JAC Board Class 8th Social Science Notes History Chapter 8 Women, Caste and Reform
→ Two hundred years ago things were very different. Most children were married off at an early age.
- In some parts of the country, widows were praised if they chose death by burning themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands.
- Women who died in this manner whether willingly or otherwise, were called ‘sati’ which means virtuous women.
- In many parts of the country people believed that if a woman was educated, she would become a widow.
- In most regions, people were divided along lines of caste. Brahmans and Kshatriyas considered themselves as ‘upper castes’.
- Traders and moneylender were referred as ‘Vaishyas’ were placed after them.
- Then came peasants and artisans such as weavers and potters who were referred as ‘Shudras’.
- At the lowest rung were those who laboured to keep cities and villages clean or worked at jobs that upper castes considered polluting, that is, it could lead to the loss of caste status. They were untouchables.
→ Working Towards Change
- The development of new forms of communication started. For the first time, books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets and pamphlets were printed.
- All kinds of issues such as social, political, economic and religious could now be debated and discussed by men and sometimes by women as well in the new cities.
- The discussions could reach out to a wider public and could become linked to movements for social change.
- Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) founded a reform association known as the Brahmo Sabha (later known as the Brahmo Samaj) in Calcutta.
- People such as Rammohun Roy are described as reformers because they felt that changes were necessary in society, and unjust practices needed to be done away with.
- Rammohun Roy was keen to spread the knowledge of Western education in the country and bring about greater freedom and equality for women.
→ Changing the lives of widows
- Rammohun Roy began a campaign against the practice of sati.
- Rammohun Roy was well versed in Sanskrit, Persian and several other Indian and Europeon languages.
- He tried to show through his writings that the practice of widow burning had no sanction in ancient texts.
- In 1829, sati was banned.
- Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, used the ancient texts to suggest that widows could remarry.
- A law was passed in 1856 permitting widow remarriage.
- By the second half of the nineteenth century, the movement in favour of widow remarriage spread to other parts of the country.
- In the Telugu-speaking areas of the Madras Presidency, Veerasalingam Pantulu fonned an association for widow remarriage.
- In the north, Swami Dayanand Saraswati who founded the reform association called Arya Samaj also supported widow remarriage.
→ Girls begin going to school
- Vidyasagar in Calcutta and many other reformers in Bombay set up schools for girls.
- Throughout the nineteenth century, most educated women were taught at home by liberal fathers or husbands. Sometimes women taught themselves.
- In the latter part of the century, schools for girls were established by the Arya Samaj in Punjab and Jyotirao Phule in Maharashtra.
- In aristocratic Muslim households in North India, women leamt to read the Koran in Arabic.
- Reformers such as Mumtaz Ali reinterpreted verses from the Koran to argue for women’s education.
→ Women write about women
- From the early twentieth century, Muslim women like the Begums of Bhopal played a notable role in promoting education among women. They founded a primary school for girls at Aligarh.
- Another remarkable woman, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain started schools for Muslim girls in Patna and Calcutta.
- By the 1880s, Indian women began to enter universities.
- Tarabai Shinde, a woman educated at home at Poona published a book Stripurushtulna (A Comparison between Women and Men) criticising the social differences between men and women.
- Pandita Ramabai, a great scholar of Sanskrit felt that Hinduism was oppressive towards women and wrote a book about the miserable lives of upper-caste Hindu women.
- By the end of the nineteenth century, women themselves were actively working for reform.
- From the early twentieth century, they formed political pressure groups to push through laws for female suffrage (the right to vote) and better health care and education for women.
- In the twentieth century, leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose lent their support to demands for greater equality and freedom for women.
→ Caste and Social Reform
- In Bombay, the Paramhans Mandali was founded in 1840 to work for the abolition of caste.
During the nineteenth century, Christian missionaries began setting up schools for tribal groups and lower caste children.
- The poor from the villages and small towns many of them from low castes began moving to the cities where there was a new demand for labour.
- Some also went to work in plantations in Assam, Mauritius, Trinidad and Indonesia.
- The army also offered opportunities to lower caste people. A number of Mahar people who were regarded as untouchable, found jobs in the Mahar Regiment.
- The father of B.R. Ambedkar, the leader of the Dalit movement taught at an army school.
→ Demands for equality and justice
- By the second half of the nineteenth century, people from within the Non-Brahman castes began organising movements against caste discrimination and demanded social equality and justice.
- The Satnami movement in Central India was founded by Ghasidas who worked among the leather workers and organised a movement to improve their social status.
- In eastern Bengal, Haridas Thakur’s Matua sect worked among Chandala cultivators.
- In what is present-day Kerala, a guru from Ezhava caste, Shri Narayana Guru, proclaimed the ideals of unity for his people.
- According to him, all humankind belonged to the same caste. One of his famous statements was one caste, one religion, one god for humankind.
- One of the most vocal amongst the low- caste leaders was Jyotirao Phule. He was bom in 1827 and studied in schools set up by Christian missionaries.
- As the Aryans established their dominance, they began looking at the defeated population as inferior as low caste people.
- According to Phule, the upper castes had no right to their land and power. In reality, the land belonged to indigenous people, the so- called low castes.
- He proposed that Shudras means labouring castes and Ati Shudras means
untouchables should unite to challenge caste discrimination.
- The Satyashodhak Samaj which is an association Phule founded propagated caste equality.
- In 1873, Phule wrote a book named Gulamgiri meaning slavery.
- He was concerned about the plight of upper caste women, the miseries of the labourer, and the humiliation of the low castes.
- This movement for caste reform was continued in the twentieth century by other great dalit leaders such as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in western India and E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in the south.
→ Who could enter temples?
- Ambedkar was bom into a Mahar family. In school he was forced to sit outside the classroom on the ground and was not allowed to drink water from taps that upper caste children used.
- On his return to India from US in 1919, he wrote extensively about upper caste power in contemporary society.
- In 1927, Ambedkar started a temple entry movement, in which his Mahar caste followers participated.
- Ambedkar led three such movements for temple entry between 1927 and 1935.
- His aim was to make everyone see the power of caste prejudices within society.
→ The Non-Brahman movement
- In the early twentieth century, the non-Brahman movement started.
- The initiative came from those non-Brahman castes that had acquired access to education, wealth and influence.
- E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker or Periyar as he was called came from a middle-class family.
- He had been an ascetic in his early life and had studied Sanskrit scriptures carefully.
- Convinced that untouchables had to fight for their dignity, Periyar founded the Self Respect Movement.
- He became a member of the Congress but left it in disgust when he found that at a feast organised by nationalists, seating arrangements followed caste distinctions.
- He argued that untouchables were the true upholders of an original Tamil and Dravidian culture which had been subjugated by Brahmans.
- Periyar was an outspoken critic of Hindu scriptures especially the Codes of Manu, the ancient lawgiver and the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana.
- Orthodox Hindu society also reacted by founding Sanatan Dharma Sabhas and the Bharat Dharma Mahamandal in the north and associations such as the Brahman Sabha in Bengal.
- The object of these associations was to uphold caste distinctions as a cornerstone of Hinduism, and show how this was sanctified by scriptures.