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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Native nameમોહનદાસ કરમચંદ ગાંધી
BornMohandas Karamchand Gandhi
(1869-10-02)2 October 1869
Porbandar, Porbandar State, Kathiawar Agency, Bombay Presidency, British India[1]
(present-day Gujarat, India)
Died30 January 1948(1948-01-30) (aged 78)
New Delhi, Delhi, Dominion of India (present-day India)
Cause of deathAssassination
Resting placeRaj Ghat, Delhi, India
Other namesMahatma Gandhi, Bapu ji, Gandhi ji
Alma materUniversity College London[2]
Inner Temple
  • Lawyer
  • Politician
  • Activist
  • Writer
Known forIndian Independence Movement,
Peace movement
Political partyIndian National Congress
MovementIndian independence movement
Spouse(s)Kasturba Gandhi (m. 1883; d. 1944)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (;[3]Hindustani: [ˈmoːɦənd̪aːs ˈkərəmtʃənd̪ ˈɡaːnd̪ʱi] ( listen); 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was an Indianactivist who was the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule. Employing nonviolentcivil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. The honorificMahātmā (Sanskrit: "high-souled", "venerable")[4]—applied to him first in 1914 in South Africa[5]—is now used worldwide. In India, he is also called Bapu (Gujarati: endearment for father,[6]papa[6][7]) and Gandhi ji. He is unofficially called the Father of the Nation.[8][9]

Born and raised in a Hindumerchant caste family in coastal Gujarat, India, and trained in law at the Inner Temple, London, Gandhi first employed nonviolent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, in the resident Indian community's struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for various social causes and for achieving Swaraj or self-rule.

Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn hand-spun on a charkha. He ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and political protest.

Gandhi's vision of an independent India based on religious pluralism, however, was challenged in the early 1940s by a new Muslim nationalism which was demanding a separate Muslim homeland carved out of India.[10] Eventually, in August 1947, Britain granted independence, but the British Indian Empire[10] was partitioned into two dominions, a Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.[11] As many displaced Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs made their way to their new lands, religious violence broke out, especially in the Punjab and Bengal. Eschewing the official celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi visited the affected areas, attempting to provide solace. In the months following, he undertook several fasts unto death to stop religious violence. The last of these, undertaken on 12 January 1948 when he was 78,[12] also had the indirect goal of pressuring India to pay out some cash assets owed to Pakistan.[12] Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating.[12][13] Among them was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, who assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by firing three bullets into his chest.[13] Captured along with many of his co-conspirators and collaborators, Godse and his co-conspirator Narayan Apte were tried, convicted and executed while many of their other accomplices were given prison sentences.

Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, is commemorated in India as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and worldwide as the International Day of Nonviolence.


Early life and background

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi[14] was born on 2 October 1869[1] to a HinduModhBaniya family[15] in Porbandar (also known as Sudamapuri), a coastal town on the Kathiawar Peninsula and then part of the small princely state of Porbandar in the Kathiawar Agency of the Indian Empire. His father, Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi (1822–1885), served as the diwan (chief minister) of Porbandar state.[16]

Although he only had an elementary education and had previously been a clerk in the state administration, Karamchand proved a capable chief minister.[17] During his tenure, Karamchand married four times. His first two wives died young, after each had given birth to a daughter, and his third marriage was childless. In 1857, Karamchand sought his third wife's permission to remarry; that year, he married Putlibai (1844–1891), who also came from Junagadh,[18] and was from a PranamiVaishnava family.[19][20][21][22] Karamchand and Putlibai had three children over the ensuing decade, a son, Laxmidas (c. 1860 – March 1914), a daughter, Raliatbehn (1862–1960) and another son, Karsandas (c. 1866–1913).[23][24]

On 2 October 1869, Putlibai gave birth to her last child, Mohandas, in a dark, windowless ground-floor room of the Gandhi family residence in Porbandar city. As a child, Gandhi was described by his sister Raliat as "restless as mercury, either playing or roaming about. One of his favourite pastimes was twisting dogs' ears."[25] The Indian classics, especially the stories of Shravana and king Harishchandra, had a great impact on Gandhi in his childhood. In his autobiography, he admits that they left an indelible impression on his mind. He writes: "It haunted me and I must have acted Harishchandra to myself times without number." Gandhi's early self-identification with truth and love as supreme values is traceable to these epic characters.[26][27]

The family's religious background was eclectic. Gandhi's father Karamchand was Hindu and his mother Putlibai was from a Pranami Vaishnava Hindu family.[28][29] Gandhi's father was of Modh Baniya caste in the varna of Vaishya.[30] His mother came from the medieval Krishna bhakti-based Pranami tradition, whose religious texts include the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhagavata Purana, and a collection of 14 texts with teachings that the tradition believes to include the essence of the Vedas, the Quran and the Bible.[29][31] Gandhi was deeply influenced by his mother, an extremely pious lady who "would not think of taking her meals without her daily prayers...she would take the hardest vows and keep them without flinching. To keep two or three consecutive fasts was nothing to her."[32]

In 1874, Gandhi's father Karamchand left Porbandar for the smaller state of Rajkot, where he became a counsellor to its ruler, the Thakur Sahib; though Rajkot was a less prestigious state than Porbandar, the British regional political agency was located there, which gave the state's diwan a measure of security.[33] In 1876, Karamchand became diwan of Rajkot and was succeeded as diwan of Porbandar by his brother Tulsidas. His family then rejoined him in Rajkot.[34]

At age 9, Gandhi entered the local school in Rajkot, near his home. There he studied the rudiments of arithmetic, history, the Gujarati language and geography.[34] At age 11, he joined the High School in Rajkot.[36] He was an average student, won some prizes, but was a shy and tongue tied student, with no interest in games; his only companions were books and school lessons.[37]

While at high school, Gandhi's elder brother introduced him to a Muslim friend named Sheikh Mehtab. Mehtab was older in age, taller and encouraged the strictly vegetarian boy to eat meat to gain height. He also took Mohandas to a brothel one day, though Mohandas "was struck blind and dumb in this den of vice," rebuffed the prostitutes' advances and was promptly sent out of the brothel. The experience caused Mohandas mental anguish, and he abandoned the company of Mehtab.[38]

In May 1883, the 13-year-old Mohandas was married to 14-year-old Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia (her first name was usually shortened to "Kasturba", and affectionately to "Ba") in an arranged marriage, according to the custom of the region at that time.[39] In the process, he lost a year at school, but was later allowed to make up by accelerating his studies.[40] His wedding was a joint event, where his brother and cousin were also married. Recalling the day of their marriage, he once said, "As we didn't know much about marriage, for us it meant only wearing new clothes, eating sweets and playing with relatives." However, as was prevailing tradition, the adolescent bride was to spend much time at her parents' house, and away from her husband.[41] Writing many years later, Mohandas described with regret the lustful feelings he felt for his young bride, "even at school I used to think of her, and the thought of nightfall and our subsequent meeting was ever haunting me." He later recalled feeling jealous and possessive of her, such as when she would visit a temple with her girlfriends, and being sexually lustful in his feelings for her.[42]

