Women, Caste and Reform Class 8 History Chapter 8 Explanation

Women, Caste and Reform Class 8 History Chapter 8

CBSE Class 8 History Chapter 8 Women, Caste and Reform – Detailed explanation of the chapter ‘Women, Caste and Reform’ along with question answers. Given here is the complete explanation of the lesson, along with all the exercises, Questions and Answers given at the back of the lesson.

Class 8 History Chapter – 8

Women, Caste and Reform

Women, Caste and Reform – Introduction

In today’s world, women empowerment is one of the most important agendas of our country. They are given a number of rights such as the right to education, to work, to vote in elections, etc. But in old times it was not so. Women were deprived of many rights. They were not sent to schools and were married at an early age. Yes, it is true that many kids were married before they attained the age of 18 which now is a legal age for girls to marry.

Women, Caste and Reform Class 8 Video Explanation

The things at that time were so different that there were different laws for both men and women.

Like, both Hindu and Muslim men could marry more than one wife but a widow woman was never allowed to remarry. Moreover, if a woman died at her husband’s funeral, she was praised and was termed as ‘Sati’. Women were not given education nor did they have any right over their ancestral property.

The word Sati which is used in the above paragraph means a virtuous woman who died willingly or otherwise by burning herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. You will be surprised to know that in some parts of our country, people believed that if you educate women they will become a widow.

Differences between men and women were not the only ones present in our country but there were differences among castes also. Brahmans and Kshatriyas were considered ‘upper castes’. Vaishyas who were the traders or moneylenders were placed after them and peasants and artisans such as weavers and potters were known as shudras. Those who were considered the lowest were the ones who were into the work of cleaning villages and cities. These jobs were considered as the polluting jobs by the upper castes and thus, the groups at the bottom were considered as ‘untouchables’. They were not allowed to enter temples, draw water from the upper caste group’s well. They were treated as inferior humans.

But during the nineteenth and twentieth century, many of these practices changed. Let us see how this became possible.

Walking Towards Change

From early nineteenth century, people started doing debates and discussions about social customs and practices taking on a new shape. One major reason was the development of the books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets and pamphlets which started printing. This made ordinary people read about social issues and even write to express what they thought about various social, political and economic issues. This resulted in the expansion of such debates and led to movements which brought social change.Raja Rammohan Roy

Such types of debates were initiated by Indian reformers and one such reformer was Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833). He founded the Brahmo Sabha which later came to be known as the Brahmo Samaj in Calcutta. People like Rammohan Roy are known as reformer because they felt that the evils of society should be removed. To ensure these changes they start persuading people to give up old practices and adopt a new way of life.

Rammohan Roy wanted to spread the knowledge of Western education in the country so that he could bring equality for women. According to him, women were forced to stay at home and do the household chores. They were never allowed to go out and get an education.

So, how did he change the life widows? Let’s see this 

Changing the lives of widows

The thing which had a major effect on Raja Rammohan Roy was the bad condition of widows in India. So he began a campaign against the practice of sati.

Rammohan RoyRammohan Roy was a learned man who knew many languages such as Sanskrit, Persian and several other foreign languages. Through his writings, he tried to prove that there was no evidence of Sati system in the ancient texts. By the early nineteenth century as Britishers began to criticize the Indian traditions, they banned Sati system in the year 1829 because of the attempts made by Rammohan Roy.

Later on, many other reformers followed in the footsteps of Rammohan Roy and started using various phrases from the early texts to prove that most of the traditions which were being followed by the Indians were against the early traditions.

For example, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar used the ancient texts which supported remarriage of a widow. Due to his suggestions, Britishers passed the act of widow remarriage in the year 1856. Many people who were against the remarriage of widows opposed Vidyasagar and also boycotted him.

Veerasalingam Pantulu

By the second half of the nineteenth century, this movement spread to other parts of the country. For example Veerasalingam Pantulu formed an association for widow remarriage in the Telugu speaking areas of the Madras Presidency. Even young intellectuals in Bombay pledged to work for the same cause. Just like them, Swami Dayanand Saraswati also supported widow remarriage and founded a reform association in north known as Arya Samaj.

Though many reformers were supporting widow remarriage act but the number of widows who actually married was very low. Those who married were opposed by many of the conservative groups and were not easily accepted in the society.

As more and more reforms were taking place during the second half of the nineteenth century, a new idea of educating girls came up. This led to the beginning of girl education in our country.

