NCERT Chapter 7 Women Caste and Reform: Class 8 Notes (Free PDF)

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NCERT Chapter 7 Women Caste and Reform Class 8 Notes (Free PDF)

Welcome to NCERT Class 8 History Chapter 7: “Women Caste and Reform.” This chapter delves into significant social movements and reforms during colonial India, focusing on the roles of women, caste, and the efforts towards societal transformation. 

Overall, this chapter aims to provide insight into the challenges faced by women and lower caste communities, as well as the reform movements that emerged to address these issues. We will explore the historical narratives and personal accounts surrounding these movements, shedding light on their motivations and impact on Indian society.

Specifically, we will discuss the status of women and the various forms of discrimination they faced during colonial rule. Additionally, we will examine the caste system and the efforts to challenge its hierarchical structure, as well as the social reform movements that aimed to bring about change.

By examining the struggles and achievements of women and lower caste communities, this chapter seeks to highlight their contributions to the larger narrative of India’s quest for social justice and equality. Through historical analysis and personal narratives, we will uncover the complexities of these reform movements and their lasting significance in shaping the trajectory of Indian society.

Download NCERT Class 8 History Chapter 7 Women Caste and Reform Class 8 Notes
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Also Read: NCERT Class 6 History Chapter 1 “What, Where, How and When?”: Notes and Solutions (Free PDF)

Introduction to NCERT Chapter 7 Women, Caste and Reform Notes

In Chapter 7, “Women Caste and Reform,” we delve into the intricate tapestry of social reform movements that swept across colonial India during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This chapter offers a nuanced exploration of the intersecting struggles of women and lower caste communities, highlighting their agency and resilience in challenging entrenched social norms.

Overview of the Chapter

It is fascinating to reflect on how different life was for children about two hundred years ago compared to today. In our modern times, girls from middle-class families typically attend school alongside boys, pursue higher education, and later on, take up various jobs. 

They have the freedom to choose their partners, and widows are allowed to remarry. Women, like men, have the right to vote and stand for elections, although these rights may not be equally accessible to everyone, especially the poor.

1. The situation was vastly different two centuries ago. Most children were married off at a young age, and it was common for men to have multiple wives. Shockingly, in some regions, widows were expected to perform the act of sati, where they would immolate themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre. 

2. These women were hailed as virtuous, but in reality, they often had no choice in the matter. Additionally, women had limited rights to property and were largely denied access to education, as it was believed that educated women would become widows.

3. Society was also deeply divided along caste lines, with Brahmins and Kshatriyas considering themselves the “upper castes.” Traders and moneylenders were placed after them, followed by peasants and artisans. 

4. At the bottom were those engaged in menial jobs or occupations deemed “polluting” by the upper castes, who were often treated as “untouchables” and faced discrimination in various aspects of life.

5. However, over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was a gradual shift in these norms and perceptions. Let’s explore how these changes unfolded.

Working Towards Change

The early nineteenth century witnessed a significant transformation in the nature of debates and discussions about social customs and practices in India. This change was largely influenced by the development of new forms of communication, such as books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets, and pamphlets, which were now printed and thus more affordable and accessible to ordinary people. 

Unlike the manuscripts of the past, these printed materials allowed for wider dissemination of ideas and facilitated discussions on various social, political, economic, and religious issues, even among those who could read and write in their languages.

1. Debates were often initiated by Indian reformers and reform groups, such as Raja Rammohun Roy (1772–1833). Rammohun Roy founded the Brahmo Sabha, later known as the Brahmo Samaj, in Calcutta. 

2. Reformers like him believed that societal changes were necessary to abolish unjust practices. They advocated for persuading people to abandon old customs and adopt new ways of life to bring about positive social transformation.

3. Rammohun Roy, for instance, advocated for the spread of Western education in India and advocated for greater freedom and equality for women. He criticised the traditional confinement of women to domestic roles and kitchens, arguing that they should have the opportunity to receive education and participate more actively in society. 

