The Indian society, which you see today, is very different from the one in the first half of the 19th century. Two major social causes prevented the society’s progress. These were lack of education and subordination of women. Many sections of the Indian society were rigid and followed certain practices which were not in keeping with humanitarian values.

Lack of Education

Majority of people in those days were illiterate. All over the world education was in the hands of a very small number of people. In India also, education was limited to a handful of men belonging to the upper castes.

Brahmins in India had access to the Vedas which were written in Sanskrit. It was a language known only to them. Religious texts were also controlled by these people. So they interpreted them in a way that benefited them. Expensive rituals, sacrifices and practices after birth or death were outlined by this priestly class. It was mandatory for everyone to perform these rituals in the belief of a better life after death. Nobody could question the Brahmin priests because nobody knew what was written in the scriptures.

Similarly in Europe, the Bible was written in Latin. It was the language of the Church and their priests interpreted the religious texts accordingly. And that is why, as a reaction, Europe saw the Renaissance and the Reformation Movement. Even ideas like liberty, equality, freedom and human rights were introduced in Europe by various revolutions which took place there.

Position of Women

Girls and women today have better opportunities for their development. They have more freedom to study and work outside of home. However, way back in the 19th century the life was much harder for majority of the women.

Certain social practices
like female infanticide, child marriage, sati pratha and polygamy were prevalent in some sections of Indian society. Female infanticide or killing of a girl child was a very common practice. Girls who survived were often married at a very young age and often to men who were much older. Polygamy, a practice of a man having more than one wife was an accepted norm among many castes and religion.

In some parts of the country Sati Pratha was practiced in which a widowed woman was compelled to burn herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. Those women who could escape the practice of Sati had to live a very miserable life.

Women had no right to property. They also had no access to education. Thus, women had a subordinate position in the society. The fear of the invader and loss of family honor was one reason. The other reasons were dowry and sharing of ancestral property which further deteriorated their status.

It was evident that certain practices and superstitions were preventing Indians from progressing. Reforms were needed to bring a change in the social and religious lives of the people.