Indian women in socio-religious reform movements

The role of Indian women in socio-religious reform movements of the nineteenth century:-


  • In nineteenth century, the women question was center of all socio-religious reform movements. The reformist and renaissance ideals of the enlightenment in Europe have usually been cited by historians as the inspiration for social reforms initiated in nineteenth century India
  • Under socio-religious reform movements reformers raised their voice against the evil practices towards women of Indian societies such as sati, child marriage, prohibition of widow remarriage, polygamy, dowry and devadasi system. Educated women who were now becoming conscious of their natural rights, also came forward to liberate the rest of the women

Role of Indian women in socio religious reform movements of the nineteenth century:-

  • Pandita Ramabhai:-
    • Many woman reformers such as PunditaRamabai also helped the cause of women’s upliftmen
    • She advocated women’s education and shed light on the plight of child bridesand child widows.
    • She founded the Arya Mahila Sabha, which is known as the first feminist organisation in India. Its aim was to provide a support network for newly educated women
    • She set up Mukti Mission for young widows, and Krupa Sadan and Sharda Sadan in 1889 for destitute women
    • She founded the Sharda Sadan, a school for widows. Her greatest legacy was her effort, the first in India, to educate widows.
  • Novelists like Nirupama Devi and Anurupa Devi :-
    • They started getting referred to in the Bengali literary circles and were even given memberships of literary clubswhich were dominated by men.
  • Swarnakumari deb:-
    • Imitating Ramabai’s Arya Mahila Samaj, elite women formed similar sectarian and local organizations. In 1886, Swarnakumari Debi Rabindranath Tagore’s sister, started Sakhi Samiti (Women’s Friendship League)to spread knowledge among women and widows.
  • Lilabati Mitra helped Bidyasagar in 1890s to perform widow re-marriages by sheltering willing grooms.
  • Kamini Roy was active in the Ilbert Bill agitation, organising girls at the Bethune School to hold meetings and wear badges supporting the Bill. She worked with Banga Mahila Samiti in their social reform projects.
    • She was a feminist at an age when merely getting educated was a taboo for a woman.
  • Savitrabhai phule along with her husband founded the first girls school in Pune run by native Indians at Bhide Wada in 1848.She worked to abolish discrimination and unfair treatment of people based on caste and gender
  • Gowri laxmi Bayi:-
    • In Kerala by a Royal Proclamation in 1812 she abolished the purchase and sale of all slaves and granted them independence excepting those attached to the soil for agricultural purposes.
    • Castes like the Ezhavas, Kaniyans etc. were given independence from their Lords. A restriction put on the Sudras and others regarding the wearing of gold and silver ornaments was removed.
  • Women’s organisations:-
    • The primary goals of most women’s associations were to improve women’s literacy and health by abolishing child marriage, enforced widowhood, and purdah.
    • By the late nineteenth century several women’s organisations began to be formed in several parts of India such as the Banga Mahila Samaj and theAghorekamini Nari Samiti in Bengal, theSatara Abalonnati Sabha in Maharashtra, the Mahila Seva Samaj in Bangalore etc.
      • Some of these were practical social reform movements and others were discussion platforms for women .
    • Education was foremost on their list, followed by child marriage and the problems of widows and dowry.
    • Aghorekamini Nari Samiti was based on the principle of self help and trained women to attend the sick and spread education amongst themselves.
      • Aghorekamini Nari Samiti mobilised opinions against the ill-treatment of women workers by the tea planters.
    • Banga Mahila Vidyalaya(Bengali Women’s College) :-
      • It was the first women’s liberal arts college in India. Established at Kolkata in 1876, by the liberal section of the Brahmo Samaj, it was successor of Hindu Mahila Vidyalaya (School of Hindu Women) set up in 1873 by Annette Akroyd.
      • Banga Mahila Vidyalaya was merged with Bethune College in 1878.


  • Therefore women played a significant role in bringing out social reforms when the society was still largely conservative. Slowly more women got included in the movement and ultimately participated in huge numbers in the Indian freedom struggle as well.

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