‘Women, Caste and Reform’ Class 8 History Chapter Notes

‘Women, Caste and Reform’ Class 8 History Chapter Notes: This educational article comprise chapter notes based on NCERT class 8 Social Science Book Chapter ‘Women, Caste and Reform’. Click here for more such study materials.

Women, Caste, and Reform in the 19th and 20th Centuries


  • Today, children’s lives are vastly different from those of two hundred years ago.
  • Girls from middle-class families now attend school, often alongside boys, and pursue higher education and careers.
  • Legal changes grant women the right to choose their life partners, marry across castes and communities, and widows can remarry.
  • Both men and women have the right to vote and stand for elections, although these rights are not universally enjoyed, especially by the poor.

Contrast with the Past:

  • Two centuries ago, childhood and marriage were drastically different.
  • Most children were married off at a young age, and polygamy was practiced by Hindu and Muslim men.
  • In some regions, widows were praised if they chose self-immolation on their husbands’ funeral pyres, known as “sati.”
  • Women had limited rights to property, and education was largely inaccessible to them.
  • The belief persisted that educating women would lead to widowhood.

Caste Divisions:

  • Society was deeply divided along caste lines, with Brahmans and Kshatriyas considering themselves “upper castes.”
  • Vaishyas, comprising traders and moneylenders, followed, while peasants and artisans (Shudras) were placed below them.
  • The lowest rung comprised those with “polluting” jobs, and they were often deemed “untouchable” by the upper castes.
  • Untouchables faced severe restrictions, including being barred from temples, wells used by upper castes, and ponds where upper castes bathed.

Social Transformation Over Time:

  • The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed gradual changes in societal norms and perceptions.
  • Explore how and why these changes occurred.
  • Factors like social reform movements, legal interventions, and changing attitudes contributed to the shift.
  • Highlight specific reforms and movements that played a crucial role.


  • Summarize the transformations observed in women’s rights, caste dynamics, and societal perceptions over the past two centuries.
  • Emphasize that while progress has been made, challenges still exist, and ongoing efforts are needed for a more equitable society.

1. Working Towards Change: Social Reform and Debates in the Early 19th Century


  • In the early nineteenth century, a significant transformation occurred in the nature of debates and discussions about social customs and practices in India.
  • This shift was facilitated by the development of new forms of communication, including books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets, and pamphlets, which were more accessible than traditional manuscripts.

Role of Communication:

  • Unlike the exclusive nature of manuscripts, printed materials became affordable and accessible to ordinary people.
  • This accessibility allowed a broader segment of society, including men and sometimes women, to read and express their ideas in their own languages.
  • Debates on various issues—social, political, economic, and religious—began to take place in the new urban centers, reaching a wider audience and becoming linked to movements for social change.

Initiation of Debates by Reformers:

  • Indian reformers and reform groups played a crucial role in initiating these debates.
  • Raja Rammohun Roy (1772–1833) emerged as a prominent reformer who founded the Brahmo Sabha in Calcutta, later known as the Brahmo Samaj.
  • Reformers like Rammohun Roy advocated for necessary changes in society, aiming to eliminate unjust practices.
  • They believed that persuading people to abandon old practices and embrace a new way of life was the key to bringing about social transformation.

Raja Rammohun Roy’s Reform Efforts:

  • Rammohun Roy emphasized the need for Western education in India to promote freedom and equality, particularly for women.
  • He addressed the oppressive conditions faced by women, highlighting how they were confined to domestic work, restricted to the home and kitchen, and denied opportunities for education.
  • His advocacy aimed to challenge societal norms that limited the role of women and hindered their progress.


  • Summarize the role of communication in fostering debates and discussions on social issues.
  • Highlight the significance of reformers like Raja Rammohun Roy and their efforts to bring about positive changes in society.
  • Set the stage for further exploration of additional reformers and movements contributing to social change in subsequent chapters.

