The Indian society during the 19th century suffered from a number of social evils including the caste system, untouchability, illiteracy, Sati, child marriage, polygamy, superstitions, infanticides (human sacrifice) etc. A number of social reform movements including the Brahmo Samaj; The Arya Samaj; The Ramakrishna Mission; the Theosophical Society, the Ahmedia Movement etc. were directed against these social evils.
Three main evils:
(i) The caste system and untouchability:
It was the most inhuman and degrading social evil responsible for social disintegration and imbalances in Indian society. All the social reformers condemned it as an inhuman institution as it meant exploitation of lower caste people at the hands of so called higher caste people.
(ii) Deplorable condition of women:
In the traditional Indian society, women were the worst sufferers. The ‘Sati’ and ‘Purdah’ system, child marriage, female infanticides, illiteracy, deplorable plight of widows (who were not allowed to remarry) and their subjugation to males, were the main features of oppression of women. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar, Swami Dayanand, Swami Vivekananda and Annie Besant struggled to improve the deplorable conditions of women. Legislation of widow remarriage was a great achievement in this direction.
(iii) Child marriage:
It was a big social evil, having a bad effect on the health of the married children. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshav Chandra Sen, Mahadev Ranade and Swami Dayanand made a special drive against this social evil. Due to their untiring efforts the marriageable age of girls was raised to 10 years by law.