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Reform Movements

It is generally believed that Christian Missionaries were one of the first to have created conditions of self-awareness against exploitation. Many of them started working with the lower castes and tribes and succeeded in converting large groups. By 1903 more than 5000 toddy tappars were converted to Christianity in the Madras Presidency. With the active support of the British Raj the missionaries were not only able to expand their evangelical, medical and welfare measures but were also successful in securing for their converts basic civil rights and employments in public services.

The reform movements among the upper-caste/classes also created conditions of self-awareness among the deprived sections. The Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj that emerged in the 19th centuries were concerned with two major programmes -the emancipation of women and the amelioration of the depressed classes. While the former concerned itself mainly with the upper classes and castes the latter related itself mainly to the problem of the untouchables.

Under the leadership of Keshab Chandra Sen,the Brahmo Samaj organized education and welfare programmes for the untouchables. The Arya Samaj took greater interest in the upliftment of the untouchables. It started the Shuddhi movement in 1891 to reconvert the low caste Christian and Muslim converts back to Hindusim.It gave the untouchables the right to wear the sacred thread, the symbol of twice born status and also established educational institutions for the benefit of the untouchables.

The Servants of Indian Society founded by Gokhale in 1905 had the amelioration of the depressed classes as one of its objectives. In Bombay V R Shinde founded the Depressed Classes Mission in 1906 and established education institutions. These reform movements were led by western educated upper class intellectuals who hoped of a renaissance and formulated a liberal and egalitarian ideology.

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