2. Changing the Lives of Widows: Reform Efforts Against Sati and Advocacy for Widow Remarriage


  • Rammohun Roy, a key figure in social reform during the early 19th century, initiated a campaign against the practice of sati, driven by his concern for the challenges faced by widows.

Campaign Against Sati:

  • Proficient in Sanskrit, Persian, and various Indian and European languages, Rammohun Roy used his knowledge to demonstrate that the practice of widow burning had no basis in ancient texts.
  • British officials, critical of Indian traditions, supported Rammohun’s efforts, leading to the banning of sati in 1829.

Reform Strategies:

  • Rammohun’s strategy of challenging harmful practices by finding verses in ancient texts was adopted by later reformers.
  • Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, a renowned reformer, used ancient texts to argue in favor of widow remarriage, leading to the passage of a law in 1856 permitting such marriages.
  • Opposition to Vidyasagar and the new law emerged from conservative groups, highlighting the challenges faced by reformers.

Widow Remarriage Movement Spreads:

  • In the second half of the 19th century, the movement for widow remarriage gained momentum in various regions.
  • Veerasalingam Pantulu in the Telugu-speaking areas, reformers in Bombay, and Swami Dayanand Saraswati of the Arya Samaj in the north all supported the cause.

Challenges and Resistance:

  • Despite legal changes, the number of widows who remarried remained low.
  • Widows who did remarry faced societal resistance and were not easily accepted.
  • Conservative groups continued to oppose the new laws and social norms, complicating the efforts of reformers.


  • Summarize the impact of Rammohun Roy’s campaign against sati and the subsequent movement for widow remarriage.
  • Highlight the challenges faced by reformers, including opposition from conservative groups.
  • Set the stage for further exploration of social reform movements and their impact on women’s lives in subsequent chapters.

3. Empowering Through Education: The Emergence of Girls’ Schools in the 19th Century


  • Social reformers in the 19th century recognized the importance of educating girls as a means to uplift the condition of women.
  • Pioneers like Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar in Calcutta and reformers in Bombay took the initiative to establish schools for girls.

Challenges and Resistance:

  • When the first girls’ schools emerged in the mid-19th century, they faced considerable resistance.
  • Concerns were raised that schools might disrupt girls’ domestic duties, and the idea of girls traveling through public spaces to reach school was met with fear of corrupting influences.
  • Throughout the 19th century, many educated women were taught at home by liberal fathers or husbands, or they took the initiative to teach themselves.

Individual Initiatives:

  • Some women, like Rashsundari Debi, secretly learned to read and write in the privacy of their homes, overcoming societal restrictions.

Widespread Establishment of Girls’ Schools:

  • In the latter part of the 19th century, the Arya Samaj in Punjab and Jyotirao Phule in Maharashtra played key roles in establishing schools for girls.
  • The initiative extended beyond specific regions, marking a shift toward a more widespread acceptance of girls’ education.

Educational Opportunities in Muslim Households:

  • In aristocratic Muslim households in North India, women traditionally learned to read the Quran in Arabic, often with teachers coming to their homes.
  • Reformers like Mumtaz Ali reinterpreted Quranic verses to advocate for women’s education.

Literature as a Tool for Encouragement:

  • In the late 19th century, the emergence of Urdu novels aimed at encouraging women to engage with religious and domestic management topics in a language they could understand.


  • Highlight the transformative role of education in empowering women during the 19th century.
  • Emphasize the challenges faced by early girls’ schools and the gradual acceptance of the idea of girls’ education.
  • Preview the continued evolution of women’s education and its broader impact on society in subsequent chapters.

4. Women as Agents of Change: Education, Advocacy, and Reform in the Early 20th Century


  • In the early 20th century, Indian women, particularly Muslim women like the Begums of Bhopal and Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, played a pivotal role in promoting education among women and challenging conservative ideas.