4. Rammohun Roy’s writings highlighted the plight of women who were denied access to education and were burdened with household chores, advocating for their empowerment and liberation from traditional constraints.

Changing the lives of widows 

Rammohun Roy initiated a campaign against the practice of sati, which involved the burning of widows. He utilized his knowledge of Sanskrit, Persian, and other languages to demonstrate that sati had no basis in ancient texts.

1. Many British officials, critical of Indian traditions, were receptive to Rammohun’s arguments due to his reputation as a learned scholar.

2. In 1829, sati was officially banned, largely due to Rammohun’s efforts and advocacy.
Rammohun’s strategy of using ancient texts to challenge harmful practices was later adopted by other reformers.

3. Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, another prominent reformer, used ancient texts to argue for widow remarriage, leading to the passing of a law permitting it in 1856.

4. Opposition to widow remarriage existed, and Vidyasagar faced boycotts from those against the practice.

5. Despite legal reforms, societal acceptance of widow remarriage remained low, and conservative groups continued to oppose it.

6. Other reformers across India, such as Veerasalingam Pantulu in the Madras Presidency and Swami Dayanand Saraswati in the north, also supported widow remarriage.

Girls begin going to school

Reformers emphasised the importance of educating girls to uplift the status of women in society. Schools for girls were established by reformers like Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar in Calcutta and others in Bombay during the mid-nineteenth century.

1. Initially, there was resistance to girls’ education due to fears that schools would distract them from domestic duties and expose them to corrupting influences.

2. Throughout the nineteenth century, most educated women were taught at home by liberal fathers or husbands, or they taught themselves.

3. Rashsundari Debi exemplified self-taught women who learned to read and write secretly by candlelight.

4. Organizations like the Arya Samaj in Punjab and Jyotirao Phule in Maharashtra established schools for girls in the latter part of the century.

5. In aristocratic Muslim households in North India, women were taught to read the Quran in Arabic by female tutors who visited their homes.

6. Some reformers, such as Mumtaz Ali, interpreted Quranic verses to advocate for women’s education.

7. Urdu novels emerged in the late nineteenth century to encourage women to read about religion and domestic management in a language they could understand.

Women write about women

Muslim women, like the Begums of Bhopal, played a significant role in promoting women’s education from the early twentieth century. Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain established schools for Muslim girls in Patna and Calcutta and criticized conservative ideas that marginalized women.

1. By the 1880s, Indian women started entering universities and pursuing careers as doctors and teachers.

2. Many women began writing and publishing their critical views on women’s societal roles. Tarabai Shinde, educated at home in Poona, published “Stripurushtulna,” criticizing gender disparities.

3. Pandita Ramabai, a Sanskrit scholar, founded a widows’ home in Poona to provide shelter and training for widows mistreated by their husbands’ relatives.

4. Orthodox Hindus and Muslims were alarmed by these reforms, fearing the erosion of traditional culture and values.

5. By the late nineteenth century, women actively worked for reform by writing books, founding schools and associations, and advocating for women’s rights.

6. In the early twentieth century, women formed political pressure groups to advocate for female suffrage, improved healthcare, and education.

7. Some women joined nationalist and socialist movements in the 1920s, receiving support from leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose.

8. Nationalist leaders promised full suffrage for men and women after independence, urging women to focus on anti-British struggles until then.

Caste and Social Reform

Social reformers like Rammohun Roy criticized caste inequalities and translated ancient texts critical of caste. The Prarthana Samaj and the Paramhans Mandali in Bombay advocated for the abolition of caste and believed in the spiritual equality of all castes.

1. Many reformers and members of reform associations were from upper castes and often violated caste taboos on food and touch in secret meetings to combat caste prejudice.

2. Christian missionaries set up schools for tribal groups and lower-caste children in the nineteenth century, providing them with resources to navigate a changing world.