In late 1885, Gandhi's father Karamchand died.[43] Gandhi, then 16 years old, and his wife of age 17 had their first baby, who survived only a few days. The two deaths anguished Gandhi.[43] The Gandhi couple had four more children, all sons: Harilal, born in 1888; Manilal, born in 1892; Ramdas, born in 1897; and Devdas, born in 1900.[39]

In November 1887, the 18-year-old Gandhi graduated from high school in Ahmedabad.[44] In January 1888, he enrolled at Samaldas College in Bhavnagar State, then the sole degree-granting institution of higher education in the region. But he dropped out and returned to his family in Porbandar.[45]

English barrister

Gandhi came from a poor family, and he had dropped out of the cheapest college he could afford.[46] Mavji Dave Joshiji, a Brahmin priest and family friend, advised Gandhi and his family that he should consider law studies in London.[47] In July 1888, his wife Kasturba gave birth to their first surviving son, Harilal.[48] His mother was not comfortable about Gandhi leaving his wife and family, and going so far from home. Gandhi's uncle Tulsidas also tried to dissuade his nephew. Gandhi wanted to go. To persuade his wife and mother, Gandhi made a vow in front of his mother that he would abstain from meat, alcohol and women. Gandhi's brother Laxmidas, who was already a lawyer, cheered Gandhi's London studies plan and offered to support him. Putlibai gave Gandhi her permission and blessing.[45][49]

On 10 August 1888, Gandhi aged 18, left Porbandar for Mumbai, then known as Bombay. Upon arrival, he stayed with the local Modh Bania community while waiting for the ship travel arrangements. The head of the community knew Gandhi's father. After learning Gandhi's plans, he and other elders warned Gandhi that England would tempt him to compromise his religion, and eat and drink in Western ways. Gandhi informed them of his promise to his mother and her blessings. The local chief disregarded it, and excommunicated him an outcast. But Gandhi ignored this, and on 4 September, he sailed from Bombay to London. His brother saw him off.[48][50]

In London, Gandhi studied law and jurisprudence and enrolled at the Inner Temple with the intention of becoming a barrister. His childhood shyness and self withdrawal had continued through his teens, and he remained so when he arrived in London, but he joined a public speaking practice group and overcame this handicap to practise law.[51]

His time in London was influenced by the vow he had made to his mother. He tried to adopt "English" customs, including taking dancing lessons. However, he could not appreciate the bland vegetarian food offered by his landlady and was frequently hungry until he found one of London's few vegetarian restaurants. Influenced by Henry Salt's writing, he joined the Vegetarian Society, was elected to its executive committee,[52] and started a local Bayswater chapter.[21] Some of the vegetarians he met were members of the Theosophical Society, which had been founded in 1875 to further universal brotherhood, and which was devoted to the study of Buddhist and Hindu literature. They encouraged Gandhi to join them in reading the Bhagavad Gita both in translation as well as in the original.[52]

Gandhi, at age 22, was called to the bar in June 1891 and then left London for India, where he learned that his mother had died while he was in London and that his family had kept the news from him.[52] His attempts at establishing a law practice in Bombay failed because he was psychologically unable to cross-examine witnesses. He returned to Rajkot to make a modest living drafting petitions for litigants, but he was forced to stop when he ran afoul of a British officer.[21][52] In 1893, a Muslim merchant in Kathiawar named Dada Abdullah contacted Gandhi. Abdullah owned a large successful shipping business in South Africa. His distant cousin in Johannesburg needed a lawyer, and they preferred someone with Kathiawari heritage. Gandhi inquired about his pay for the work. They offered a total salary of £105 plus travel expenses. He accepted it, knowing that it would be at least one year commitment in the Colony of Natal, South Africa, also a part of the British Empire.[21][53]

Civil rights activist in South Africa (1893–1914)

In April 1893, Gandhi aged 23, set sail for South Africa to be the lawyer for Abdullah's cousin.[53][54] He spent 21 years in South Africa, where he developed his political views, ethics and politics.[55]

Immediately upon arriving in South Africa, Gandhi faced discrimination because of his skin colour and heritage, like all people of colour.[56] He was not allowed to sit with European passengers in the stagecoach and told to sit on the floor near the driver, then beaten when he refused; elsewhere he was kicked into a gutter for daring to walk near a house, in another instance thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg after refusing to leave the first-class.[57][58] He sat in the train station, shivering all night and pondering if he should return to India or protest for his rights.[58] He chose to protest and was allowed to board the train the next day.[59] In another incident, the magistrate of a Durban court ordered Gandhi to remove his turban, which he refused to do.[60] Indians were not allowed to walk on public footpaths in South Africa. Gandhi was kicked by a police officer out of the footpath onto the street without warning.[61]

When Gandhi arrived in South Africa, according to Herman, he thought of himself as "a Briton first, and an Indian second".[62] However, the prejudice against him and his fellow Indians from British people that Gandhi experienced and observed deeply bothered him. He found it humiliating, struggling to understand how some people can feel honour or superiority or pleasure in such inhumane practices.[58] Gandhi began to question his people's standing in the British Empire.[63]

The Abdullah case that had brought him to South Africa concluded in May 1894, and the Indian community organised a farewell party for Gandhi as he prepared to return to India.[64] However, a new Natal government discriminatory proposal led to Gandhi extending his original period of stay in South Africa. He planned to assist Indians in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote, a right then proposed to be an exclusive European right. He asked Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary, to reconsider his position on this bill.[55] Though unable to halt the bill's passage, his campaign was successful in drawing attention to the grievances of Indians in South Africa. He helped found the Natal Indian Congress in 1894,[21][59] and through this organisation, he moulded the Indian community of South Africa into a unified political force. In January 1897, when Gandhi landed in Durban, a mob of white settlers attacked him[65] and he escaped only through the efforts of the wife of the police superintendent. However, he refused to press charges against any member of the mob.[21]

During the Boer War, Gandhi volunteered in 1900 to form a group of stretcher-bearers as the Natal Indian Ambulance Corps. According to Arthur Herman, Gandhi wanted to disprove the imperial British stereotype that Hindus were not fit for "manly" activities involving danger and exertion, unlike the Muslim "martial races".[66] Gandhi raised eleven hundred Indian volunteers, to support British combat troops against the Boers. They were trained and medically certified to serve on the front lines. They were auxiliaries at the Battle of Colenso to a White volunteer ambulance corps; then at Spion Kop Gandhi and his bearers moved to the front line and had to carry wounded soldiers for miles to a field hospital because the terrain was too rough for the ambulances. Gandhi and thirty-seven other Indians received the Queen's South Africa Medal.[67]

