Social Reformers in Maharashtra

The article describes the role played by various social reformers of Maharashtra for the upliftment of the local people. It describes the role of leaders like Tilak, Ranade and others in bringing about a change in the thinking of the people. The article also enlists the names of some of the social reformers of Maharashtra.

Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade explained to the social reformers of Maharashtra that 'the change which they should all seek is thus a change from constraint to freedom, from cruelty to faith, from status to contract, from authority to reason, from unorganized to organized life, from blind fate to a sense of human dignity'.

Controversies in the 19th century

The issue on which controversies raged in the 19th century included questions such as child marriage and widow remarriage. Efforts were made to educate women in particular and get their rights reorganized. Several of the social reformers in the 19th century belonged to the upper class. When the 1st wife of M. G. Ranade passed away in October 1873 his father arranged his marriage within 2 months and instead of marrying a widow Ranade gave his consent to marry a girl chosen for him by his father. Justice K. T. Telang had to agree to celebrate the marriage of his 8 year old daughter though he had always condemned child marriage. Gopal Deshmukh did not dare to attend a wedding of a widow. Men like R. G. Bhandarkar and D. A. Karve patiently bore the brunt of the boycott imposed by the orthodox sections of the society which did not like their active support to the cause of widow remarriage. Tilak as a leader of Maharashtra in the 19th century believed that the attainment of Swaraj was the key to the problems in India. He opposed every attempt made by social reformers to seek help from the alien government for introducing social reform through legislation.

During the present century the emphasis slowly shifted from their form of the social institution of family to the revolt against the caste system. Tilak's failure to understand the legitimate aspirations and apprehensions of the non Brahmin castes alienated him to their leaders. The gulf between Tilak and the non Brahmin leaders widened further when the British government in August 1917 assured Indians a share I power and announced its policy of encouraging increasing associations of Indians with the administration of India.

The situation changed when Gandhiji took over the leadership of the congress and the nationalist struggle for independence. According to Rajaji, the Mahatma integrated social and religious reform with political activity in the congress and changed the whole character of the congress.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar had emerged as the unchallenged leader of the depressed classes in Maharashtra and was recognized as a leader of national states by the scheduled castes in all parts of India. He organized the untouchables and agitated for their rights. Despite Gandhiji's persistent efforts to improve the Harijans, Ambedkar bitterly criticized Gandhiji for defending the Chatur Varna System.

The important social reformers of Maharashtra are:
Bal Shashtri Jambhekar
Gopal Hari Deshmukh (Lokhitwadi)
Jotirao Govindrao Phule
Ramkrishnan Gopal Bhandarkar
Mahadeo Govind Ranade
Gopal Ganesh Agarkar
Dhondo Keshav Karve
Vitthal Ramji Shinde
Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj

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