Aryasamaj and Social awakening

Dr. Vivek Arya

Swami Dayanand Saraswati(1824-1883), the founder of Aryasamaj clearly stated in the ten principles of Aryasamaj that the prime object of the Aryasamaj is to do good to the world, that is, to promote physical, spiritual and social good of everyone. This message was widely accepted by the followers of Aryasamaj. Aryasamaj indeed became the most active religious and social organization of 19th century which dedicated its heart and soul in the service of deprived sections of the society particularly the women as well as dalits.  Taking cue from the life and teachings of Swami Dayanand many reforms of women empowerment and social justice were initiated.  In this regard, the prominent stalwarts of Arya Samaj who came forward can be named as Swami Shraddhananda, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bhai Parmanand, Sant Ram B.A., Ram Chand Mahajan, Master Atmaram Amritsari, Mahatma Hansraj, Lala Ruliya Ram, Lala Ganga Ram, etc.

Swami Shraddhananda(1856-1926) pointed out that fundamental reasons for the poor plight of women and dalits were  lack of education,  early marriage leading to girls becoming widow while in their childhood, obnoxious practice of untouchability as well as poverty.  In his work, ‘Satyartha Prakash’ Swami Dayanand has advocated compulsory education for all irrespective of caste, creed and religion. Based on a Shloka of Manusmriti, Swami Dayanand also emphasized that  the state must punish those parents who do not send their children to educational institutions for learning. Swami Ji opined that in the school-gurukul, all the students were to be given equal facilities whether they are children of a king or that of  a poor man. This secular idea of education was adopted by Swami Shraddhananda and given a practical shape even before starting of his political carrier. He was instrumental in starting Gurukul Kangri, Haridwar for Boys and Kanya Vidyalaya Jalandhar for Girls respectively. These models of education are live examples of social awakening. Soon, the awareness about education gained momentum throughout the country. Educating girls was considered a taboo in those days.  However, with the pioneering efforts of Aryasamaj thousands of schools, colleges and Gurukuls for both boys and girls were opened especially in Northern India. Undoubtedly,  the credit for pioneering the idea of educational movement goes to Maharishi Dayananda and  followers of Aryasamaj.

Due to the death of a young husband, many girls used to become widows even before they had crossed their childhood age. The condition of the state of Bengal in this respect was particularly very bad.  So much so that in those days, in the event of the death of an infant husband his so called infant wife still on breast feed would be declared as a widow.  According to an estimate at that time there were about fifteen lakhs child widows in our country. Hence,  Aryasamaj started campaign for the widow remarriage. Initially this reform movement was opposed by the narrow-minded orthodox Hindus. They considered widow remarriage as a sin. Facing all odds,  Aryasamaj got success in its mission and gained public sympathy. The mind sets of masses started changing gradually. The lives of widows changed from hell to heaven. They womenfolk in India should  particularly be indebted to  Swami Dayanand and his Arya Samaj movement for bringing complete transformation in their life.

Among important pioneers who paved the way for stopping child marriage was Hari Singh Gour, who, through his repeated appeals to recognize the standards of modern clinical psychology, was able to get the law passed that raised the age of consent within marriage for girl children from 12 to 14. This war for raising the marriage age of women and prohibition of child marriage was carried on further by Harbilas Sarda. The Child Marriage Restraint Act, also known as the Sarda Act, was passed on October 1, 1929. Setting the minimum age for marriage for girls at 14 and boys at 18, it was a crowning glory for the social reform movement in India. The fight against child marriage and the triumph in increasing the legal marriage age of women were definitely the single greatest achievement of Arya Samaj  towards gender equality and women empowerment.

Aryasamaj started a crusade against Untouchability – a social evil alien to ancient Vedic culture. However, due to mis-interpretation of the Varna Vyavastha loosely called as caste system particularly during the medieval period,  a section of the Hindu population was mal-treated and  graded as untouchables by the upper caste.  These untouchables suffered lot of miseries at the hand of so called upper caste  who believed in hereditary caste system.  Swami Dayanand Saraswati who put the right perspective of Varna Vyavastha, said that the Varna was based on worth rather than birth and thus opened the doors for upward mobility of the persons born in so called lower castes. According to Prof.K.V. Paliwal says it was a common thing to change one’s Varna during the Vedic period.

For ascending the social order  flexibility has been shown even to a chandala and many examples can be cited from the scriptures.   Mahabharta says “A man cannot be a brahmin on account of his family.  Even a Chandal who exercises restraint and has a good conduct is a brahmin”(Mahabharata Van Parva). There are numerous instances of children of non-Brahmana parents attaining the status of Brahminhood by virtue of their merit, action, learning and temperament like Parashara who originally hailed from  a chandala family became a Rishi.  Swami Dayananda Saraswati in Chapter IV of his magnum opus Satyartha Prakasha says   Sage Matunga belonged to a very low Chandala family but became Brahmana and called a Rishi”.  Likewise there are examples of downgrading a person for neglecting his prescribed duties like ‘Trishanku’, originaly a king was categorised as a Chandala.