Promoting Education:

  • The Begums of Bhopal founded a primary school for girls at Aligarh, contributing to the advancement of women’s education.
  • Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain initiated schools for Muslim girls in Patna and Calcutta, challenging conservative notions and criticizing the inferior place accorded to women by religious leaders.

Entrance into Universities:

  • By the 1880s, Indian women began entering universities, pursuing careers as doctors and teachers.
  • A growing number of women started expressing their views on the societal role of women, using literature as a platform for critical discourse.

Literary Contributions:

  • Tarabai Shinde, educated at home in Poona, published “Stripurushtulna,” critiquing social differences between men and women.
  • Pandita Ramabai, a Sanskrit scholar, wrote about the oppressive nature of Hinduism towards women, founding a widows’ home in Poona to provide support and economic training for mistreated widows.

Orthodox Opposition:

  • Orthodox communities, both Hindu and Muslim, expressed concerns about the impact of these changes, fearing a perceived erosion of cultural and family values.

Women as Reformers:

  • By the end of the 19th century, women actively participated in reform efforts, writing books, editing magazines, founding schools, and setting up women’s associations.
  • In the 20th century, they formed political pressure groups advocating for female suffrage, improved healthcare, and education. Some joined nationalist and socialist movements.

Nationalist Leaders’ Support:

  • Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose supported women’s demands for greater equality and freedom.
  • Nationalist leaders promised full suffrage for men and women after Independence, urging women to focus on anti-British struggles in the meantime.


  • Highlight the active role of women in shaping reform movements and advocating for change.
  • Emphasize the importance of education and literature as tools for women’s empowerment.
  • Preview the ongoing struggle for women’s rights and their contributions to India’s socio-political landscape in the following decades.

Caste and Social Reform:

1. Challenging Inequalities in 19th Century India


  • Social reformers of the 19th century, including Rammohun Roy, addressed and criticized caste inequalities, reflecting a broader movement against social injustices.

Reform Movements and Caste Critique:

  • Rammohun Roy’s translation of an old Buddhist text critical of caste demonstrated early efforts to challenge caste prejudices.
  • The Prarthana Samaj in Bombay, rooted in the Bhakti tradition, advocated for the spiritual equality of all castes.
  • The Paramhans Mandali, founded in 1840, actively worked for the abolition of caste, with members often violating caste taboos in secret meetings to combat prejudice.

Injustices of the Caste Social Order:

  • Christian missionaries, during the 19th century, established schools for tribal groups and children from “lower” castes, providing resources to navigate a changing world.
  • As poor individuals sought employment in emerging urban centers, they began challenging traditional caste norms by taking on diverse jobs in factories, municipalities, and other labor-intensive roles.

Migration to Cities:

  • The poor from villages and small towns, often from low castes, migrated to cities in response to the demand for labor created by industrialization.
  • Opportunities in city jobs, factories, and plantations abroad presented a chance for those from low castes to escape the oppressive hold of upper-caste landowners.

Challenges and Opportunities:

  • While the work in new locations was often challenging, it offered an escape from daily humiliation and oppressive conditions.
  • Opportunities in the army, such as the Mahar Regiment, provided employment for individuals considered untouchable, challenging traditional caste hierarchies.
  • B.R. Ambedkar’s father, associated with the Dalit movement, worked in an army school, exemplifying the evolving opportunities for those from marginalized communities.


  • Highlight the multifaceted efforts of social reformers to challenge and dismantle caste inequalities.
  • Emphasize the role of education, migration, and employment opportunities in challenging traditional caste norms.
  • Preview the continued struggles against caste discrimination and the emergence of leaders advocating for social justice in the subsequent decades.

2. Demands for Equality and Justice: Anti-Caste Movements in the Late 19th Century


  • In the second half of the 19th century, individuals from Non-Brahman castes initiated movements against caste discrimination, advocating for social equality and justice.

Anti-Caste Movements:

  • Non-Brahman castes began organizing movements challenging caste discrimination and seeking social justice.

