NCERT Class 8 History Women, Caste and Reform

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Women, Caste and Reform

Have you ever thought of how children lived about two hundred years ago? Nowadays most girls from middle-class families go to school, and often study with boys. On growing up, many of them go to colleges and universities, and take up jobs after that. They have to be adults before they are legally married, and according to law, they can marry anyone they like, from any caste and community, and widows can remarry too. All women, like all men, can vote and stand for elections. Of course, these rights are not actually enjoyed by all. Poor people have little or no access to education, and in many families, women cannot choose their husbands. Two hundred years ago things were very different. Most children were married off at an early age. Both Hindu and Muslim men could marry more than one wife. In some parts of the country, widows were praised if they

chose death by burning themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands. Women who died in this manner, whether willingly or otherwise, were called “sati”, meaning virtuous women. Women’s rights to property were also restricted. Besides, most women had virtually no access to education. In many parts of the country people believed that if a woman was educated, she would become a widow. Working Towards Change

From the early nineteenth century, we find debates and discussions about social customs and practices taking on a new character. One important reason for this was the development of new forms of communication. For the first time, books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets an  pamphlets were printed. These were far cheaper and far more accessible than the manuscripts that you have read about in Class VII. Therefore ordinary people could read these, and many of them could also write and express their ideas in their own languages. All kinds of issues – social, political, economic and religious – could now be debated and discussed by men (and sometimes by women as well) in the new cities. The discussions could reach out to a wider public, and could become linked to movements for social change.

These debates were often initiated by Indian reformers and reform groups. One such reformer was Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833). He founded a reform association known as the Brahmo Sabha (later known as the Brahmo Samaj) in Calcutta. People such as Rammohun Roy are described as reformers because they felt that changes were necessary in society, and unjust practices needed to be done away with. They thought that the best way to ensure such changes was by persuading people to give up old practices and adopt a new way of life.

Changing the lives of widows

Rammohun Roy was particularly moved by the problems widows faced in their lives. He began a campaign against the practice of sati. Rammohun Roy was well versed in Sanskrit, Persian and several other Indian and Europeon languages. He tried to show through his writings that the practice of widow burning had no sanction in ancient texts. By the early nineteenth century, as you have read in Chapter 7, many British officials had also begun to criticise Indian traditions and customs. They were therefore more than willing to listen to Rammohun who was reputed to be a learned man. In 1829, sati was banned. The strategy adopted by Rammohun was used by later reformers as well. Whenever they wished to challenge a practice that seemed harmful, they tried to find a verse or sentence in the ancient sacred texts that supported their point of view. They then suggested that the practice as it existed at present was against early tradition.

Let’s recall

1. What social ideas did the following people support.

Rammohun Roy

Dayanand Saraswati

Veerasalingam Pantulu

Jyotirao Phule

Pandita Ramabai


Mumtaz Ali

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar

2. 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.

Let’s discuss

3. How did the knowledge of ancient texts help the reformers promote new laws?

4. What were the different reasons people had for not sending girls to school?

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

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

7. How did Jyotirao the reformers justify their criticism of caste inequality in society?

8. Why did Phule dedicate his book Gulamgiri to the American movement to free slaves?

9. What did Ambedkar want to achieve through the temple entry movement?

10. Why were Jyotirao Phule and Ramaswamy Naicker critical of the national movement? Did their criticism help the national struggle in any way?

Please refer to attached file for NCERT Class 8 History Women, Caste and Reform

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