In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new Act compelling registration of the colony's Indian and Chinese populations. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg on 11 September that year, Gandhi adopted his still evolving methodology of Satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or nonviolent protest, for the first time.[68] According to Anthony Parel, Gandhi was also influenced by the Tamil text Tirukkuṛaḷ because Leo Tolstoy mentioned it in their correspondence that began with "A Letter to a Hindu".[69][70] Gandhi urged Indians to defy the new law and to suffer the punishments for doing so. Gandhi's ideas of protests, persuasion skills and public relations had emerged. He took these back to India in 1915.[71][72]

Europeans, Indians and Africans

Gandhi focused his attention on Indians while in South Africa. He was not interested in politics. This changed after he was discriminated against and bullied, such as by being thrown out of a train coach because of his skin colour by a white train official. After several such incidents with Whites in South Africa, Gandhi's thinking and focus changed, he felt he must resist this and fight for rights. He entered politics by forming Natal Indian Congress.[73] According to Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, Gandhi's views on racism are contentious, in some cases distressing to those who admire him. Gandhi suffered persecution from the beginning in South Africa. Like with other coloured people, white officials denied him his rights, the press and those in the streets bullied and called him a parasite, semi-barbarous, canker, squalid coolie, yellow man, and other epithets. People would spit on him as an expression of racial hate.[74]

While in South Africa, Gandhi focused on racial persecution of Indians, ignored those of Africans. In some cases, state Desai and Vahed, his behaviour was one of being a willing part of racial stereotyping and African exploitation.[74] In a speech in September 1896 in India, for example, Gandhi complained the whites in British colony of South Africa were degrading Indian Hindus and Muslims to "a level of Kaffir". Scholars cite it as an example evidence that Gandhi at that time felt about Indians and black South Africans differently.[74] As another example given by Herman, Gandhi, at age 24, prepared a legal brief for the Natal Assembly in 1895, seeking voting rights for Indians. Gandhi cited race history and European Orientalists' opinions that "Anglo-Saxons and Indians are sprung from the same Aryan stock or rather the Indo-European peoples", and argued that Indians should not be grouped with the Africans.[64]

Years later, Gandhi and his colleagues served and helped Africans as nurses and by opposing racism, according to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. The general image of Gandhi, state Desai and Vahed, has been reinvented since his assassination as if he was always a saint, when in reality his life was more complex, contained inconvenient truths and was one that evolved over time.[74] In contrast, other Africa scholars state the evidence points to a rich history of co-operation and efforts by Gandhi and Indian people with nonwhite South Africans against persecution of Africans and the Apartheid.[75]

In 1906, when the British declared war against the Zulu Kingdom in Natal, Gandhi at age 36, sympathised with the Zulus, and encouraged the Indian volunteers to help as an ambulance unit.[76] He argued that Indians should participate in the war efforts to change attitudes and perceptions of the British people against the coloured people.[77] Gandhi, a group of 20 Indians and black people of South Africa volunteered as a stretcher-bearer corps to treat wounded British soldiers and the opposite side of the war: Zulu victims.[76]

White soldiers stopped Gandhi and team from treating the injured Zulu, and some African stretcher-bearers with Gandhi were shot dead by the British. The medical team commanded by Gandhi operated for less than two months.[76] Gandhi volunteering to help as a "staunch loyalist" during the Zulu and other wars made no difference in the British attitude, states Herman, and the African experience was a part of his great disillusionment with the West, transforming him into an "uncompromising non-cooperator".[77]

In 1910, Gandhi established an idealistic community called 'Tolstoy Farm' near Johannesburg, where he nurtured his policy of peaceful resistance.[78][79]

In the years after black South Africans gained the right to vote in South Africa (1994), Gandhi was proclaimed a national hero with numerous monuments.[80]

Struggle for Indian independence (1915–1947)

See also: Indian independence movement

At the request of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, conveyed to him by C. F. Andrews, Gandhi returned to India in 1915. He brought an international reputation as a leading Indian nationalist, theorist and community organiser.

Gandhi joined the Indian National Congress and was introduced to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people primarily by Gokhale. Gokhale was a key leader of the Congress Party best known for his restraint and moderation, and his insistence on working inside the system. Gandhi took Gokhale's liberal approach based on British Whiggish traditions and transformed it to make it look Indian.[81]

Gandhi took leadership of the Congress in 1920 and began escalating demands until on 26 January 1930 the Indian National Congress declared the independence of India. The British did not recognise the declaration but negotiations ensued, with the Congress taking a role in provincial government in the late 1930s. Gandhi and the Congress withdrew their support of the Raj when the Viceroy declared war on Germany in September 1939 without consultation. Tensions escalated until Gandhi demanded immediate independence in 1942 and the British responded by imprisoning him and tens of thousands of Congress leaders. Meanwhile, the Muslim League did co-operate with Britain and moved, against Gandhi's strong opposition, to demands for a totally separate Muslim state of Pakistan. In August 1947 the British partitioned the land with India and Pakistan each achieving independence on terms that Gandhi disapproved.[82]

Role in World War I

See also: The role of India in World War I

In April 1918, during the latter part of World War I, the Viceroy invited Gandhi to a War Conference in Delhi.[83] Gandhi agreed to actively recruit Indians for the war effort.[84][85] In contrast to the Zulu War of 1906 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, when he recruited volunteers for the Ambulance Corps, this time Gandhi attempted to recruit combatants. In a June 1918 leaflet entitled "Appeal for Enlistment", Gandhi wrote "To bring about such a state of things we should have the ability to defend ourselves, that is, the ability to bear arms and to use them...If we want to learn the use of arms with the greatest possible despatch, it is our duty to enlist ourselves in the army."[86] He did, however, stipulate in a letter to the Viceroy's private secretary that he "personally will not kill or injure anybody, friend or foe."[87]

Gandhi's war recruitment campaign brought into question his consistency on nonviolence. Gandhi's private secretary noted that "The question of the consistency between his creed of 'Ahimsa' (nonviolence) and his recruiting campaign was raised not only then but has been discussed ever since."[84]

Champaran and Kheda

Champaran agitations

Main article: Champaran Satyagraha

Gandhi's first major achievement came in 1917 with the Champaran agitation in Bihar. The Champaran agitation pitted the local peasantry against their largely British landlords who were backed by the local administration. The peasantry was forced to grow Indigo, a cash crop whose demand had been declining over two decades, and were forced to sell their crops to the planters at a fixed price. Unhappy with this, the peasantry appealed to Gandhi at his ashram in Ahmedabad. Pursuing a strategy of nonviolent protest, Gandhi took the administration by surprise and won concessions from the authorities.[88]