Satnami Movement in Central India:

  • Ghasidas founded the Satnami movement in Central India, focusing on leatherworkers and striving to improve their social status.

Matua Sect in Eastern Bengal:

  • Haridas Thakur’s Matua sect worked among Chandala cultivators in eastern Bengal, questioning Brahmanical texts that supported the caste system.

Shri Narayana Guru in Kerala:

  • In present-day Kerala, Shri Narayana Guru, a guru from the Ezhava caste, advocated for unity and rejected caste-based inequality.
  • His famous statement emphasized the oneness of humanity: “oru jati, oru matam, oru daivam manushyanu” (one caste, one religion, one god for humankind).

Leadership from Non-Brahman Castes:

  • These sects were founded by leaders from Non-Brahman castes who actively worked among their communities.
  • Efforts were directed at changing habits and practices that invited contempt from dominant castes, fostering a sense of self-esteem among subordinate castes.

Promotion of Unity and Equality:

  • Leaders like Shri Narayana Guru sought to dismantle caste differences and promote unity among all humankind.
  • The movements aimed to challenge and redefine societal norms that perpetuated discrimination.


  • Highlight the emergence of anti-caste movements in various regions during the late 19th century.
  • Emphasize the leadership of individuals from Non-Brahman castes in these movements.
  • Preview the continued struggles against caste discrimination and the broader quest for equality and justice in subsequent chapters.

3. Jyotirao Phule and the Challenge to Caste Injustice: Gulamgiri and the Satyashodhak Samaj


  • Jyotirao Phule, born in 1827, emerged as a prominent leader against caste injustices, challenging Brahmanical claims of superiority and advocating for caste equality.

Educational Background and Awakening:

  • Phule studied in schools established by Christian missionaries, developing his own ideas about the injustices of caste society.
  • He questioned the Brahman claim of superiority, arguing that Aryans were foreigners who subjugated the indigenous people of the subcontinent.

Critique of Aryan Rule:

  • Phule challenged the notion that the “upper” castes were superior, asserting that before Aryan rule, a golden age existed with just and fair rule by warrior-peasants.
  • He proposed the unity of Shudras and Ati Shudras to challenge caste discrimination.

Founding the Satyashodhak Samaj:

  • Phule founded the Satyashodhak Samaj, an association that actively propagated the idea of caste equality.


  • In 1873, Phule wrote the book “Gulamgiri,” meaning slavery, dedicating it to those Americans who fought to end slavery in the aftermath of the American Civil War.
  • The book drew parallels between the conditions of the “lower” castes in India and the struggles of black slaves in America.

Extending Criticism to All Inequalities:

  • Phule’s critique of the caste system extended to a broader opposition against all forms of inequality.
  • He expressed concern for the plight of “upper”-caste women, the hardships of laborers, and the humiliation faced by the “low” castes.

Legacy and Continuation of the Movement:

  • The movement for caste reform initiated by Phule continued into the 20th century, with leaders like Dr B.R. Ambedkar in western India and E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in the south carrying forward the struggle against caste injustices.


  • Emphasize Jyotirao Phule’s contributions to challenging caste injustices and advocating for equality.
  • Highlight the broader impact of Phule’s movement, inspiring later leaders in the fight against caste discrimination.
  • Preview the ongoing struggle for social justice and equality in the subsequent decades.

4. Temple Entry Movement: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s Fight Against Caste Prejudices


  • Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, born into a Mahar family, experienced firsthand the impact of caste prejudice in his everyday life.

Early Life and Education:

  • Ambedkar faced discrimination in school, being forced to sit outside the classroom and denied access to water taps used by upper-caste children.
  • Despite these challenges, he received a fellowship to pursue higher studies in the United States.

Return to India and Activism:

  • In 1919, upon his return to India, Ambedkar extensively wrote about the pervasive power of “upper”-caste dominance in contemporary society.

