Social reformers of India

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India has a rich history of social reformers who have helped to establish the foundations of modern India, and, in some cases, have affected a worldwide impact through political action, philosophic teachings. Especially given Indians leaning towards oral and mythical rather than a written tradition throughout much of its history. It is almost impossible to put together an exhaustive list of social reformers who have lived through the ages. Below are some of them.

Annie Besant[edit]

Annie Besant won her election to become president of the India National Congress in late 1917. After the war she continued to campaign for Indian independence until her death in 1930.

Baba Amte[edit]

Baba Amte (26 December 1914 – 9 February 2008) was a worker and social activist. He spent some time at the Sevagram ashram of Mahatma Gandhi, and became a follower of Gandhism for the rest of his life. He believed in Gandhi's concept of a self-sufficient village industry that empowers seemingly helpless people, and successfully brought his ideas into practice at Anandwan. He practised various aspects of Gandhism, including yarn spinning using a charkha and wearing khadi. Amte founded three ashrams for treatment and rehabilitation for leprosy patients, disabled people, and people from marginalised sections of the society in Maharashtra, India. He died on 9 February 2008.

B. R. Ambedkar

B. R. Ambedkar (14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956) was an Indian jurist, political leader, Buddhist activist, philosopher, thinker, anthropologist, historian, orator, prolific writer, economist, scholar, editor, revolutionary the revivalist of Buddhism in India. Ambedkar was born in Madhya Pradesh. He was also the chief architect of the Indian Constitution. He formed the "Independent Labour Party". Ambedkar spent his whole life fighting against social discrimination, the system of Chaturvarna – the Hindu categorisation of human society into four varnas – and the Hindu caste system. He is also credited with having sparked the bloodless revolution with his Buddhist movement. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar has been honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India's highest award.Even after he was conferred with honorary title, he often visited the village Katta where his dear friend of childhood Tejas Gad lived . Tejas was also a social reform in rural region, they both started there political careers together, but however Tejas Gad was killed in an attack after 3 months, after starting his career .

Dhondo Keshav Karve[edit]

Dhondo Keshav Karve (18 April 1858 – 9 November 1962) was social reformer of his time in India in the field of women's welfare. Karve was one of the pioneers of promoting women's education and the right for widows to remarry in India. The Government of India recognised his reform work by awarding him its highest civilian award, Bhārat Ratna, in 1958 (Incidentally his centennial year). The appellation Maharshi, which the Indian public often assigned to Karve, means "a great sage". Those who knew Karve affectionately called him as Annā Karve. (In Marāthi-speaking community, to which Karve belonged, the appellation Annā is often used to address either one's father or an elder brother.)

Gopal Hari Deshmukh[edit]

Gopal Hari Deshmukh (1823 – 1892) was a social reformer in Maharashtra. Deshmukh started writing articles aimed at social reform in Maharashtra in the weekly Prabhakar under the pen name Lokhitwadi. In the first two years, he penned 108 articles on social reform. That group of articles has come to be known in Marathi literature as Lokhitwadinchi Shatapatre.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar[edit]

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820 – 1891) was a philosopher, academic, educator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, reformer, and philanthropist. His efforts to simplify and modernise Bangla prose were significant. He was a Bengali polymath and a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance. Vidyasagar championed the uplift of the status of women in India, particularly in his native Bengal. Unlike some other reformers who sought to set up alternative societies or education systems, he sought to transform orthodox Hindu society from within. Vidyasagar introduced the practice of widow marriages to mainstream Hindu society. In earlier times, marriages of widows would occur sporadically only among progressive members of the Muslim Samāj.

Jamnalal Bajaj[edit]

Jamnalal Bajaj (4 November 1884 – 11 February 1942) was an industrialist, a philanthropist, and Indian independence fighter.[1] Gandhi is known to have adopted him as his son. He is known for his efforts of promoting Khadi and village Industries in India. With the intent of eradicating untouchability, he fought the non-admission of Harijans into Hindu temples. He began a campaign by eating a meal with Harijans and opening public wells to them. He opened several wells in his fields and gardens. Jamanalal dedicated much of his wealth to the poor. He felt this inherited wealth was a sacred trust to be used for the benefit of the people. In honour of his social initiatives a well known national and international award called Jamnalal Bajaj Award which has been instituted by the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation.

Jawaharlal Nehru[edit]

Jawaharlal Nehru (14 November 1889 – 27 May 1964, Hindi/Kashmiri: जवाहरलाल नेहरू, pronounced [dʒəʋaːɦərˈlaːl ˈneːɦru]); was an Indian prime-minister and an Indian statesman who was the first (and to date the longest-serving) prime minister of India, from 1947 until 1964. One of the leading figures in the Indian independence movement, Nehru was elected by the Congress Party to assume office as independent India's first Prime Minister, and re-elected when the Congress Party won India's first general election in 1952. As one of the founders of the Non-aligned Movement, he was also an important figure in the international politics of the post-war era. He is frequently referred to as Pandit Nehru ("pandit" being a Sanskrit and Hindi honorific meaning "scholar" or "teacher") and, specifically in India, as Panditji (with "-ji" being an honorific suffix).His birthday is celebrated as children's day in India.