Kheda agitations

Main article: Kheda Satyagraha

In 1918, Kheda was hit by floods and famine and the peasantry was demanding relief from taxes. Gandhi moved his headquarters to Nadiad,[89] organising scores of supporters and fresh volunteers from the region, the most notable being Vallabhbhai Patel.[90] Using non-co-operation as a technique, Gandhi initiated a signature campaign where peasants pledged non-payment of revenue even under the threat of confiscation of land. A social boycott of mamlatdars and talatdars (revenue officials within the district) accompanied the agitation. Gandhi worked hard to win public support for the agitation across the country. For five months, the administration refused but finally in end-May 1918, the Government gave way on important provisions and relaxed the conditions of payment of revenue tax until the famine ended. In Kheda, Vallabhbhai Patel represented the farmers in negotiations with the British, who suspended revenue collection and released all the prisoners.[91]

Khilafat movement

In 1919, Gandhi then aged 49, after the World War I was over, sought political co-operation from Muslims in his fight against British imperialism by supporting the Ottoman Empire that had been defeated in the World War. Before this initiative of Gandhi, communal disputes and religious riots between Hindus and Muslims were common in British India, such as the riots of 1917–18. Gandhi had already supported the British crown with resources and by recruiting Indian soldiers to fight the war in Europe on the British side. This effort of Gandhi was in part motivated by the British promise to reciprocate the help with swaraj (self-government) to Indians after the end of World War I.[92] The British government, instead of self government, had offered minor reforms instead, disappointing Gandhi.[93] Gandhi announced his satyagraha (civil disobedience) intentions. The British colonial officials made their counter move by passing the Rowlatt Act, to block Gandhi's movement. The Act allowed the British government to treat civil disobedience participants as criminals and gave it the legal basis to arrest anyone for "preventive indefinite detention, incarceration without judicial review or any need for a trial".[94]

Gandhi felt that Hindu-Muslim co-operation was necessary for political progress against the British. He leveraged the Khilafat movement, wherein Sunni Muslims in India, their leaders such as the sultans of princely states in India and Ali brothers championed the Turkish Caliph as a solidarity symbol of Sunni Islamic community (ummah). They saw the Caliph as their means to support Islam and the Islamic law after the defeat of Ottoman Empire in World War I.[95][96][97] Gandhi's support to the Khilafat movement led to mixed results. It initially led to a strong Muslim support for Gandhi. However, the Hindu leaders including Rabindranath Tagore questioned Gandhi's leadership because they were largely against recognising or supporting the Sunni Islamic Caliph in Turkey.[94][98][99]

The increasing Muslim support for Gandhi, after he championed the Caliph's cause, temporarily stopped the Hindu-Muslim communal violence. It offered evidence of inter-communal harmony in joint Rowlatt satyagraha demonstration rallies, raising Gandhi's stature as the political leader to the British.[100][101] His support for the Khilafat movement also helped him sideline Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who had announced his opposition to the satyagraha non-cooperation movement approach of Gandhi. Jinnah began creating his independent support, and later went on to lead the demand for West and East Pakistan.[102][103]

By the end of 1922 the Khilafat movement had collapsed.[104] Turkey's Ataturk had ended the Caliphate, Khilafat movement ended, and Muslim support for Gandhi largely evaporated.[96][97] Muslim leaders and delegates abandoned Gandhi and his Congress.[105] Hindu-Muslim communal conflicts reignited. Deadly religious riots re-appeared in numerous cities, with 91 in United Provinces of Agra and Oudh alone.[106][107]


Main article: Non-co-operation movement

With his book Hind Swaraj (1909) Gandhi, aged 40, declared that British rule was established in India with the co-operation of Indians and had survived only because of this co-operation. If Indians refused to co-operate, British rule would collapse and swaraj would come.[108]

In February 1919, Gandhi cautioned the Viceroy of India with a cable communication that if the British were to pass the Rowlatt Act, he will appeal Indians to start civil disobedience.[109] The British government ignored him, passed the law stating it will not yield to threats. The satyagraha civil disobedience followed, with people assembling to protest the Rowlatt Act. On 30 March 1919, British law officers opened fire on an assembly of unarmed people, peacefully gathered, participating in satyagraha in Delhi.[109] People rioted in retaliation. On 6 April 1919, a Hindu festival day, he asked a crowd to remember not to injure or kill British people, but express their frustration with peace, to boycott British goods and burn any British clothing they own. He emphasised the use of non-violence to the British and towards each other, even if the other side uses violence. Communities across India announced plans to gather in greater numbers to protest. Government warned him to not enter Delhi. Gandhi defied the order. On 9 April, Gandhi was arrested.[109] People rioted. On 13 April 1919, people including women with children gathered in an Amritsar park, and a British officer named Reginald Dyer surrounded them and ordered his troops to fire on them. The resulting Jallianwala Bagh massacre (or Amritsar massacre) of hundreds of Sikh and Hindu civilians enraged the subcontinent, but was cheered by some Britons and parts of the British media as an appropriate response. Gandhi in Ahmedabad, on the day after the massacre in Amritsar, did not criticise the British and instead criticised his fellow countrymen for not exclusively using love to deal with the hate of the British government.[109] Gandhi demanded that people stop all violence, stop all property destruction, and went on fast-to-death to pressure Indians to stop their rioting.[110]

The massacre and Gandhi's non-violent response to it moved many, but also made some Sikhs and Hindus upset that Dyer was getting away with murder. Investigation committees were formed by the British, which Gandhi asked Indians to boycott.[109] The unfolding events, the massacre and the British response, led Gandhi to the belief that Indians will never get a fair equal treatment under British rulers, and he shifted his attention to Swaraj or self rule and political independence for India.[111] In 1921, Gandhi was the leader of the Indian National Congress.[97] He reorganised the Congress. With Congress now behind him, and Muslim support triggered by his backing the Khilafat movement to restore the Caliph in Turkey,[97] Gandhi had the political support and the attention of the British Raj.[99][94][96]

Gandhi expanded his nonviolent non-co-operation platform to include the swadeshi policy—the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi (homespun cloth) be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. Gandhi exhorted Indian men and women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement.[112] In addition to boycotting British products, Gandhi urged the people to boycott British institutions and law courts, to resign from government employment, and to forsake British titles and honours. Gandhi thus began his journey aimed at crippling the British India government economically, politically and administratively.[113]

The appeal of "Non-cooperation" grew, its social popularity drew participation from all strata of Indian society. Gandhi was arrested on 10 March 1922, tried for sedition, and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. He began his sentence on 18 March 1922. With Gandhi isolated in prison, the Indian National Congress split into two factions, one led by Chitta Ranjan Das and Motilal Nehru favouring party participation in the legislatures, and the other led by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, opposing this move.[114] Furthermore, co-operation among Hindus and Muslims ended as Khilafat movement collapsed with the rise of Ataturk in Turkey. Muslim leaders left the Congress and began forming Muslim organisations. The political base behind Gandhi had broken into factions. Gandhi was released in February 1924 for an appendicitis operation, having served only two years.[115]

Salt Satyagraha (Salt March)