Temple Entry Movement:

  • In 1927, Ambedkar initiated a temple entry movement, encouraging his Mahar caste followers to participate.
  • The movement aimed to challenge the existing social norms and practices that barred Dalits from entering temples.

Outrage and Resistance:

  • Brahman priests expressed outrage when Dalits, under Ambedkar’s leadership, used water from the temple tank during the movement.

Series of Movements:

  • Ambedkar led three temple entry movements between 1927 and 1935, each emphasizing the need to expose and confront the power of caste prejudices within society.

Objective of the Movements:

  • Ambedkar’s primary goal was to bring attention to the deep-seated caste prejudices and inequalities prevalent in society.
  • The temple entry movements symbolized a broader struggle for social justice and the dismantling of discriminatory practices.

Legacy and Impact:

  • Ambedkar’s efforts in the temple entry movements contributed to a growing awareness of caste-based discrimination.
  • His activism laid the groundwork for future movements and legislative changes aimed at promoting equality and justice.


  • Highlight Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s activism and leadership in the temple entry movements.
  • Emphasize the movements’ significance in challenging caste prejudices and advocating for social justice.
  • Preview the continued efforts for equality and the impact of Ambedkar’s work in shaping India’s socio-political landscape.

5. The Non-Brahman Movement: Challenging Caste Hegemony in the Early 20th Century


  • In the early 20th century, the Non-Brahman movement emerged, spearheaded by non-Brahman castes that had gained access to education, wealth, and influence.

Challenge to Brahmanical Claims:

  • Non-Brahman castes contested Brahmanical claims to power, asserting that Brahmans were heirs of Aryan invaders who conquered southern lands from the indigenous Dravidian races.

E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker (Periyar):

  • E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker, known as Periyar, played a crucial role in the Non-Brahman movement.
  • Originally part of the Congress, Periyar left the party due to caste-based seating arrangements, founding the Self Respect Movement to fight for the dignity of untouchables.

Struggle for Dignity:

  • Periyar argued that untouchables were the true upholders of an original Tamil and Dravidian culture, suppressed by Brahmans.
  • He advocated for untouchables to free themselves from all religions to achieve social equality.

Critique of Hindu Scriptures:

  • Periyar openly criticized Hindu scriptures, including the Codes of Manu, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Ramayana, asserting that they were used to establish Brahman authority over lower castes and male dominance over women.

Reaction from Orthodox Hindu Society:

  • The forceful criticisms by lower-caste leaders prompted some self-reflection among upper-caste nationalist leaders.
  • Orthodox Hindu society reacted by founding associations like Sanatan Dharma Sabhas and the Bharat Dharma Mahamandal to uphold caste distinctions as fundamental to Hinduism, using scriptures to justify these distinctions.

Debates and Struggles:

  • Debates and struggles over caste persisted beyond the colonial period, with the formation of associations such as the Brahman Sabha in Bengal.
  • The dialogue on caste distinctions continues into contemporary times.


  • Highlight the emergence of the Non-Brahman movement as a response to caste hegemony.
  • Emphasize the role of leaders like Periyar in challenging societal norms and advocating for social equality.
  • Acknowledge the ongoing debates and struggles over caste, shaping the socio-political landscape in India.

Reform Movements in 19th Century India


  • The 19th century witnessed the emergence of various reform movements in India, driven by a desire to challenge traditional practices and promote social change.

Brahmo Samaj (1830):

  • Founded in 1830, the Brahmo Samaj rejected idolatry and sacrifice, drawing on ideals from Hinduism and Christianity.
  • Prohibited criticism of other religions and critically examined the positive and negative aspects of various faiths.

Derozio and Young Bengal Movement:

  • Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, a teacher at Hindu College, Calcutta, initiated the Young Bengal Movement (1820s).
  • Advocated radical ideas, encouraged students to question authority, demanded education for women, and campaigned for freedom of thought and expression.

