AHMEDABAD: The social reforms and addressing issues such as untouchability and eradication of caste practices in Gujarat is generally seen as having become prominent in the 20th century. However, inspired by the reformative movement in early 19th century, many scholars, then known as ‘sakshar’, started public debates on a number of social issues and wrote more than 2,000 books.

Kavi Dalpatram, a prominent figure in Gujarati literature, was awarded cash prize of Rs 150 byGujarat Vernacular Society in 1852 for an essay ‘Gyatinibandh’ (An essay on caste) where he questioned the basic concept of caste and predominant belief that various castes emerged from various body parts of Brahma, the grand creator. It was a good 17 years before the Mahatma was born in 1869. ‘One can find difference between a man and a woman but not between castes. If it was made by God, he would have surely done something to differentiate them,’ he wrote.

Gaurang Jani, a city-based sociologist, compiled a catalogue of 19th century Gujarati literature on various social aspects in ‘Ognismi Sadi nu Gujarat Grantho ma,’ a book published by Department of Sociology, Saurashtra University. He has taken various libraries and reference books in consideration and has come up with list of 1,336 books 977 of which are soon to be available online after the Gujarat Vidyapith digitization process.

“From the book’s titles, one gets an idea of what was going on in Gujarati society. As is the case worldwide, the books were written by scholars and the elite of society and the centres of preeminence were Mumbai and Surat. Other centres like Ahmedabad, Nadiad and Vadodara emerged later. Likewise, most writers were Brahmins and Parsis as few other communities are seen sharing thoughts on society,” said Jani.

Jani said the most notable feature of these books was openness by which issues like child marriage, age-old social norms, caste and sub-caste systems, gender equality, relationship with the British and erstwhile kingdoms and human rights were discussed on an open platform. “Undoubtedly, it was the reforms wave spawned from Gujarat’s interaction with the British, higher education and exposure to the world through books and foreign travel. It was an era when the elite indulged in navel gazing, which later formed the roots for social reforms started in the Gandhian era,” he said. He added that such discussion is rare in today’s society.BOX

Titles on various subjects

Caste: Gyati Nibandh (1852), Jaati Bhed ane Bhojan Vichar (1881), Leuva ane Kadva Kanbi no Jhagdo (1887), Brahmano na Bal lagna athva Dikra no paiso (1888), Anavil Gruhastho ma Thayela Nava Niyamo (1888), Mumbai Visa Nagar Vaniya ni Nyat ni Sansari Gyati Vyavhar na Niyamo (1890), Kutchi Dasha Oshwal Naat na Keso (1895), Maran Paachal Jamanvar (1895),

Health: Shitla Vishaye (1867), Lecture on Cholera (1888), Mahamari Varnan (1890), Sarvajanik Aarogya (1889),

Gender: Stri Mitra (1867), Punah Lagna Gayan Sangrah (1871), Bal lagna thi banti bina (1877), Balvidhva Dukhdarshak (1877), Aadhunik Stri Kelavani (1883), Kanya Vikray Nishedhdarshak (1885), Kanya Vikray ni Krurta (1895), Ghar Konu? Baydi nu ke Bhayda nu? (1896),

Contemporary: Jamanvar Vishe Nibandh (1873), Amdavad ma ’32 ni rel (1875), Madhupaan athva Daru no Savaal (1888), Pilgrim Tax thi Dakor ni Durdasha (1888), Surat ni aag no Mahadukhi Ehvaal (1889), Jaaldada no Khel athva Lawn Tennis (1889), Chhupi Police (1893), Fashion ni Fishiyari (1895), Bhoot nu Astitva Chhe ke Nahi (1895), Angrejo Pase thi Shikhva na Guno (1895),

Travel: England ma Pravas (1874), Mumabi Bet ni Bhugol (1887), Steam Engine nu Varnan (1888), Amdavad nu Varnan (1888), Hind ni Musafari (1891), Mumbai Shaher nu Varnan (1892), Parsi Cricket Club ni Musafari no Ramuji Ehvaal (1892), Chin Desh (1892), Nishkalank Mahadev na Mela nu Varnan (1893),


In Gyati Nibandh of 1852, Dalpatram cites examples of crime and lifelong scars due to child marriage when one spouses dies leaving the child behind. He criticized the notion of considering the girl child unwanted and cited it as the prime reason why many men had to die bachelors.

Sthanik Swarajya written by Keshavlal Vakil in 1886, depicts the erstwhile practice of appointing power of attorney for women voters for local elections to cast votes on their behalf. The arrangement was made in the period where women were not encouraged to participate in public affairs.

In the same book while telling readers about local governance agencies, the writer mentions that the municipality of Ahmedabad used to get RS 2.75 lakh as per taxes against expenses of Rs 3.17 lakh. Surat municipality’s figures were 1.94 lakh and 1.54 lakh respectively. The municipalities used to collect taxes from incoming bullock carts, house tax, toilet tax and customs on produced goods.

Experiments with the form were identification of the era. Karsandas Mulji, a notable social reformist, chose six social themes such as religious malpractices, vanity even at the cost of bankruptcy for one-upmanship, chauvinism and issues of immigrants from Gujarat to Mumbai and woven them into small plays titled Kutumb Mitra (Family Friend) in 1867. Likewise, Rukmini Haran no Opera (1880) tried to reinvent the age-old traditional lore into western form of Opera for the ‘new-age’ readers.

Gujarati tried to give local names to western games as lawn tennis became ‘Jaal Dada ni Ramat’ and cricket became ‘Dadimaar.’

Garbo as a literary form was widely used to depict subjects in lyrical manner irrespective of tragedy or comedy. One can find Rel (flood) no garbo, Kadi gaam no garbo, Surat na Hullad (riots) no garbo, Kajoda (Mismatched couple) no garbo, Dhani (husband) no garbo, Viceroy Lord Spin no garbo among others.

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