Social Movements in the Deccan and Maharashtra

Sansar LochanModernLeave a Comment

Many revolts occurred during the British rule in India besides the revolt of 1857. Several of them were led by lower castes against the upper castes particularly against the Brahmans, several of them were of tribals or those of cultivators against local Sahukars (money-lenders) or land- lords or a few of them against English landlords. However, the primary cause of all these disturbances or revolts remained economic hardships of the common people which were the results of the economic policies of the British and their support to privileged members of the Indian society.

Social movements particularly in the Deccan and Maharashtra

Social movements at different places mostly had one common feature. These were not led by any of the Varnas (Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, or Shudras) among the Hindus but mostly by untouchables who, living at a particular area and having similarities in food, living and social habits, had developed a sense of unity among themselves. Their grievances arose because of social, religious and economic exploitation of them by upper castes, particularly the Brahmans. Therefore, all these reform movements aimed at attacking the privileges of upper castes and getting equal rights for themselves. These social movements mostly occurred in the Deccan and particularly in Maharashtra.

It’s one reason was that as compared to the North, the exploitation of lower castes by upper castes was greater in south India.

It’s another important reason was that different saints of Bhakti movement during the medieval age in the Deccan emphasized social equality which created consciousness among the lower castes for getting social justice. Besides, while discussing these social reform movements, we have to keep in mind the attitude of British rulers towards them particularly after the revolt of 1857.

The British deliberately pursued the policy of dividing the Indians on the basis of differences of regions, castes, sub-castes, religions, races, etc. From 1901 onwards, the British began the population census on the basis of castes and sub-castes and it was done after every ten years. When the government accepted these social divisions on record, it helped in increasing social divisions because every group of caste or sub-caste and their respective leaders were encouraged to receive recognition and thereby several privileges by the government.

Thus, the British deliberately pursued the policy of fragmenting the Indian society into castes and sub-castes. They also encouraged the division of the society on the basis of different regions, religions languages and even on the basis of differences between the Aryans and the Dravidians.

Thus, the British deliberately pursued the policy of encouraging social divisions of the Indian society and therefore, helped these caste-movements. These social movements took place mostly in the end of the 19th century or in the beginning of the 20th century when developed means of communication and growth of English education had taken place facilitating organised efforts by “members of lower castes.” Besides, members of these castes expected help from the government and thereby hoped to improve their social status.

Social Reform Movements in the Deccan

In 1901, when population census was done by the government, in south Tamil Nadu, Shanas who belonged to an untouchable sub-caste, claimed the status of the Kshatriyas. They called themselves Nadar. The same way in north Tamil Nadu Pallis claimed the status of the Kshatriyas and called themselves Vanniya-Kula- Kshatriyas. Gradually, educated persons of lower castes at different places in south India challenged the supremacy of upper castes particularly that of the Brahmans and demanded the status of upper castes for themselves.

Among those castes the Tamil Vella, Telegu Reddy and Malyalam Nayar remained prominent ones. In the 20th century, members of these castes organised associations for fulfilling their aims. Most of them were educated but were left behind in services and other professions by members of upper castes. They, therefore, desired to improve their lot by encouraging social  movements.

Of course, many among them were honest and were desirous of improving the lot of all lower castes but they too primarily desired to improve the economic condition of lower castes which could help them in improving their social status. Therefore, several organisations were formed in the 20th century with a view to improving the economic and social status of lower castes.

Justice Movement

In 1910, one such organisation called Nadar Mahajana Sangam was formed. In 1915-16, C. N. Mudaliar, T. M. Nayar and P. Tyagraj Reddy started the ‘Justice Movement’. The ‘Justice Movement’ was joined by rich landlords and merchants of intermediate castes as well. The Movement opposed the superiority of upper castes, particularly of the Brahmans in services, education, politics, etc. The movement tried to attract the attention of the government and expected reservations in services and legislative assemblies for lower castes. Therefore, though the Movement was against upper castes but remained loyal to the British government.

Self Respect Movement

In 1920-30. E. V. Ramaswami Naicker started another Movement called the ‘Self Respect Movement’. This Movement pleaded marriages without the assistance of a Brahman priest, forceful entry in temples, burning of the Manu Smriti, etc. The Movement was further supported by Naikar’s disciple and friend. C. N. Annadurai, Naikar formed a political parly called the Dravida Kargum in 1944, However, in 1949, the party divided and Annadurai formed another party called the Dravida Munnetra Kargam (DMK).


In Mysore, the Lingayats formed the ‘Lingayat Education Association’ and formed the Vokkaliga Sangha or Society in 1905-06. In 1917, C. R. Reddy formed the Praja-Mithira-Mandali for opposing the supremacy of the Brahmans. All these organisations opposed the Brahmans and aimed at getting equal social and religious status.


