In the history of pre-independent India, the 19th century was a period of transition and contestation in the socio-religious sphere as three streams: of reform, revival and rejection of ancient cultural values were woven around the socio-religious movement or social reform movement initiated by eminent intelligentsia of vision and foresight.

This movement acted as a catalyst for the emergence of nationalism which ultimately drove away the British from India and made India an independent republic.

This movement began in Bengal and spread to the other parts of India.

Social movements in India

Image Source:


It was a movement aimed at regenerating the sluggish spirit of India which was in a dazed condition due to the impact of the British rule. The pioneer of this movement of regeneration of India was Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1774-1833), the father of modem India who is acclaimed as the link between the fading past and dawning future, between the deep-rooted conservatism and radical reform, and between superstitious isolationism and progressive synthesis, in short, between reaction and progress.

Ram Mohan Roy is also described as the arch which spanned the gulf between ancient caste and modern humanity, between superstition and science, between immovable custom and conservative progress, between a bewildering polytheism and a pure but vague theism.

The intellectuals of the 19th century had a vision of the future India and in the words of M.G. Ranade the vision that inspired them was, “a change from constraint to freedom, from credulity to faith, from status to contract, from authority to reason, from unorganized to organized life, from bigotry to toleration, from blind fanaticism to a source of human dignity”.

In order to achieve this vision, all the intellectuals believed the spread of education, both western and Indian vernacular, to be the panacea for social transformation and national regeneration. It was not just a socio-religious movement but also a movement against economic exploitation and social discrimination of backward communities and women’s emancipation from bondage and slavery. The movement which started as a minor stream in the first decade of the 19th century evolved into major water flow, engulfing the entire territorial borders of India.