Initially Swami Shraddhananda – a great Sanyasi of Arya Samaj, tried to create interest of Congress leaders in eradication of untouchability.  Swami ji advised that all Congress members should employ Dalit persons for their household works for eradication of untouchability. His advised fell on deaf ears. He met a delegation of Dalits for their right to fetch water from community wells. Swami Ji proposed this matter before Congress leadership. However, Congress party at that time did not consider this proposal seriously beyond giving it a lip service.   Swami Shraddhanand carried out a possession in Delhi. He marched to the community well for the right of dalits to fetch water without any discrimination.

As expected the high caste Hindus and Muslims resisted and threw stones and mud. Muslims pointed out that as Dalits pig flesh eaters so they were not allowed to draw water from the community well. Swami Shraddhananda announced that due to impact of Arya Samaj, many of the Dalits had stopped eating meat.  In the end Dalits succeeded in getting their right to fetch water from the wells. Swami ji was hoping against hope that Congress would cooperate in this holy mission for Dalit upliftment. However, Swami ji was proved wrong.


In a letter written to Mahatma Gandhi is 1921 (September) Swami Shraddhananda drew the attention of the Mahatma to the fact that in Delhi and Agra  Dalits  were simply demanding their right to draw water from the wells used both by Hindus and Muslims and  water served to them through bamboos pipes.  Even here  Congress Committee failed to accomplish this task. In a letter written In 1922 to Congress leader Vithalbhai Patel, Swami Shraddhanand mentioned that how Gandhiji had relegated the cause of Dalit upliftment to the background.

Swami Shraddhanand  was also against the conversion of Dalits. In this regard, Dalit’s women especially became an easy prey. Swami Ji was very well informed about the attitude of Muslims towards Dalits. Ali brothers in Cocanada Congress session advised to divide Dalits into two parts. One part to Muslims and the other part for Hindus. Swami Shraddhanand criticized Ali Brothers for their divisive approach. Soon series of riots in all parts of the country especially in Moplah, Multan, Saharanpur and Kohat took place. It shattered Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of Hindu-Muslim unity. Swami Shraddhanda was annoyed by the deep silence of Mahatma Gandhi on such a crucial issue. He resigned from the congress and started Shuddhi and Hindu Sangthan movement. He proclaimed that if Muslims had a  right to convert Hindus to their fold than Hindus also enjoyed  full rights to defend themselves as well as bring back the lost brothers through Shuddhi. Swami ji brought back thousands of Malkana Rajputs who were converted forcibly in the past to the Hindu fold. He also advised Hindus to get united and form Hindu Sangthan to protect themselves.

Mahatma Gandhi opposed the Shuddhi and Sangthan movement carried out by Swami Shraddhananda. He wrote articles against Swami ji and Aryasamaj in Young India. Muslims got a supporter in the form of Gandhi. Their leaders started spitting venom against Aryasamaj especially Swami Shraddhanand. Provoked by such speeches Abdul Rashid killed Swami ji when he was lying on his bed due to illness. Swami Shraddhanda was paid tributes by none other than Dr. Ambedkar on his martyrdom who described him as ‘the greatest and the most sincere champion of Dalits’. Very few people know that it was Swami ji that coined  the term Dalit.

Aryasamaj worked for social awakening under the British rule in our country. The British were alarmed. So much so that from Lucknow Sir Harcourt Butler, the Lieutenant Governor of Oudh and North West Provinces wrote to Sir Dunlop Smith in London that ‘Arya Samaj was a dangerous movement’. Why? Because it combined ‘an appeal to national feeling with a tendency to elevate the low castes’. Why? Because the women education was taken up by ‘Arya Samaj’ and ‘our position in the country will be almost hopeless, if the women are trained up in hostility to us’.  There was historical precedent too, noted the colonial administrator, ‘Shivaji did that and so has every Hindu leader…’[iii]

It’s not difficult to conclude that, in spite of all obstacles, all opposition Aryasamaj contribution for social awakening of our country is an inspiring story. It is a  matter of proud and glory. Sorry to say that none of the NCERT History book mentions about this inspiring and glorious chapter of Arya Samaj and its contribution towards Dalits’ upliftment.. Hope such inspiring thoughts will get their due place in the History books.


[i] Swami Shraddhanand, Inside the Congress: a collection of 26 articles, Vol.1, Dayanand Sansthan, 1984:reprint, p.134, pp.179-80

[ii] Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Navajivan, March 27, 1927

[iii] Sir James Robert Dunlop Smith, Edited by Martin Gilbert, Servant of India: A Study of Imperial Rule from 1905 to 1910 as Told Through the Correspondence and Diaries of Sir James Dunlop Smith, Longmans, 1966, p.97

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