Main article: Salt Satyagraha

After his early release from prison for political crimes in 1924, over the second half of the 1920s, Gandhi continued to pursue swaraj. He pushed through a resolution at the Calcutta Congress in December 1928 calling on the British government to grant India dominion status or face a new campaign of non-co-operation with complete independence for the country as its goal.[116] After his support for the World War I with Indian combat troops, and the failure of Khilafat movement in preserving the rule of Caliph in Turkey, followed by a collapse in Muslim support for his leadership, some such as Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh questioned his values and non-violent approach.[96][117] While many Hindu leaders championed a demand for immediate independence, Gandhi revised his own call to a one-year wait, instead of two.[116]

The British did not respond favourably to Gandhi's proposal. British political leaders such as Lord Birkenhead and Winston Churchill announced opposition to "the appeasers of Gandhi", in their discussions with European diplomats who sympathised with Indian demands.[118] On 31 December 1929, the flag of India was unfurled in Lahore. Gandhi led Congress celebrated 26 January 1930 as India's Independence Day in Lahore. This day was commemorated by almost every other Indian organisation. Gandhi then launched a new Satyagraha against the tax on salt in March 1930. This was highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from 12 March to 6 April, where he marched 388 kilometres (241 mi) from Ahmedabad to Dandi, Gujarat to make salt himself. Thousands of Indians joined him on this march to the sea. This campaign was one of his most successful at upsetting British hold on India; Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people.[119]

According to Sarma, Gandhi recruited women to participate in the salt tax campaigns and the boycott of foreign products, which gave many women a new self-confidence and dignity in the mainstream of Indian public life.[120] However, other scholars such as Marilyn French state that Gandhi barred women from joining his civil disobedience movement because he feared he would be accused of using women as political shield.[121] When women insisted that they join the movement and public demonstrations, according to Thapar-Bjorkert, Gandhi asked the volunteers to get permissions of their guardians and only those women who can arrange child-care should join him.[122] Regardless of Gandhi's apprehensions and views, Indian women joined the Salt March by the thousands to defy the British salt taxes and monopoly on salt mining. After Gandhi's arrest, the women marched and picketed shops on their own, accepting violence and verbal abuse from British authorities for the cause in a manner Gandhi inspired.[121]

Gandhi as folk hero

According to Atlury Murali, Indian Congress in the 1920s appealed to Andhra Pradesh peasants by creating Telugu language plays that combined Indian mythology and legends, linked them to Gandhi's ideas, and portrayed Gandhi as a messiah, a reincarnation of ancient and medieval Indian nationalist leaders and saints. The plays built support among peasants steeped in traditional Hindu culture, according to Murali, and this effort made Gandhi a folk hero in Telugu speaking villages, a sacred messiah-like figure.[123]

According to Dennis Dalton, it was the ideas that were responsible for his wide following. Gandhi criticised Western civilisation as one driven by "brute force and immorality", contrasting it with his categorisation of Indian civilisation as one driven by "soul force and morality".[124] Gandhi captured the imagination of the people of his heritage with his ideas about winning "hate with love". These ideas are evidenced in his pamphlets from the 1890s, in South Africa, where too he was popular among the Indian indentured workers. After he returned to India, people flocked to him because he reflected their values.[124]

Gandhi also campaigned hard going from one rural corner of the Indian subcontinent to another. He used terminology and phrases such as Rama-rajya from Ramayana, Prahlada as a paradigmatic icon, and such cultural symbols as another facet of swaraj and satyagraha.[125] These ideas sounded strange outside India, during his lifetime, but they readily and deeply resonated with the culture and historic values of his people.[124][126]


The government, represented by Lord Irwin, decided to negotiate with Gandhi. The Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931. The British Government agreed to free all political prisoners, in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. According to the pact, Gandhi was invited to attend the Round Table Conference in London for discussions and as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. The conference was a disappointment to Gandhi and the nationalists. Gandhi expected to discuss India's independence, while the British side focused on the Indian princes and Indian minorities rather than on a transfer of power. Lord Irwin's successor, Lord Willingdon, took a hard line against India as an independent nation, began a new campaign of controlling and subduing the nationalist movement. Gandhi was again arrested, and the government tried and failed to negate his influence by completely isolating him from his followers.[127]

In Britain, Winston Churchill, a prominent Conservative politician who was then out of office but later became its prime minister, became a vigorous and articulate critic of Gandhi and opponent of his long-term plans. Churchill often ridiculed Gandhi, saying in a widely reported 1931 speech:

It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace....to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.[128]

Churchill bitterness against Gandhi grew in the 1930s. He called Gandhi as the one who was "seditious in aim" whose evil genius and multiform menace was attacking the British empire. Churchill called him a dictator, a "Hindu Mussolini", fomenting a race war, trying to replace the Raj with Brahmin cronies, playing on the ignorance of Indian masses, all for selfish gain.[129] Churchill attempted to isolate Gandhi, and his criticism of Gandhi was widely covered by European and American press. It gained Churchill sympathetic support, but it also increased support for Gandhi among Europeans. The developments heightened Churchill's anxiety that the "British themselves would give up out of pacifism and misplaced conscience".[129]

Round Table Conferences

During the discussions between Gandhi and the British government over 1931–32 at the Round Table Conferences, Gandhi, now aged about 62, sought constitutional reforms as a preparation to the end of colonial British rule, and begin the self-rule by Indians.[130] The British side sought reforms that would keep Indian subcontinent as a colony. The British negotiators proposed constitutional reforms on a British Dominion model that established separate electorates based on religious and social divisions. The British questioned Congress party and Gandhi's authority to speak for all of India.[131] They invited Indian religious leaders, such as Muslims and Sikhs, to press their demands along religious lines, as well as B. R. Ambedkar as the representative leader of the untouchables.[130] Gandhi vehemently opposed a constitution that enshrined rights or representations based on communal divisions, because he feared that it would not bring people together but divide them, perpetuate their status and divert the attention from India's struggle to end the colonial rule.[132]

Gandhi (right) with his eldest brother Laxmidas in 1886.[35]
Gandhi in London as a law student
Gandhi photographed in South Africa (1909)
Gandhi in 1918, at the time of the Kheda and Champaran Satyagrahas
Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi's home in Gujarat is now a museum (photographed in 2006).
Gandhi spinning yarn, in the late 1920s
Original footage of Gandhi and his followers marching to Dandi in the Salt Satyagraha
Mahadev Desai (left) was Gandhi's personal assistant, both at Birla House, Bombay, 7 April 1939
Indian workers on strike in support of Gandhi in 1930.

Any society consists of diverse and different types of persons; persons with different religions, different castes, different colors, different gender and different faiths etc. And it is expected that they all should live in harmony and without discrimination; ideal situation is when there is equality, freedom and brotherhood among all sections of society.

However, human society all over the world shows that various types of exploitative practices are prevalent there; these practices originated due to human greed for power, authority and superiority; such as so-called higher caste people would exploit so-called lower caste persons; a white would exploit a black; males would like to dominate females; believer of one religion would downgrade other religions etc.