Ramakrishna Mission and Swami Vivekananda:

  • The Ramakrishna Mission, influenced by Swami Vivekananda’s guru, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, emphasized salvation through social service.
  • Swami Vivekananda, a global ambassador of Vedanta philosophy, called for unity based on a common spiritual heritage to uplift the masses and address global challenges.

Prarthana Samaj (1867):

  • Established in Bombay, the Prarthana Samaj aimed to remove caste restrictions, abolish child marriage, promote women’s education, and advocate for the end of the ban on widow remarriage.
  • Religious meetings drew inspiration from Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian texts.

Veda Samaj (1864):

  • Founded in Madras, the Veda Samaj, inspired by the Brahmo Samaj, worked to abolish caste distinctions, support widow remarriage, and promote women’s education.
  • Emphasized belief in one God and condemned orthodox Hindu rituals.

Aligarh Movement (1875):

  • Sayyid Ahmed Khan founded the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh (later Aligarh Muslim University) in 1875.
  • The movement aimed at providing modern education, including Western science, to Muslims, contributing significantly to educational reform.

Singh Sabha Movement (1873 and 1879):

  • The Singh Sabha Movement, initiated in 1873 and 1879 in Amritsar and Lahore, respectively, sought to reform Sikhism.
  • Goals included eliminating superstitions, caste distinctions, and non-Sikh practices, while promoting education combining modern instruction with Sikh teachings.


  • Highlight the diversity of reform movements in 19th-century India, each addressing specific social and religious issues.
  • Emphasize the role of key figures and institutions in driving transformative changes.
  • Preview the continued impact of these movements on India’s societal and cultural landscape.

Summary of Types of Reform Movements in 19th-century India:

Type of MovementNameFounder(s)Objectives/Key Points
Reformist MovementsBrahmo SamajRaja Ram Mohan RoyFought against idol worship, polytheism, caste oppression, rituals, and social evils like Sati, polygamy, child marriage. Advocated for women’s rights, widow remarriage, and education.
Aligarh MovementSayyid Ahmed KhanFounded Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (later Aligarh Muslim University), aimed at providing modern education to Muslims.
Prarthana SamajKeshub Chandra SenPreached monotheism, denounced priestly domination and caste distinctions. Spread activities to South India through Veeresalingam.
Young Bengal MovementHenry Louis Vivian DerozioInitiated in the 1820s. Encouraged radical thinking, criticized orthodox Hindu practices. Encouraged students to question authority, demanded education for women, and campaigned for freedom of thought and expression.
Revivalist MovementsArya SamajSwami Dayanand SaraswatiOpposed idolatry, polytheism, rituals, priesthood, caste system, and child marriage. Advocated for the improvement of women’s conditions, social equality, and denounced untouchability.
Deoband MovementMuhammad Qasim Wanotavi, Rashid AhamadFocused on uplifting the Muslim community through religious education.
Other Important MovementsTheosophical SocietyMadame Blavatsky, Colonel OlcottPromoted the study of ancient Hindu, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian philosophies. Emphasized universal brotherhood and occultism.
Ramakrishna MissionSwami VivekanandaFounded to promote the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Opposed the caste system, untouchability, and propagated Vedanta.
Satyashodhak SamajJyotirao Govindrao PhuleCampaigned against idolatry and the caste system. Advocated rational thinking, rejected the priesthood. Used the term ‘Dalit’.
Veda SamajNot specifiedFounded in Madras, inspired by the Brahmo Samaj. Worked to abolish caste distinctions, support widow remarriage, and promote women’s education. Emphasized belief in one God and condemned orthodox Hindu rituals.
Singh Sabha MovementNot specifiedInitiated in 1873 and 1879 in Amritsar and Lahore. Sought to reform Sikhism by eliminating superstitions, caste distinctions, and non-Sikh practices. Promoted education combining modern instruction with Sikh teachings.
Widow Remarriage AssociationPandit Vishnu ShastriFounded in 1860, advocated for widow remarriage.

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