In Kerala, the Ezhavas community formed the Narayana Dharma Prajapalan Yogam in 1902-3 under the leadership of Sri Narayana Guru. This organisation encouraged its members to break all social and religious taboos imposed by the Brahmanas over them forcefully. It advocated forceful entry in temples and, finally, denied even existence of God.

Conclusion about South India Movements

Thus, several social reform movements, some having rebellions attitude, took place in south India which aimed at removal of the superiority of the Brahmanas and equal social and religious status for lower castes. However, their success remained limited at that time. Recently, the Janta Dal, an all-India political party has taken up the cause of lower castes, pleaded for reservation for them in every field of life and has partially succceded. But how much this will genuinely serve the cause of lower castes has yet to be seen. The problem before lower castes is not only of social equality but that of economic prosperity for which no efforts have been made in India. Rather, in the name of castes, the Indian society has been further fragmented while the economic goal to be achieved has been lost. Unless just distribution of wealth takes place and enlightened education is provided to the general public as well no solution of any problem of India is possible.

Movements in Maharashtra

Satya Shodhak Samaj

The anti-Brahman movement was started in Maharashtra by Jyotiba Phule in 1870. He published a book, Gulam-giri in 1872 and organised the Satya Shodhak Samaj in 1873 for safeguarding the lower castes from the tyranny of the Brahmans and their opportunistic scriptures. The Movement led by Satya Shodhak Samaj developed two trends. One part of it compromised with the Brahmans and claimed Kshatriya origin for the Marathas. In 1890, it got patronage of the king of Kolhapur and under his influence, became antagonistic to the All India Congress and favoured the British. The other trend or part of it opposed the caste-system, preferred Marathi language instead of English in writing and emphasized rights of the Bahujan Samaj against the Brahmans and the Vaisyas. A newspaper, Din-Mitra published by Mukund Rao Patil helped in propagating the ideas of the Samaj. Besides, the members of this Samaj played Tamashas (dramas) among villagers for displaying their ideas and that also helped in the popularity of the Samaj. In 1920-30, the leadership of the Samaj passed into the hands of Keshava Rao Jedha and Dinkar Rao Javalkar who made this Samaj anti-British as well as against the ‘All India Congress’.

Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha

Another movement in Maharashtra for the uplift of lower castes was led by Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar in 1920, He became the leader of an untouchable caste, Mehar and organised the Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha in 1924. He emphasised the right of untouchables for entry in temples and fetching water from wells of upper castes. In 1942, he organised “The All India Depressed Classes Federation” and became an all-India figure. He compromised with M.K. Gandhi when the British declared “communal award” and decided to give separate representation to untouchables. Later on, he accepted Buddhism along with his many followers. He also helped in framing the constitution of independent India.

Several other leaders also formed the “All India Depressed Classes Association” for the betterment of lower castes.

In modern times, a political party called Bahujana Samaj Party is claiming to safeguard the interests of lower castes. Yet results of all these efforts so far are not very satisfactory.

Points to remember

  1. Several revolts, those of lower castes, civilians, tribals, and peasants took place before and after the revolt of 1857.
  2. Economic hardships and the policies of dividing Indians on the basis of caste, religion, race, territory, etc. pursued by the British were primary causes of these movements, uprisings or revolts.
  3. Movements for the uplift of depressed classes or untouchables mostly took place in the Deccan and particularly in Maharashtra because, on the one hand, as compared to the North, division between lower and upper castes was much more marked in the Deccan and, on the other hand, the saints of Bhakti movement had preached social equality which had created social consciousness.
  4. In south Tamil Nadu, the untouchable Shana community, in north Tamil Nadu, Pallis and educated members of several other lower castes claimed to be members of Brahman or Kshatriyas castes, attempted for better economic status for themselves which could help them in getting higher social status and, for that, organised various associations like Nadar-Mahajan-Sangam and movements like Justice Movement and Self-Respect Movement which also led to the formation of DK and DMK parties.
  5. In Mysore, the Lingayatas formed the Vokkaliga Society and C.R. Reddy formed Praja-Mithra-Mandali; in Kerala, the Ezhavas formed the Narayana Dharma Prajapalan Yoam.
  6. In Maharashtra, Jyotiba Phule formed the Satya-Shodhak-Samaj; a branch of it formed the Bahujan Samaj; B.R. Ambedkar formed the Bahishkrit-Hitkarini-Sabha; and, some other leaders organised the “All India Depressed Classes Association.”

Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam short notes on the social reform movements and related organisations during British Era or period. 

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