The reform movements were able to create socio-religious consciousness among the Indians during the 19th century. All these movements laid stress on rational understanding of social and religious ideas and encouraged a scientific and humanitarian outlook.
The reformers felt that modern ideas and culture could be best imbibed by integrating them into Indian cultural streams. The introduction of modern education guided the Indians towards a scientific and rational approach to life.
All the movements worked to improve women’s status and criticized the caste system especially the practice of untouchability. These movements looked for social unity and strived towards liberty, equality and fraternity.
Importance was given to education especially women’s education. Some legal measures were introduced to raise the status of women. For example, Sati Pratha and infanticide were declared illegal. Widow Remarriage was made possible by a law passed in 1856 and condition of widows improved. A law passed in 1872, sanctioned inter-caste and inter-communal marriages.
Marriageable age of girls was raised to ten by a law passed in 1860. Further, Sharda Act was passed in 1929 preventing child marriage. According to it, a girl below 14 and a boy below 18 cannot be married.
The impact of the efforts of these reformers was most evident in the National Movement. A large number of women came out to take part in the freedom struggle. The role of women like Captain Laxmi Sehgal of Indian National Army, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant, Aruna Asaf Ali and many others was extremely important in the freedom struggle. Women now came out of the purdah and took up jobs.
The persistent efforts of the reformers had immense impact on the society. The religious reform movements instilled in the minds of Indians greater self-respect, self confidence and pride in their country. These reform movements helped many Indians to come to terms with the modern world. People became more conscious of their identity as Indian. It was ultimately responsible for their united struggle against the British in the freedom movement of India.
In the 20th century and especially after 1919, the Indian National Movement became the main propagator of social reform. Indian languages were used to reach the masses. They also used novels, dramas, short stories, poetry, the press and in the 1930’s used the cinema to spread their views. The movements promoted the feelings of self-confidence, self-respect, awareness and patriotism and thereby developed a feeling of national consciousness.
These reform movements had certain limitations. It affected a very small percentage of the population, mostly the educated class and could not reach the vast masses of the peasantry and urban poor who continued to live in the same conditions.