Reform Re-formed

The subject of social reforms has routinely formed a part of Indian history texts. The word 'reforms' normally conjures up the names of a few great individuals, invariably Hindu: upper-caste educated men from metropolitan cities, and one or two memorable women. This galaxy of remarkable persons identified and abolished abuses in social life, and their efforts brought about more progressive gender relations.

The editors of the present work argue the need to understand the history of social reforms from a much wider array of perspectives: for example, the connections between specific social abuses on the one hand, and, on the other, systems or traditions of gender practices across times, classes, castes, and regions. For instance, when we look at widow immolation or widow remarriage practices, we need to look also at the larger domain of gender relations which sanctified immolation or which outlawed widow remarriage: what arguments were used? What aspects of these practices did the reformers ignore? How did Orthodox practitioners defend such traditions?

There are also, the editors argue, other curious omissions in the existing literature: 'Most reforms passed through the grid of state legislation. Yet, there is little engagement even with the law-making machinery.... and far less with the judicial courts that enforced the laws and dealt with disputes around the new laws'. 

Sumit and Tanika Sarkar's Women and Social Reform in Modern India has now sold out two hardback printings, and Permanent Black brings a two volume paperback edition. 

In our Women's studies section,  940 pages, Rs 895. ISBN: 9788178241999

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