Girls Begin going school

With the efforts of many reformers, girls schools were set up in various parts of India. For example Vidyasagar started a school in Calcutta. Many others set up a school in Bombay also. When the first schools were opened, people feared sending their girls to these schools as they thought this would take girls away from home and would prevent them from doing the domestic duties. Moreover, people thought that as girls had to travel through public places to reach their school, this would corrupt them. As people from nineteenth-century felt that girls should stay away from public places, most of the women received education by liberal fathers or husbands. It was also seen that some women studied themselves, for example Rashsundari Debi, a renowned Bengali writer.

After that, many girls schools were started like one was established in Punjab by the Arya Samaj and other in Maharashtra by Jyotirao Phule.

Even in many noble Muslim households in North India, women were taught to read the Koran in Arabic. They were taught by women who went to teach at their homes. Some of the reformers were Mumtaz Ali. In the beginning, women were taught to read about religion and domestic management in a language which they could understand.

Later on, many women who got the chance to get educated started writing about the ill condition of women in India. Let’s now discuss about this.

Women Write about women

Muslim womenIn the early twentieth century, Muslim women like the Begums of Bhopal played a crucial role in promoting girl education. They founded a primary school for girls in Aligarh. A woman named Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain started a school in Patna and Calcutta for Muslim girls. She fearlessly criticized the conservative ideas by arguing that religious leaders of every faith granted an inferior place to women. By the 1880s Indian woman started entering Universities. Some of them became doctors, some became teachers. Many women began to write and publish their views on the discrimination that women were facing in the society. For instance, Tarabai Shinde who was educated at home at Poona published a book named ‘Stripurushtulna’ which was a comparison between women and men. The book criticized social differences between men and women. 

Another woman named Pandita Ramabai was of a view that Hinduism was oppressive towards women and therefore, she wrote a book which showed the miserable life of upper caste women. She also founded a shelter home for widow women at Poona who were treated badly by their in-laws. Not only this, women in this shelter home got trained so that they could become financially stronger.

At this time many Hindu and Muslim orthodox felt that the women were adopting Western ways and this could erode the family values.

So we can say that by the end of the nineteenth century, women were getting educated, publishing books on the condition of women and were also forming various women’s associations to empower women.

In the twentieth century, leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose also supported the demands of equality and freedom for women. Many nationalist leaders wanted that women be given the right to vote after independence. However, till then, women were asked to concentrate on the anti British struggle.

 As the women organizations grew and voice against child marriage also became stronger, an act called Child marriage restraint act was passed in 1929 which laid down that no man below the age of 18 and no woman below the age of 16 could marry. Finally, these limits were raised to 21 for men and 18 for women.

Now that we know about the reforms which were initiated for women, now we will discuss about another major issue that was present in our society. It was the caste system.

Caste and Social Reform

Christian missionariesSome of the social reformers about whom we have discussed earlier also criticized caste inequalities. Rammohan Roy translated a Buddhist text that was against the caste system. The Prarthana Samaj stuck to the tradition of Bhakti that believed in the spiritual equality of all castes. Many of these reformers belonged to upper castes and tried to break social taboos related to food and touch in the secret meetings.

Even outsiders such as the Christian missionaries also questioned the discrimination being faced by some castes. They opened schools for tribal groups and lower caste children. These children were thus, equipped with some resources to make their way into a changing world.

On the other hand, many poor deserted their villages in search of work. They found work in the factories which were in the big cities. This led to the expansion of cities. So, the demand for labour rose as they were required to dig drains, make roads and buildings and clean the cities. Thus, so many people like diggers, coolies, sweepers, rickshaw pullers, etc were required. The poor from the villages started moving to the cities. Some also went to Mauritius, Trinidad and Indonesia in search of work. This was seen as an opportunity by the lower castes to save them from oppression which they were facing at the hands of local landowners. There were some other jobs also, for example- the army. People from Mahar caste who were regarded as untouchables found jobs in the army and thus, the regiment was formed known as Mahar regiment.

But soon, many people from different castes and groups started demanding equality and justice for the lower caste groups. So Let us see what it was?

Demands for equality and Justice

By the second half of the nineteenth century, people from Non- Brahman castes started movements against caste discrimination and demanded social equality and justice. 

Satnami Movement was started by Ghasidas in Central India. He worked for the betterment of leatherworkers. In eastern Bengal, Haridas Thakur’s Matua sect worked among the Chandala cultivators. Haridas questioned texts that supported the caste system. In Kerala, Shri Narayana Guru who was a guru from Ezhava caste manifested the ideals of unity for his people. He was against the concept of treating people unequally on the basis of caste differences. According to him, all are humans and belong to the same caste. So, basically all these sects were found by the Non- Brahman leaders. They tried to create a sense of self respect among the lower castes and also change the habits which provoked the contempt of the higher castes.

