The women’s questions arose in modern India as a part of the 19th century social reform movement. What are the major issues and debates concerning women in that period?

Sample Answer


The 19th century was a period of major social reforms in India under British rule. Social reformers questioned discriminatory practices including sati, child marriage, lack of women’s education, and widow remarriage. For example, reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy campaigned against sati or self-immolation of widows after their husband’s death, a practice prevalent in some Hindu communities.


Major issues and debates concerning women in the 19th century social reform movement

  • Education of women: Debate around need for women’s education, opening up of schools for girls like Bethune School by John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune in 1849. Issues like curriculum design, inclusion of topics like philosophy, sciences, and choice of language medium.
  • Child marriage: Efforts by social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy to increase marriageable age for girls to curb child marriage. Debates around tradition like early marriage permitted in Manusmriti versus health impact on young brides.
  • Widow remarriage: Campaigns by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar to legalize widow remarriage in 1856, allow widows to remarry. Orthodox Hindus opposed it as widow remarriage was prohibited in religious scriptures.
  • Abolition of Sati: Social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy opposed Sati – the practice of widow self-immolation on her husband’s funeral pyre. Roy argued from both women’s rights and religion standpoint. Faced resistance from orthodox groups and East India Company.
  • Women’s property rights: Demand by reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar for rights for women to inherit ancestral property through Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856. Earlier, widows did not have inheritance rights.
  • Overall status of women: Debates around need for women’s upliftment, granting them human rights and dignity. Eg – Age of Consent Act, 1891 raised age of consent for sexual intercourse for Indian girls.


The 19th century social reform movement critically examined customary practices against women in India and paved the way for future women’s rights movements.

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