Women, Caste and Reform


If we talk about the present situation of women then we can say that it is improving slowly and steadily. They enjoy all the rights in society as men. They have the right to vote, the right to be an adult before getting married, and the right to contest elections. But unfortunately, these rights are not enjoyed by the members of every stratum of society.

Back in the 19th century, things were different from those now. Children were married at a very young age, and men were allowed to marry more than one wife, “Sati Pratha” was practised in many places, and women were not given equal rights as men.

This discrimination was not just between men and women. Society was divided into different strata. Brahmans and Kshatriyas were considered the upper casts of the society followed by the Vaishyas and then at the end Shudras who were also considered untouchables.

Women in India

  • In the early 19th century new forms of communication were developed which helped in turning things in favour of women.

  • Now it was possible to publish books, newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets which were far cheaper and more accessible than manuscripts. This development helped many reformers to reach a larger group of people.

  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) was one of such reformers who felt the need for change in society.

  • He wrote about various issues that women faced in their day-to-day life. He began a campaign against “Sati Pratha”.

  • Through his writing, he conveyed a message to society that there is no place for “Sati Pratha” in our ancient texts. Due to his irresistible efforts “Sati Pratha” was banned in 1829.

  • Another famous reformer, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar used the same strategy that was used by Raja Rammohun Roy to promote widow remarriage.

  • He used ancient texts to promote the motion that widows could remarry. Due to his contribution, a law was passed in the year 1856 by the Britishers that allowed widow remarriage.

  • Most reformers believed that educating women can solve half of the problem. So, educating women is a necessary condition to improve their social status.

  • When the opening of girls' schools started in the mid-nineteenth century people were afraid that schools would impact the domestic work of their households.

  • The first girls' school was opened on 1st January 1848 by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule at Bhide Wada in Pune.

  • By the 1880s many Indian women started becoming independent. Now they were well educated and began to share their critical views about the injustice done to women through writing.

  • Tarabai Shinde is one such example who published a book, Stripurushtulna.

  • This was the time women themselves were supporting women and were working actively for reforms. They even started schools, training centres, and women's associations.

  • They formed pressure groups, participated in movements, and made the government pass some crucial laws.

Caste System in India

  • The caste system is one of the most dominant forms of systems prevailing in our society.

  • According to our ancient texts our society is divided into four varnas: Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.

  • Brahmans are at the top of the caste system followed by Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and then Shudras.

  • Menial workers are considered at the lowermost place in the caste system. They were considered “untouchables” and their touch was said to be polluting. That is why they were not allowed to use public services like wells, tanks, and temples.

  • This caste system became extremely rigid with time and cruelty and discrimination increased with time based on caste.

  • In 1840, to deal with all this inequality done in the name of caste, the Paramhans Mandali was founded which worked for the abolition of caste. Most of its members were from the upper caste.

  • The Satnami movement in Central India is one such example that was started by Ghasidas who was from a lower caste and worked among the leatherworkers.

  • All the Non-Brahman reformers started different movements to create a sense of pride among the lower castes.

Reformers in India

  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) was one of the most famous reformers who felt the need for change in society.

  • He was the founder of “Brahmo sabha”, a reform association.

  • He was fond of knowledge of western education which is why he wanted to spread it all over and bring equality and freedom for women.

  • His writings were the major reason why “Sati Pratha” was banned in 1829.

  • Another famous reformer, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar strongly supported widow remarriage. He also started a girl's school in Calcutta.

  • Jyotirao Phule was born in 1827. He is one of the most famous leaders who worked for lower caste people.

  • He attacked the Brahmans’ claiming they were Aryans who came from outside the country and defeated the indigenous people of the country.

  • He was the founder of the association Satyashodhak Samaj which promoted caste equality.

  • He is the sole writer of the book named “Gulamgiri”, which means slavery. He wrote this book in 1873.

  • Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker are also Dalit Leaders who supported the lower caste strongly.


Women were being restricted to households for the last many years. They were deprived of many rights that men generally enjoyed. After so many efforts and movements, women got general rights like the right to vote, the right to education, etc. In the twentieth century, many national promised to give women greater equality and freedom. Same as women lower caste people are also treated unequally for ages and are deprived of many rights and opportunities that the upper caste enjoyed. After so many efforts were done by Dalit leaders and reformers, the situation is changing slowly.


Q1. What was the strategy used by reformers to bring change in society?

Ans. Social reformers are those who felt that some change is needed in the social practices to remove the evil rituals society practices They persuaded people to give up old practices and adopt new and positive things.

Q2. Why did so many reformers focus on women’s condition?

Ans. During that time women were discriminated against several things. They didn’t enjoy equal rights as men and evil social rituals like “Sati Pratha” were practised against women. So, to bring equity many social reformers focused on women's condition.

Q3. Who was the first feminist icon of India?

Ans. Savitribai is the first feminist icon of India. She fought for women's rights in India during the British Raj. She started a school with her husband, Jyotirao Phule, in 1848.

Q4. What did the Child Marriage Restraint Act state?

Ans. The Child Marriage Restraint Act states the legal age to get married for both men and women. This act was passed to avoid child marriages. 18 for men and 16 for women is the legal get married.