So, next we will discuss about Jyotirao Phule. Who was he? What was Gulamgiri?


Jyotirao PhuleJyotirao Phule was born in the year 1827 in Maharashtra. He studied in schools setup by Christian missionaries. On growing up, he developed his own ideas about the injustice of caste society. He attacked Brahmans by saying that they were not superior to others. He said that Brahmans were the Aryans who came from outside the continent and defeated the true children of the country. As Aryans defeated the population of this country, they started dominating over them considering them to be low caste people. According to Phule, the upper castes had no right to their land and power. In reality the landowners were the so called low castes.

He founded an association named Satya shodhak Samaj and propagated caste equality. He claimed that there was a golden period before Aryans came to our country. The lower castes were the cultivators and they lead a fair and just life.

In 1873, Phule wrote a book called ‘Gulamgiri’ and dedicated it to the American civil war in which Americans had fought to free the slaves. So, we can say that Phule was against all forms of inequality. He was even concerned for the plight of the upper caste women. This movement of caste reform was also carried forward by other dalit leaders such as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and E.V Ramaswamy Naicker.

So how did Dr. Ambedkar stand against the caste discrimination and what steps he took for that? We will discuss it now

AmbedkarWho could Enter Temples?

Ambedkar had noticed this since his childhood that being from Mahar family, he was never allowed to sit in the class with upper caste boys or enter the temple. So when in 1927, he returned from the U.S. where he did his higher studies due to the fellowship which he had received, he started fighting against this injustice and made three attempts of temple entry movement between the years 1927-1935. This outraged Brahman priests as Dalits used water from the temple tank. His main aim was to make people see the power of caste prejudices within the society.

The Non-Brahman Movement

In the early twentieth century, the non Brahman movement was started by those non Brahman castes that had access to education, wealth and influence. They argued that Brahmans were the invaders, they were the Aryans from the north who had conquered southern lands from the real inhabitants of the region- the Dravidians.

E.V. Ramaswamy NaickerE.V. Ramaswamy Naicker, or Periyar as he was called was from a middle class family. He was an ascetic in his early life and had studied Sanskrit scriptures thoroughly. Later on, he became a member of the Congress which he left because of the caste discrimination he experienced at a feast organized by the nationalists.

Periyar founded the Self Respect Movement. He argued that untouchables were the original natives of Tamil and Dravidian culture which had been subjugated by Brahmans. He advocated that all religious authorities saw caste divisions as God given therefore, untouchables had to free themselves from all religions in order to achieve social equality.

Periyar claimed that many of the religious texts such as Ramayana, Bhatgvat Gita and Codes of Manu had been used by Brahmans to establish their authority over other castes and for the domination of men over women.

The forceful speeches, writings and movements of lower caste leaders led to rethinking. But orthodox Hindu society also reacted by founding Sanatan Dharma Sabhas and Bharat Dharma Mahamandal in the north and associations like the Brahman Sabha in Bengal. The main aim of these associations was to justify the caste distinctions as a cornerstone of Hinduism. Such debates and struggles are still present in our society.

There were many organizations formed by various reform leaders they were:

Keshub Chunder SenThe Brahmo Samaj

Formed in 1830 by Keshub Chunder Sen. He prohibited all forms or idolatory and sacrifice, believed in the Upanishads, and critically drew upon the ideals of religions especially Hinduism and Christianity looking at their positive and negative dimensions.

Young Bengal: Formed by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, a teacher at Hindu College, Calcutta, in 1820. He promoted radical ideas. His students attacked the tradition and customs, demanded education of women and campaigned for the freedom of thought and expression.

Swami VivekanandaRamakrishna Mission

It was founded by Swami Vivekananda after his guru’s name Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

Swami Vivekananda’s original name was Narendra nath Dutta. He asked the youth to unite on the basis of a common spiritual heritage. His mission was to uplift the masses.

The Prarthana Samaj

It was founded in 1867 at Bombay. The main aim was to remove caste restrictions, abolish child marriage, encourage women education and support widow remarriage.

The Veda Samaj

It was inspired by the Brahmo Samaj and was established in Madras in 1864. Its main aim was to abolish caste distinction, promote widow remarriage and women education. They condemned the superstitious rituals.

Sayyid Ahmed Khan The Aligarh Movement

A college named The Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College was founded by Sayyid Ahmed Khan in 1875 at Aligarh, later became Aligarh Muslim University. The institution offered modern education including western science to Muslims. This movement led to a heavy impact in the area of education.