Kabīr (also Kabīra, Hindi: कबीर, Punjabi: ਕਬੀਰ, Urdu, کبير ,1440–1518)[2][3][4][5] was a mystic poet and sant of India, whose writings have greatly influenced the Bhakti movement. The name Kabir comes from Arabic al-Kabīr which means 'The Great' – the 37th name of God in Islam.

Kabir was influenced by the prevailing religious mood of his times, such as old Brahmanic Hinduism, Tantrism, the teachings of Nath yogis and the personal devotionalism of South India mixed with the imageless God of Islam.[6] The influence of these various doctrines is clearly evident in Kabir's verses. Eminent historians like R.C. Majumdar, P.N. Chopra, B.N. Puri and M.N. Das have held that Kabir is the first Indian saint to have harmonised Hinduism and Islam by preaching a universal path which both Hindus and Muslims could tread together.[7]

Kandukuri Veeresalingam[edit]

Kandukuri Veeresalingam (16 April 1848 – 27 May 1919) was a social reformer who first brought about a renaissance in Telugu people and Telugu literature. He was influenced by the ideals of Brahmo Samaj particularly those of Keshub Chunder Sen. He got involved in the cause of social reforms. In 1876 he started a journal and wrote the first prose for women. He encouraged education for women, and started a school in Dowlaishwaram in 1874. He started a social organisation called Hitakarini (Benefactor).

Pandurang Shastri Athavale[edit]

Pandurang Vaijnath Shastri Athavale (Marathi: पांडुरंगशास्त्री आठवले, 19 October 1920 – 25 October 2003), also known as Dada-ji (Marathi: दादा), which literally translates as elder brother in Marathi, was an Indian philosopher, spiritual leader, social reformer[8] and Hinduism reformist, who founded the Swadhyay Movement and the Swadhyay Parivar organisation (Swadhyay Family) in 1954,[9] a self-knowledge movement based on the Bhagavad Gita, which has spread across nearly 100,000 villages in India,[10][11] with over 5 million members.[12] He was also noted for his discourses or "pravachans" on Srimad Bhagawad Gita and Upanishads.

He was born in the Konkan village of Roha in Maharashtra, India. He was one of five children of Sanskrit teacher Vaijanath Athavale and Parvati Athavale.

When Athavale was twelve years old, his grandfather set up an independent course of study for the young boy with individual tuition. Thus, Athavale was taught in a system very similar to that of the Tapovan system of ancient India. In 1942, he started to give discourses at the Srimad Bhagavad Gita Pathshala, a centre set up by his father in 1926.[9]

Athavale read diligently in the Royal Asiatic Library for 14 years, reading and digesting every non-fiction literature (ranging from Marx's philosophy to Whitehead's writings to ancient Indian philosophy). In 1954, he attended the Second World Philosophers Conference, held in Japan. There, Athavale presented the concepts of Vedic ideals and the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. All the participants deeply impressed by his ideas and wanted evidence of such ideals being put into practice in towns across India. A Dr. Wilson Compton was impressed with Athavale's ideas and offered him a post in the US, where he could spread his ideas. Athavale politely declined, saying that he had work to accomplish if he wanted to show the world a model community peacefully practising and spreading the divine Vedic thoughts and the message of the Bhagavad Gita.

Periyar E. V. Ramasamy[edit]

Periyar E. V. Ramasamy Thanthai Periyar or E. V. R., was a businessman, politician, Indian independence and social activist, who started the Self-Respect Movement or the Dravidian Movement and proposed the creation of an independent state called Dravidasthan comprising South India. He is also the founder of the socio-cultural organisation Dravidar Kazhagam.[13][14][15]

Rao Bahadur Hari Raoji Chiplunkar[edit]

Rao Bahadur Hari Raoji Chiplunkar (born 1830) Honorary Magistrate, and President of the Landlord's Association in Pune, was a prominent reformer, activist and close friend of Jyotirao Phule. He donated land and funds, enabling Savitri and Jyotirao Phule to start one of the first girls schools in India in 1851 on Chiplunkar's estate.[16]—Raja Ram MOHAN ROY--- Template:MAIN ARTICLE Ram Mohan Roy Raja Ram Mohan Roy (Bengali: রামমোহন রায়; 22 May 1772 – 27 September 1833) was the founder of the Brahmo Sabha[1] movement in 1828, which engendered the Brahmo Samaj, an influential socio-religious reform movement. His influence was apparent in the fields of politics, public administration and education as well as religion.