3. The emergence of factories and urban jobs led to a migration of the poor from villages and small towns to cities, where there was a high demand for labour.

4. Jobs in factories, municipalities, plantations, and the army offered opportunities for the poor, including those from lower castes, to escape the oppressive conditions enforced by upper-caste landowners.

5. Members of lower castes, such as the Mahar people, found employment in the army, with some working in the Mahar Regiment.

Demands for equality and justice

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Non-Brahman castes initiated movements against caste discrimination, striving for social equality. 

The Satnami movement, led by Ghasidas in Central India, aimed to uplift leatherworkers. Haridas Thakur’s Matua sect in eastern Bengal challenged Brahmanical texts supporting the caste system. 

In present-day Kerala, Shri Narayana Guru of the Ezhava caste advocated unity, proclaiming equality for all. These leaders worked to instill self-esteem among Non-Brahman castes, aiming to eradicate practices that fueled contempt from dominant castes.


Jyotirao Phule, born in 1827, studied in schools established by Christian missionaries and developed his own ideas about caste injustices. He challenged the Brahmins’ claim to superiority by arguing that Aryans were foreigners who subjugated the indigenous people of India.

1. Jyotirao Phule, born in 1827, studied in schools established by Christian missionaries and developed his own ideas about caste injustices.

2. He challenged the Brahmins’ claim of superiority by arguing that Aryans were foreigners who subjugated the indigenous people of India.

3. Phule claimed that before Aryan rule, there was a golden age when indigenous people ruled the land justly.

4. He proposed unity among Shudras and Ati Shudras to challenge caste discrimination and founded the Satyashodhak Samaj to promote caste equality.

5. Phule drew parallels between the conditions of lower castes in India and black slaves in America, extending his criticism of the caste system to all forms of inequality.

6. His movement for caste reform influenced other Dalit leaders like Dr B.R. Ambedkar in western India and E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in the south, who continued the fight for social justice.

Who could enter temples?

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was born into a Mahar family and faced caste prejudice in his childhood.

He experienced discrimination in school, being forced to sit outside the classroom, and denied access to water from taps used by upper-caste children.

1. After completing his education, Bhim Rao Ambedkar went to the US for higher studies and returned to India in 1919.

2. Upon his return, he wrote extensively about the dominance of upper castes in contemporary society.

3. In 1927, Ambedkar initiated a temple entry movement, in which his Mahar caste followers participated.

4. Brahman priests were angered when Dalits used water from the temple tank during these movements.

5. Ambedkar led three temple entry movements between 1927 and 1935 with the aim of highlighting the power of caste prejudices within society.

The Non-Brahman movement

In the early twentieth century, the non-Brahman movement emerged as a response to Brahmanical dominance and caste-based discrimination. Led by figures like E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker, or Periyar, this movement challenged Brahmanical claims to power and advocated for social equality and dignity for marginalized communities.

Origin and Ideology of the Non-Brahman Movement:

1. Initiated by non-Brahman castes with access to education, wealth, and influence.
2. Challenged Brahmanical claims to power, asserting that Brahmins were descendants of Aryan invaders who subjugated Dravidian races.

E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker (Periyar) and the Self-Respect Movement:

1. Periyar, from a middle-class background, founded the Self-Respect Movement.
2. Criticized caste-based seating arrangements at nationalist feasts and left the Congress party. 
3. Advocated for the dignity and rights of untouchables, arguing that they should liberate themselves from all religions to achieve social equality.

Critique of Hindu Scriptures 

1. Periyar criticized Hindu scriptures like the Codes of Manu, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Ramayana. 
2. Argued that these texts were used to justify Brahmanical authority and social inequalities.

Reactions and Resistance

1. Non-Brahman leaders’ speeches and movements led to rethinking among upper-caste nationalist leaders. 
2. Orthodox Hindu society reacted by founding associations to uphold caste distinctions and justify them through scripture.