The Singh Sabha

The first Singh Sabha was formed at Amritsar in 1873 and then at Lahore in 1879. The main aim was sought to rid Sikhism of superstitious beliefs, caste distinction and non Sikh practices.

Women, Caste and Reform Question and Answers

Q1-What social ideas did the following people support.

  • Rammohun Roy
  • Dayanand Saraswati
  • Veerasalingam Pantulu
  • Jyotirao Phule
  • Pandita Ramabai
  • Periyar
  • Mumtaz Ali
  • Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar


  • Rammohun Roy: He reformed against the practice of Sati. It was due to his efforts that law banning Sati pratha was passed in the year 1829.
  • Dayanand Saraswati: He supported girl education
  • Veerasalingam Pantulu: He supported the education of women.
  • Jyotirao Phule: He demanded equality for all castes and also supported education for girls.
  • Pandita Ramabai: She advocated women education and widow remarriage. She also opened a shelter home for widows.
  • Periyar: He criticized the caste discrimination.
  • Mumtaz Ali: He reformed for the education of Muslim women
  • Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar: He advocated education of women and campaigned for the rights of widows to remarry. 

Q2- State whether true or false:

(a) When the British captured Bengal they framed many new laws to regulate the rules regarding marriage, adoption, inheritance of property, etc.

(b) Social reformers had to discard the ancient texts in order to argue for reform in social practices.

(c) Reformers got full support from all sections of the people of the country.

(d) The Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in1829.


(a) When the British captured Bengal they framed many new laws to regulate the rules regarding marriage, adoption, inheritance of property, etc. True

(b) Social reformers had to discard the ancient texts in order to argue for reform in social practices. False

(c) Reformers got full support from all sections of the people of the country. False

(d) The Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in1829. False

Q3- How did the knowledge of ancient texts help the reformers promote new laws?

A3- The reformers, as we know were keen to bring a change in the society. So, they took help from the religious texts by finding out the verses to support their ideas. Raja Rammohan Roy and many other used various verses from the ancient texts to give weightage to their ideas.

Q4- What were the different reasons people had for not sending girls to school?

A4- Some of the reasons for not sending girls to school were as follows:

  • Many people believed that girls, if educated would become a widow.
  • They feared that if girls will be educated they will not fulfill their domestic duties.
  • As girls had to go through the public places to reach school. Some people felt it would corrupt them.

Q5- Why were Christian missionaries attacked by many people in the country? Would some people have supported them too? If so, for what reasons?

A5- Indians believed that Christian Missionaries were converting people from Hinduism to Christianity. If some people supported them, it was because they were poor and belonged to tribal communities. As these people had always faced oppression and were not allowed to visit schools, they saw missionaries as those who would provide them with education that could bring a change in their lives.

Q6- In the British period, what new opportunities opened up for people who came from castes that were regarded as “low”?

A6- During British era, people saw great expansion of cities and trade. New factories and cities were coming up resulting into new opportunities of jobs. Like there were a number of new jobs such as coolies, diggers, carriers, sweepers, etc. The workers for these jobs belonged to lower castes. They left villages and shifted to cities in search of work. Some even went to foreign land such as Mauritius, Indonesia and Trinidad. The poor saw these opportunities as a safeguard from the oppression by the upper castes.

Q7- How did Jyotirao the reformers justify their criticism of caste inequality in society?

A7-Jyotirao argued against the claim of Brahmans that they were superior. He said that they were the Aryans who were outsiders. They came to the country and defeated the natives. Later they started subjugating the true children of the country by calling them low caste. Phule stressed that upper caste had no right to their land and power. The land infact was of those who were considered as low caste.

Q8-Why did Phule dedicate his book Gulamgiri to the American movement to free slaves?

A8- Phule wrote a book named Gulamgiri in 1873. This book was dedicated to the American movement which took place some 10 years before the book was published. He did this in order to establish a link between the ill treatment which was faced by not only the low castes in India but also the black slaves in America.

Q9-What did Ambedkar want to achieve through the temple entry movement?

A9- Ambedkar belonged to Mahar caste. He made three attempts which are known as temple entry movements between the years 1927-1935. His sole purpose behind these movements was to show people the power of caste prejudices in the society.

Q10-Why were Jyoti rao Phule and Ramaswamy Naicker critical of the national movement? Did their criticism help the national struggle in any way?

A10-They criticized the national movement because the nationalists often made separate seating arrangements for the high and low castes. This criticism helped the national struggle to a great extent. Ramaswamy Naicker also known as Periyar inspired the untouchables to fight for their dignity by initiating the self respect movement.