At the turn of the nineteenth century, some enlightened parts of Indian society gave birth to a new vision—a modern vision. This enlightened perspective would shape the course of events for decades, if not centuries, to come. When it comes to India, the notion of Renaissance shifts. While renaissance refers to the rebirth of classics, it does not refer to a revival in a concrete way in India. It's a fresh start. The arrival of the English was the catalyst for India's revival. Indians were suddenly exposed to scientific ideas, fresh discoveries, and liberal ideas.
The Vedas, Upanishads, Sutras, and epics, among other Sanskrit treasures, were translated by Europeans. While the Renaissance began in Europe in the 15th century, it did not begin in India until the 19th century. Following the arrival of British forces, India saw a religious and social awakening. The most prominent reformists had approached the task with zeal and enthusiasm. The rejuvenation of Indian cultural life that dons a new guise while remaining anchored to old moorings is known as the Indian renaissance. Raja Rammohan Roy was a pivotal player in this cultural revolution. Rammohan Roy labelled the "founder of the Indian Renaissance," was a brilliant nationalist, scholar, and humanist. He was driven by a strong love for the homeland and spent his entire life working for the Indians' social, religious, intellectual, and political regeneration. Rammohan Roy settled in Calcutta in 1814 and devoted his life to social and religious reform. Rammohan Roy campaigned tenaciously against societal evils such as sati, polygamy, child marriage, female infanticide, and caste prejudice as a social reformer. He organised a campaign against the inhumane practise of sati and aided William Bentinck in enacting legislation prohibiting the custom (1829).
1. The Effects of British Rule
In this key period of modern Indian history, the presence of a colonial government on Indian land had a complex, yet decisive role. The impact of British control on Indian society and culture was vastly different than that which India had previously experienced. The majority of the earlier invaders who landed within India's borders were either absorbed by its superior civilization or engaged positively with it, becoming a part of the land and its people.
The British conquest, on the other hand, was unique. It was established at a time when India, in contrast to an enlightened Europe of the 18th century influenced by science and scientific approach in every aspect, presented the image of a sluggish civilization and a static and decadent society.
2. Conditions in the Social Sector were ripe for change
Ills of Religion and Society
Religious beliefs and social obscurantism entangled Indian civilization in the nineteenth century, creating a terrible web. Hinduism had gotten engulfed in superstition and sorcery. The priests had a powerful and, in some ways, unhealthy influence over the people's thinking. Idolatry and polytheism bolstered their position, and their monopoly on scriptural knowledge gave all religious systems a false quality. Nothing was beyond the power of religious dogma to compel individuals to do.
Women's Depressing Situation
The social situation was also gloomy. The position of women was the most upsetting. Attempts to kill female newborns before they were born were not uncommon. Another social blight was child marriage. Polygamy was common, and under Kulinism, even old men took extremely young girls as brides. Several women had barely had a marriage worth mentioning, but when their husbands died, they were expected to perform sati, which Raja Rammohan Roy defined as "murder according to every shastra." They were doomed to a life of sorrow and shame if they managed to escape this social constraint.
The Problem of Caste
In addition to caste, this was a disabling element. This necessitated a hierarchical system of segregation based on ceremonial status. The untouchables or scheduled castes, as they came to be known later, were at the bottom of the ladder. The untouchables were plagued with a wide range of debilitating conditions. People were fragmented into a variety of groups by the system. It became a key roadblock in the modern era for the development of a strong national identity and the dissemination of democratic values. Social mobility was restricted, social differences developed, and personal initiative was stifled by the caste system. Human dignity was undermined by the caste system's humiliation of untouchability.
3. Disapproval of Western Civilisation
Indians were made to feel inferior and western culture which was seen as superior was forced on the Indian society.British authority in India was followed by a concerted effort to promote colonial culture and ideology as the dominant cultural current in Indian society. 19th-century efforts to revive old institutions and to realise traditional culture's full potential emerged as a response to colonial culture and ideology. Indians took upon the task to find substance in their own heritage which was manifested in revivalism and reformism.
Reform movements can be broadly classed into two types: reformist movements such as the Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, and the Aligarh Movement, and revivalist movements such as the Arya Samaj and Deobandi movements. Both the reformist and revivalist movements relied, to differing degrees, on an appeal to the religion's lost purity. The main distinction between the two reform movements was their reliance on tradition or on reason and conscience.
4. New forces of change
The increasing tide of nationalism and democracy found expression in initiatives to reform and democratise Indian social structures and religious outlooks in the late 19th century. Nationalist feelings grew, new economic forces emerged, education spread, contemporary Western ideas and culture impacted, and global awareness rose. The colonial presence caused but did not create, 19th century India's socio-cultural rebirth.
Reforms were aimed at the following:
Women—women's education was accorded primacy. Attempts at redressing wrongs included the eradication of sati, child marriage, and female infanticide. Remarriage of widows was advocated.
Dalit-Jyotibha Phule laboured in this direction to ensure that the lower stratum received the long-overdue respect.
Humanistic ideas of social equality and the inherent dignity of all individuals inspired the newly educated middle class and had a significant impact on the field of social change. Social reform movements were inextricably related to religious reform movements, owing to the fact that practically all social evils, such as untouchability and gender-based injustice, got legitimacy from religion in some manner. However, in the following years, the social reform movement steadily de-religionized itself and adopted a secular orientation.
Additionally, prior reform movements had a rather small social base, consisting primarily of the upper and middle classes and higher castes attempting to strike a balance between their modernised beliefs and current socioeconomic constraints. However, social reform movements later infiltrated society's bottom strata, revolutionising and reconstructing the social sphere.