These discriminatory and exploitative practices take the form of social evils in the long run and become a scar on the face of any civilized society. Every country, in its history, has had numerous bright individuals who would live and work for the progress and upliftment of the downtrodden persons in the society; and due to their efforts, it became possible to abolish several extreme social evils such as racism, sati pratha etc.

In this Article we will study the life and works of various great social reformers of India; alongside we will also try to understand what is a social evil is; its causes and who is a social reformer etc.

Social reformer

Who is a social reformer? A person who is concerned about the humanity and mankind above anything else; a person who wants to change the existing state of things for the better; a person who has an enlightened thought process; a person who cannot stand the sufferings of the weaker section of people; and above all a person who believes in the duty bestowed upon him to leave the earth behind him as a better place than it was. In fact a social reformer is an ordinary human being who wants to serve the cause of humanity in extraordinary ways.

India is fortunate to have, in its long history, many extraordinary human beings who devoted all their lives for the betterment of the society and for the upliftment of the downtrodden. A few among them are:

Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, Anne Besant, Mother Teresa, Vinoba Behave etc. We will look into the life and works of these extraordinary men and women and will appreciate their efforts in the making of today’s India.

Social Reformers of India

Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Raja Ram Mohan Roy


At the beginning of 19th century, India was plagued by various social evils such as Sati pratha, Caste system, Religious superstitions etc. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the first person who recognized these inhuman practices and decided to fight against the same. He is considered as the architect of Indian Renaissance and father of modern India.

Ram Mohan Roy was born on 22 May 1772 in Radhanagar, Hugli district of Bengal. His father was Ramakant Roy and mother Trivani Devi; father was at a very good position in the court of the then Nawab of Bengal. He got his education at Patna and Varanasi. He also worked in the East India Company from 1803 to 1814. Belonging to a traditional Brahmin family, Roy was married off at a very young age and before attaining the age of ten he was married trice.

He died of meningitis in Bristol, England on 27 September, 1833.


Work and Reforms:

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was very open minded and was of very questioning brains. He was very much influenced by western progressive thoughts. He was also well versed in the teachings of various religions. He was influenced by monotheism of Islam, Mysticism of Sufi philosophy, Ethics and morals of Christianity and Vedanta philosophy of Upanishad.

His main focus was towards the evils which had surrounded the Hindu society of the times, such as:

  • He criticized idol worship of Hindus and tried to prove his point through the verses of Vedas.
  • But the main contribution for which Raja Ram Mohan Roy is still remembered was his relentless efforts in abolishing the practice of Sati Pratha.

Ram Mohan Roy got involved in fighting against it when his elder brother died and his sister-in-law was made a Sati. He began a movement to abolish this barbaric custom and for that purpose he persuaded the British Government to pass an Act abolishing Sati Pratha; the Bengal Sati Regulation Act, 1829 was passed by Lord William Bentinck, the then Governor General of Bengal.

  • On August 20, 1828, Raja Ram Mohan Roy established the Brahma Samaj, which later became the Brahmo Samaj, an organization and a movement with the objectives of promoting monotheism, criticizing idol worshiping; opposing wide spread Brahmanism and uplifting the pitiful condition of women etc.

Other Important Works:

  • In 1820, he published a book named Percepts of Jesus: The Guide to Peace and Happiness; in this book Ram Mohan Roy explained the simplicity and morality of Christian religion.
  • He also started publishing two newspapers viz. Samvad Kaumudi and Prgya Chaand in the year 1821 to spread his ideas and views to the common people.
  • He also started a Persian newspaper viz.
  • Apart from these, Roy also helped in the establishment of one Vedanta College and the Hindu College in Calcutta.

Contribution to the Society:

Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s work and efforts gave the first touch of modern ideas for India which was reeling under the dual burden of age-old social ills and British exploitation. His spreading of modern ideas was also perhaps the nascent beginning of long struggle of India’s Independence. Thus, his contribution is like a bed-stone in the making of modern Indian.


Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda

Vivekananda, born to Vishwanath Datta and Bhuveneshwari Devi in Calcutta on 12 January 1863 was an extraordinary man. His childhood name was Narendranath Dutta.

From early childhood Narendra was a very bright student; his memory and reading capabilities were exceptional; Narendra was a voracious reader.

A brilliant student, he was interested in wide range of subjects such as philosophy, Biology, Art, Culture, Music, Social studies etc. Especially he was interested in philosophy and religious texts; he keenly read the works of western philosophers and thinkers such as Kant, Hegal, John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte, Spenoza, Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin etc. He was also well-versed with all philosophical and religious texts of Hinduism be it Upanishads, Vedas or Ramayana and Mahabharata.

All these readings made him a very inquisitive person. His quest for truth and knowledge took him to Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Narendranath transformed into Vivekananda.

Social Reforms:

Though Vivekananda had not initiated any particular social reform but his speeches and writings were full of messages against all kinds of social and religious evils.

  • His main focus was on removing the weakness of India’s youth of the time, both physical as well as mental. And to gain strength he suggested physical exercise or attaining of knowledge. For him strength is life and weakness is death; for all the problems of India whether social or political the solution is self-respect in India’s culture and philosophy.
  • He was against religious dogmas and superstitions; in his speeches and lectures he continuously argued against prevailing social evils.He was more confident about women’s ability to change the fortune of India; he proclaimed that with the help of 50 women he can transform India into a modern forward looking nation.
  • However his real contribution to India was to revive the true meaning of Hinduism; he propagated the real philosophy and culture of India to the world at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893; through his lectures and speeches all over the world proved that Hindu religion is no inferior to anyone; at
  • He inculcated, in the youth of the country, a sense of proud and worth so that they could face the world with confidence.
  • He was fiercely against any kind of social evil perpetuated by religious logic and dogmas and was of the view that Hindu belief in untouchability must change if the nation is to progress.

Further, his fiery speeches and lectures gave a momentum to the national movement for Independence and his life and teachings are still a source of inspiration for the youth of the country.

Swami Vivekananda died on 4 July 1902 while in meditation at Belur Math, Bengal, India.


Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s childhood name was Moolshankar; he was born on 12 January 1824 at Maurvi, Gujarat. He left home at the age of 21 and he kept wandering in the company of one Dandi Swami Poornananda who gave Moolshankar the name Swami Dayananda Saraswati.

Social Reforms:

Swami Dayananda was the great believer in the teachings of Vedas; he gave the slogan: ‘Return to Vedas’. He criticized Hindu religious texts such as Puranas for perpetuating Idol worship and other superstitions. He tried to revive true Hindu philosophy and belief and argued against all wrong things being propagated in the name of Hinduism.

He aggressively attacked social evils like Caste System by birth but he argued that it should be on the basis of occupation and work.

He supported and advocated women’s right to education and their equal social status.

Also, Swami Dayananda started campaign against Untouchability, Child Marriage etc.