Shriram Sharma Acharya[edit]

Shriram Sharma Acharya (20 September 1911 – 2 June 1990) was an Indian seer, Great Sage, Writer, Indian social worker, a philanthropist, a visionary of the New Golden Era and the Founder of the All World Gayatri Pariwar. He devoted his life to the welfare of people and the refinement of the moral and cultural environment. He has written more than 3000 books on all aspects of life. The Government of India issued a postal stamp on Acharya Jee. He pioneered the revival of spirituality, creative integration of the modern and ancient sciences and religion relevant in the challenging circumstances of the present times. To help people, his aim was to diagnose the root cause of the ailing state of the world today and enable the upliftment of society. Acharyaji recognised the crisis of faith, people's ignorance of the powers of the inner self, and the lack of righteous attitude and conduct. During 1984–1986, he carried out the unique spiritual experiment of sukshmikaraña, meaning sublimation of vital force and physical, mental and spiritual energies.

Vijaypal Baghel[edit]

Vijaypal Baghel (20 February 1967) is an environmental activist. He is known for his efforts in protecting environment at grass root level through traditional methods. He is a prominent campaigner on behalf of mission as Jhola Movement for fighting against polythene across India. He is a researcher of gross climate product and the first planter of trees called Kalpavriksha (Adansonia digitata) for famous pilgrims around the world, worshiper of nature & lead promoter of spiritual, religious, herbal, medicinal, and environmental values having species of flora. He devoted his life to conserve nature, save water, save trees, reduce pollution and stop global warming with the theme of "Think globally-Act locally". He is a noted Indian environmental philosopher, promoter of vegetarianism & renowned nature conservationist, people called him Green-Man. His contribution in the social sector for promotion in the field of ecology, nature and environment have contributed a lot.

Vinoba Bhave[edit]

Acharya Vinoba Bhave (11 September 1895 – 15 November 1982) was an Indian advocate of non-violence and human rights. He is considered as the spiritual successor of Aman Ys (Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, English, Sanskrit), and a social reformer. He wrote brief introductions to, and criticisms of, several religious and philosophical works, such as the Bible, Quran, Gyaneshwar's poetry, and the output of other Marathi saints, and a testimony to the breadth of his intellect. A university named after him, Vinoba Bhave University, is located in the state of Jharkhand. Many people gave him land in which he severed for the poor. He is well known for the "bhoodaanyagn" movement which means "collecting of land from landlords and serving it to the poor and landless". Pochampalli is a place which was given by Acharya Vinoba Bhave.

Virchand Gandhi[edit]

Virchand Gandhi (25 August 1864 – 7 August 1901) was from Mahuva. He advocated female education. He is a 19th-century Indian patriot who was a friend of Mahatma Gandhi and contemporary to Swami Vivekanand. He and Swami Vivekananda drew equal attention at the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. He won a silver medal in same. His statue still stands at the Jain temple in jaipur. He was a key member of Indian National Congress and as a reformer established:

  1. Society for the Education of Women in India (SEWI). Under the banner of SEWI, several Indian women came to the US for higher studies.
  2. Gandhi Philosophical Society,
  3. School of Oriental Philosophy,
  4. Jain Literature Society in London. He delivered 535 lectures in the US and Europe.

He died at the age of 39. The government of India has recognized his service by issuing postal stamps in his memory.

Vitthal Ramji Shinde[edit]

Vitthal Ramji Shinde (23 April 1873 – 2 January 1944) He was a prominent campaigner on behalf of the Dalit movement in Maharashtra and established the Depressed Classes Mission to provide education to the Dalits in Maharashtra.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Gandhian spirit". Financial Express. 2 January 2000. 
  2. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ Carol Henderson Garcia; Carol E. Henderson (2002). Culture and Customs of India. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-0-313-30513-9. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Hugh Tinker (1990). South Asia: A Short History. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 76–. ISBN 978-0-8248-1287-4. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  5. ^ "Narrative Section of a Successful Application" (PDF). Claflin University. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  6. ^ The Bijak of Kabir (2002), Linda Beth Hess and Śukadeva Siṃha, Oxford University Press. pp.5 ISBN 0-19-514876-2
  7. ^ A Social, Cultural and Economic History of India, Volume II, (1974) Macmillan, pp. 90
  8. ^ Tributes paid to founder of Swadhyaya movement Times of India, 12 November 2003.
  9. ^ Pandurang Shastri Athavale – Obituary
  10. ^ Spiritualist from India is honored with religion's Templeton Prize The Seattle Times, 5 March 1997.
  11. ^ Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice, by Robin Rinehart. Published by ABC-CLIO, 2004. ISBN 1-57607-905-8. Page 375
  12. ^ Year in Review – 2003 – Passages The Seattle Times, 29 December 2001.
  13. ^ Mehta, Vrajendra Raj; Thomas Pantham (2006). Political Ideas in Modern India: thematic explorations. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-7619-3420-2. 
  14. ^ Arora, N.D.; S.S. Awasthy (2007). Political Theory and Political Thought. Har-Anand Publications: New Delhi. p. 425. ISBN 978-81-241-1164-2. 
  15. ^ Thakurta, Paranjoy Guha; Shankar Raghuraman (2004). A Time of Coalitions: Divided We Stand, Sage Publications: New Delhi, p. 230.
  16. ^ [1]