terms of the socio-cultural awakening of the nation.