He supported inter-caste marriages and widow remarriages; supported Sudras and women’s right to read Vedas and to attain high education.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati established ‘Arya Samaj’ in the year 1875 to propagate his ideas. Its objective was to revive and reform Hindu religion; establishment of Vedic religion in its true form again; to unify India socially, religiously and politically and to stop western cultural effects on Indian culture and civilization.

However apart from all the good deeds of Arya Samaj, it also became controversial for its ‘Shuddhi Movement’ under which such persons were allowed to return back to Hinduism who had converted to other religions.

But Swami Ji contribution in removing social evils of India and especially of Hinduism is very significant; it gave sense of pride to Indians, as said by Annie Besant for him that Swami Ji was the only one who proclaimed: ‘India is For Indians’.


Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was one of the most remarkable social reformers of 19th century. He was born on 26 September 1820 in Paschim Midnapur District of Bengal to Thakurdas Bandhopadhyaya and Bhagwati Devi.

His early childhood was spent in poverty without much of the basic necessities. But Vidyasagar was a brilliant student; he used to study under street lamps because at home there were no lamps.

By performing exceptionally at schools and colleges he received various scholarships; also he used to do part-time teaching jobs to support his studies and family. At Sanskrit College, Calcutta he studied Literature, Sanskrit Grammar, Law and Astronomy etc.

Vidyasagar was a very courageous social reformer and he never hesitated to challenge the prevailing social evils.

Social Reforms:

  • His main contribution was towards the uplifting the status of the women; he was a great supporter of widow remarriages; in those times the condition of widows among Hindus was very pathetic, Vidyasagar worked persistently to elevate their position.

For the purpose, he persuaded the British government to make a law legalizing widow remarriages; thus the Widow Remarriage Act, 1856 was passed which gave rights to widows to marry again and child born out of such marriages were also considered to be legal.

  • He also argued against polygamy and child marriage and said that there is no sanction in Hindu religious texts for these practices.
  • Further, in the field of education his contribution was immense; he refined and made accessible Bengali language to the common people by simplifying it in his famous book, Barno-Porichay (introduction to the letter), the book is still considered as a classic in Bengali language.
  • Vidyasagar was famous for his kind-heartedness; he was always there to help poor people in distress, people on the streets and poor children.
  • Vidyasagar ji continued the reform process started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and remained active with Brahmo Samaj activities.

He died on 29 July 1891 in Calcutta.


Jyotiba Phule

Jyotiba Phule

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was born on 11 April 1827 in Satara, Maharashtra in a family of vegetable vendors. He could not complete his education due to family’s poor condition but later completed it with the help of a few persons who had recognized his potential.

Jyotirao was married at the age of 12 with Savitribai Phule. His life changed when he was insulted by one of his Brahmin friend and then he realized the caste divide and discrimination present in the society. This event proved a turning point in his life.

He began to realize and observe various types of social evils being practiced in the society and decided to fight against them. A book by the writer Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, gave him further push to start a movement against prevailing social evils such as caste system, untochability, women’s pathetic condition, poor condition of peasants etc.

Works and Social Reforms:

  • His first and foremost work was in the field of women’s education; and his first disciple was his wife herself who always shared his dreams and supported him all through life.
  • To fulfill his ideals and aspirations of creating a just and equitable society, in 1848, Jyotiba opened a school for girls; it was a first girls’ school ever in the country. His wife Savitribai taught there as a teacher. But for trying to educate girls, a highly unthinkable act at that time, Jyotiba was forced to leave his home. However such threats and pressures by the society would not deter him from doing his work and he kept creating awareness among people about social evils.
  • In 1851, he started a bigger and better school for girls which became very popular; there was no discrimination on the lines of religion, caste or creed and everyone was welcomed to study there.
  • Jyotiba was also against child-marriages and was a great supporter of widow remarriage; he was very sympathetic to the cause of distressed women and opened a home for such poor and exploited women where they could be taken care off.
  • Jyotiba was also actively involved in the emancipation of so-called lower castes and especially the Untouchables; in fact he was perhaps the first person who gave untouchables the name Dalit as signifying someone who is broken, depressed or exploited and is outside the so-called Varna system.
  • For uplifting the so-called lower caste people and untouchables, on 24 September 1873, he formed the Satyashodhak Samaj (the Society of Truth Seekers); the main objective of the Samaj was to create a just and equitable social order free of discrimination on the basis of caste, religion or gender. Satyashodhak Samaj was also opposed to religious dogmas and superstitions such as idolatry, need for priests and irrational rituals etc.

Thus, Jyotiba Phule devoted his whole life for the weaker and depressed section of society; in his thinking and works he was well ahead of his times.


Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

Popularly known as Babasaheb, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar was born on 14 April 1891 in Mhow, a military cantonment town of the then Central Province of India. His father, Ramji Maloji Sakpal was a Subedar in army and his mother Bhimabai Sakpal was a house wife.

Babasaheb belonged to a so-called lower caste Mahar who were treated as untouchables; he had faced and seen several types of social discriminations since childhood. But his father being an army officer was able to arrange good education for his children despite several resistances from the society.

Ambedkar was treated as untouchable in the school along with other dalit children; they were not allowed to sit with other so-called higher caste children, neither were they allowed to drink water from common water vessel.

Ambedkar was very meritorious in studies and after completing his early education in Bombay moved to United States for post-graduation and research; did his post-graduation and Phd from Columbia University, New York City. He further studied at London School of Economics and completed masters and doctorate from there as well.

Work and Social Reforms:

Thus, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, in spite of several odds got the best of education from very good institutions of the world because of his talent and merit only. He also received a degree in Law.

  • His major contribution in eradicating social evils was fighting for the rights of the untouchables and so-called lower caste people. At the time of preparation of the Government of India Act, 1919, he advocated for the separate electorates for untouchables and other lower caste people. He demanded reservation for such communities.
  • Ambedkar started several publications such as Mook Nayak, a weekly; Bahiskrit Bharat, a periodical to create awareness and to fight for the rights of untouchables and lower-castes.
  • He founded Bahishkrit Hitakarni Sabha on 20 July 1924 at Bombay with the objective of creating socio-political awareness among untouchables and also for making Government sensitive towards their issues; he called upon the dalits and untouchables to “Educate, Agitate and Organize” for their rightful place in the society.
  • He started to launch public movements against discriminations faced by untouchables such as opening the public water resources for untouchables, burning of Manusmriti, an ancient Hindu text which gives sanction to caste-system and for the rights of lower caste people to enter into Hindu temples.
  • In 1932, after the Third Round Table Conference in Britain in which Dr Ambedkar participated, the British announced the infamous Communal Award according to which there was a provision of separate electorate in British India for different communities; thus, Untouchables were also considered as a separate electorate; it meant that for the election to the seats reserved for the untouchables only persons who could vote were untouchables. The scheme was vehemently opposed by Gandhiji and other Congress leaders as being communal and divisive in nature which would divide Hindus into two separate groups. But Dr Ambedkar was in its favour as he was of the view that by having separate electorate more and more number of legislatures of ‘Depressed Class’ would be elected.
  • After long and tedious discussions between Ambedkar and Congress leaders, Poona Pact was reached on 25 September 1932 according to which the system of separate electorate was abolished but reservation of seats for Depressed Class remained the same; hence, now untouchables would not be separate from Hindus but seats would be reserved for them. It was a major step in recognizing the political rights of untouchables within the fold of Hindu society.
  • On similar lines, the Constitution of India in 1950 gave benefits of reservation to Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes who were earlier referred to as ‘Depressed Classes’.
  • Dr Amedkar’s biggest contribution in the making of modern India was his momentous effort as the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee; the most important feature of the Constitution of India is its special focus on socio-political and economic justice and equality; he forcefully advocated for the rights of women and SCs, STs and OBCs; special provisions were added for their upliftment and for eradicating various discriminations faced by them.
  • Later in his life, Dr Ambedkar converted to Buddhism after getting fed-up with caste system, superstitions, rituals and discriminatory practices of Hinduism.