Legacy and Ongoing Struggles

1. Debates and struggles over caste persisted beyond the colonial period and continue in contemporary times.
2. The non-Brahman movement, spearheaded by leaders like Periyar, challenged entrenched caste hierarchies and paved the way for ongoing debates and movements for social justice and equality in India.

Also Read: NCERT Solutions Class 7 English An Alien Hand Chapter 7 and Notes (Free PDF): An Alien Hand

10 Important Dates and Events of the Chapter Women, Caste and Reform

Find the important dates and events of the chapter Civilising the Women, Caste, and Reform below:

1. 1829: Abolition of Sati

 – Event: The practice of sati, the immolation of widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres, was officially abolished in India under British rule.   
– Significance: This marked a significant step towards the eradication of harmful social practices and the promotion of women’s rights and dignity.

2. 1856: Widow Remarriage Act

 – Event: The Widow Remarriage Act was passed by the British government, legalizing the remarriage of Hindu widows.   
– Significance: This legislation aimed to provide social and legal support to widows, challenge traditional customs, and promote gender equality.

3. 1873: Publication of “Gulamgiri” by Jyotirao Phule

 – Event: Jyotirao Phule, a social reformer, published “Gulamgiri,” critiquing caste-based inequalities and advocating for social reform.   
– Significance: The book sparked discussions and debates about caste discrimination and inspired further movements for social justice and equality.

4. 1927-1935: Temple Entry Movements

– Event: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar led movements for temple entry, challenging caste-based restrictions and asserting the rights of marginalized communities.   
– Significance: These movements highlighted the struggle against caste prejudices and paved the way for greater social inclusion and equality.

5. 1919: Return of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar from the US

– Event: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar returned to India from the United States, where he had pursued higher studies.  
Significance: His return marked the beginning of his activism against caste discrimination and his efforts to uplift marginalised communities.

6. 1927: Initiation of the Self-Respect Movement by Periyar

– Event: E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker, known as Periyar, founded the Self-Respect Movement, advocating for the dignity and rights of untouchables.   
– Significance: The movement challenged Brahmanical dominance and contributed to the discourse on social equality and justice.

7. 1827: Birth of Jyotirao Phule

– Event: Jyotirao Phule, a prominent social reformer, was born in Maharashtra, India.   
– Significance: Phule’s birth marked the beginning of his lifelong commitment to challenging caste inequalities and promoting social reform.

8. 1833: Death of Raja Rammohun Roy

– Event: Raja Rammohun Roy, a pioneering social reformer, passed away in Bristol, England.   
– Significance: His death marked the end of an era of reform and enlightenment in India, but his legacy continued to inspire future generations of activists and reformers.

9. 1947: Indian Independence   

– Event: India gained independence from British rule, leading to the formation of the independent Republic of India.   
– Significance: Independence provided an opportunity for India to address social injustices and inequalities, including those related to caste, and to strive for a more equitable society.

10. 1949: Adoption of the Indian Constitution

– Event: The Constituent Assembly of India adopted the Indian Constitution, which enshrined principles of equality, justice, and fundamental rights.    
– Significance: The Constitution laid the foundation for a democratic and inclusive society, providing legal mechanisms to address caste discrimination and promote social harmony.

Also Read: NCERT Class 7 English Honeycomb Chapter 5: Notes and Solutions (Free PDF)


Q.1. What are women and caste reforms?

Ans: Women and caste reforms involve initiatives to empower women and address caste-based discrimination, aiming for gender equality and social justice within the caste system.

Q.2. What is the role of women in the caste?

Ans: Women’s roles within the caste system are shaped by traditional norms, with varying degrees of discrimination and limited opportunities based on caste status.

Q.3. What is the summary of Chapter 8 Women, Caste and Reform?

Ans: Chapter 8, “Women, Caste, and Reform,” outlines the struggles of women within the caste system and the historical and ongoing efforts to bring about positive change and gender equality.

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