Study Material and Notes of Ch 8 Women, Caste and Reform Class 8th History


Early Years

• Before two hundred years, society was totally different.

• Most children were married off at an early age.

• Both Hindu and Muslim men could marry more than one wife.

• 'Sati Pratha' (a widow burn herself on the funeral pyre of their husbands) was prevailing in Hindu society.

• Women’s rights to property were also restricted.

• Most women had virtually no access to education.

• In most regions, people were divided along lines of caste. 
→ Brahmans and Kshatriyas considered themselves as “upper castes”. 
→ Traders and moneylenders, referred to as Vaishyas were placed after them. 
→ Peasants, and artisans such as weavers and potters referred to as Shudras were at the lowest rung.

• Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many of these norms and perceptions slowly changed.

Working Towards Change

• From the early nineteenth century, after the development of new forms of communication, debates and discussions about social customs and practices started.

• These debates were often initiated by Indian reformers and reform groups. 
→ Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) was one such reformer who founded a reform association known as the Brahmo Sabha (later known as the Brahmo Samaj) in Calcutta.

• Reformers were those people who felt that changes were necessary in society, and unjust practices needed to be done away with.

• He was interested in spreading the knowledge of Western education in the country and bring about
greater freedom and equality for women.

• He wrote about the way women were forced to bear the burden of domestic work, confined to the home and the kitchen, and not allowed to move out and become educated.

Changing the lives of widows

• Rammohun Roy was particularly moved by the problems widows faced in their lives so he began a campaign against the practice of sati.

• By the early nineteenth century, many British officials had also begun to criticise Indian traditions and customs therefore, they were more than willing to listen to Rammohun who was reputed to be a learned man.

• In 1829, sati was banned.

• Another reformer, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, used the ancient texts to suggest that widows could remarry.

• His suggestion was adopted by British officials, and a law was passed in 1856 permitting widow remarriage.

• In the Telugu-speaking areas of the Madras Presidency, Veerasalingam Pantulu formed 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

• Many reformers felt that education for girls was necessary in order to improve the condition of women.

• Vidyasagar in Calcutta and many other reformers in Bombay set up schools for girls.

• Paople feared that schools would take girls away from home, prevent them from doing their domestic duties.

• Also, girls had to travel through public places in order to reach school which would have a corrupting influence on them.

• Throughout the nineteenth century, most educated women were taught at home by liberal fathers or husbands.

• 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 learnt to read the Koran in Arabic.
→ They were taught by women who came home to teach.

• Some 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 founded a
primary school for girls at Aligarh.

• Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain started schools for Muslim girls in Patna and Calcutta.

• By the 1880s, Indian women began to enter universities and trained to be doctors, some became teachers.

• 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, wrote a book about the miserable lives of upper-caste
Hindu women.
→ She founded a widows’ home at Poona to provide shelter to widows.

• By the end of the nineteenth century, women themselves were actively working for reform.

• They wrote books, edited magazines, founded schools and training centres, and set up women’s associations.

• 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.

Caste and Social Reform

• Some of the social reformers criticised caste inequalities.

• Rammohun Roy translated an old Buddhist text that was critical of caste.

• The Prarthana Samaj was attached to the tradition of Bhakti that believed in spiritual equality of all castes.

• In Bombay, the Paramhans Mandali was founded in 1840 to work for the abolition of caste.

• Many of these reformers and members of reform associations were people of upper castes who were often, in secret meetings, these reformers would violate caste taboos on food and touch.

• During the course of the nineteenth century, Christian missionaries began setting up schools for tribal groups and lower-caste children.

• The expansion of cities created new demands of labour.
→ 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 people from low castes, saw this as an opportunity to get away from the oppressive hold that upper-caste landowners exercised over their lives and the daily humiliation they suffered.

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, founded by Ghasidas who worked among the leatherworkers and organised a movement to improve their social status.

• In eastern Bengal, Haridas Thakur’s Matua sect worked among Chandala cultivators.

• In present-day Kerala, a guru from Ezhava caste, Shri Narayana Guru, proclaimed the ideals of unity for his people and argued against treating people unequally on the basis of caste differences.

• All these sects were founded by leaders who came from Non- Brahman castes and worked amongst them.


• Jyotirao Phule was born in 1827 and studied in schools set up by Christian missionaries.

• He set out to attack the Brahmans’ claim that they were superior to others, since they were Aryans.

• Phule argued that the Aryans were foreigners, who came from outside the subcontinent, and defeated and subjugated the inhabitants of the country.

• He proposed that Shudras (labouring castes) and Ati Shudras (untouchables) should unite to challenge caste discrimination.

• Phule founded the Satyashodhak Samaj, an association which propagated caste equality.

• In 1873, Phule wrote a book named Gulamgiri, meaning slavery and dedicated his book to all those Americans who had fought to free slaves, thus establishing a link between the conditions of the
“lower” castes in India and the black slaves in America.

Who could enter temples?

• Ambedkar was born into a Mahar family and faced discrimination since childhood.

• On his return to India 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 with the aim 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 by non-Brahman castes that had acquired access to education, wealth and influence.

• They argued that Brahmans were heirs of Aryan invaders from the north who had conquered southern lands from the original inhabitants of the region – the indigenous Dravidian races.

• E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker, or Periyar, as he was called, came from a middle-class family, founded the Self Respect Movement and believed that the untouchables had to free themselves from all religions in order to achieve social equality.

• Periyar was an outspoken critic of Hindu scriptures, especially the Codes of Manu, the ancient lawgiver, and the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana as these texts had been used to establish the
authority of Brahmans over lower castes and the domination of men over women.

• These assertions were challenged by orthodox Hindu society who began founding Sanatan Dharma Sabhas and the Bharat Dharma Mahamandal in the north, and associations like the Brahman Sabha in Bengal.

• Debates and struggles over caste continued beyond the colonial period and are still going on in our own times.

NCERT Solutions of Chapter 9 Women, Caste and Reform

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