Therefore, all through his life, socially as well as politically, Babasaheb kept fighting against prevailing social evils of our country; his contribution towards making the downtrodden people acquire self-respect and their rightful place is immeasurable.

He was truly one of the greatest personalities to be born in India; Babasaheb died on 6 December 1956 in Delhi after prolonged illness due to diabetes.


Baba Amte

Baba Amte

Baba Amte was one of the most prominent social reformers of modern India; born to Devilal Singh and Laxmibai Amte, his childhood name was Murlidhar. He was born on 26 December 1914 in Wardha District of Maharashtra.

His father was a high profile British Government officer, thus, his was a wealthy family and he lead a luxurious life in his young days. But Baba Amte was always a liberal in his thinking and used to be with friends of all castes and religions.

He studied law and had a very good legal career at Wardha. He was also involved in the Freedom Movement against the British and participated in several movements led by Mahatma Gandhi. He was very influenced by Gandhiji and all his life followed his principles and way of life.

Work and Reforms:

  • His most important contribution to India and its society is his work for the care, empowerment and rehabilitation of people sufferings of leprosy. Leprosy is a kind of disease which has a lot of stigma attached to it, even more in those days than now. Baba Amte vehemently tried to spread awareness about the disease that it’s not contagious and once allowed virus from a leprosy patient to be injected into him to prove his point.
  • For treatment, care and rehabilitation of leprosy patients disowned by their family and society, he founded three Ashrams in Maharashtra. He also established a Hospital for the same purpose on 15 August 1949 in Anandvan.
  • Furthermore, he also worked for creating awareness among masses towards the conservation of forests, ecological balance and wildlife protection.
  • He was also associated with Narmada Bachao Andolan and worked for the rights of displaced people due to the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam.

Thus, he devoted all his life for the welfare of society and for India’s better future; Baba Amte died on 9 February 2008 at Anandvan, Maharashtra.


Vinoba Bhave

Vinoba Bhave


Acharya Vinoba Bhave was one of the most prominent humanist and social reformers of modern India. He was born on 11 September 1895 to Narahari Shambhu Rao and Rukmini Devi into a Brahmin family in Gagode village, Raigad district, Maharashtra. His real name was Vinayak Rao Bhave; at a very age, he was highly inspired by Bhagavad Gita’s teachings.

He had a spiritual bend of mind and believed in the goodness of all religions. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s speeches, he joined him at his Ashram at Ahmedabad and started participating Gandhiji’s constructive programmes such as teaching, creating awareness about sanitation and cleanliness and promotion of Khadi etc.

Work and Reforms:

  • The most significant contribution of Vinoba Bhave was his Bhoodan (land gift) Movement started at Pochampally, Telangana on 18 April, 1951. Slowly this movement gained momentum; Vinobaji travelled all over the country asking landlords to donate lands their landless brethren. After getting lands as gift, he donated the same among landless poor people to cultivate. Thus, his Bhoodan Movement was one of the unique methods of providing social justice to the masses.
  • He also established Brahma Vidya Mandir, an Ashram and a community for women with the aim of making them self-reliant in food production with the help of Gandhiyan method of sustainability and non-violence.
  • Vinoba Bhave was also a great believer of religious tolerance and through his writings and teachings tried to inculcate the same in common people. He was greatly influenced by the teachings of Gita and translated it into Marathi language. He also wrote interpretation and essence of several religious texts such as Gita, Quran and Bible.
  • One major criticism of Vinoba Bhave was that he supported the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi; he called it ‘Anushasan Parv’e. Time for Discipline; though, his real intention was to convey that everyone should follow the rules including the rulers themselves.

Acharya Vinoba died on 15 November 1982 at Wardha, Maharashtra; throughout his life he remained loyal to Gandhiyan principles and kept working selflessly for the welfare of society.


Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

“Never worried about numbers, help one person at a time and always start with a person nearest you.”

As above said we came to know the feeling of her for poor, disabled and needy people’s .The great lady was born on August 26, 1910 at Skopje, Macedonia, named as Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was a Roman Catholic religious sister. Her parents’ names are Nikolle Bojaxhiu and Dranafile Bojaxhiu. She completed her education from Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham (1928 -1929) & Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

At a very tender age of 12 years she felt a calling to a religious life for first time. At the age of 18 years Anjeze Bojaxhiu decided to become a nun and she joined the Loreto Sister of Dublin. Here she gets the name Sister Mary Teresa. After working there for several years she travelled to Darjeeling, India. She went to Calcutta; there she was assigned to teach girls of Saint Mary’s High School. This School was dedicated to teach girls from the city’s poorest Bengali families. After working here for 6 years on 24 May, 1937 she took on the title of “Mother” as a custom for Loreto nuns and thus became known as “Mother Teresa”.

In August 1948, she left the Loreto Convent and wandered out. She took 6 months basic medical training and contributed her whole life to the untouchable, unwanted, uncared and, unloved people of Calcutta.

Social Service:
Mother Teresa devoted her entire life in serving the needy and poor people of society. She begins her mission in India (Calcutta), 1948. She succeeded in bringing the people of different religions and castes to help needy and poor people of India.

Lower caste and untouchable person who were not touched or treated by doctors or vaidya and died due to lack of medicine and care by their love ones. After seeing the situation of city’s poor people she decided to open a school and also established a home for the persons those are rejected by their families due to untouchable’s diseases. In 1950 she opened ‘The Missionaries of Charity’ only with 12 members.

She took care of the poorest of the poor, the sick and the dying persons. Mother Teresa and members of her mission went out into the city streets and picked up the dying homeless person. They would clean them, feed them and serve them with all the necessities of life so that they could spend their last days or hours in dignity. She made 20 missionaries home for street children.

For her lifelong self-less service for the weak and downtrodden she was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and Bharat Ratan in 1980. At the age of 87 on 5 September, 1997 she died in Kolkata due to various old age problems.

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