Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and Social Reforms
Iswarchandra Vidyasagar is described as having the genius and wisdom of an ancient sage, the energy of an Englishman and the heart of a Bengali mother.
Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was born on September 26, 1820, in Birsingha village of Midnapore district in a poor Brahmin family.
Iswarchandra Vidyasagar moved to Calcutta after his elementary education where he studied Sanskrit grammar, literature, Vedanta philosophy, logic, astronomy, and Hindu law, and received the title of Vidyasagar, Ocean of Learning at age 21. He even studied English literature and philosophy and was appointed as principal of Calcutta’s Sanskrit College at the young age of 30.
The Borno Porichoy, his Bengali primer, reconstructed the modern Bengali alphabet. Even after 125 years after his death in 1891 it remains every child’s introduction to learning and writing the language in Bengal.
Vidyasagar launched a powerful attack on the practice of child marriage pointing to social, ethical, and hygiene issues, and rejecting the validity of the Dharma Shastras that advocated it.
As a strong advocate of widow remarriage, he wrote his two famous tracts on the Marriage of Hindu Widows. Through his argument in reason and logic, he advocated that there was no prohibition on widows remarrying in the entire body of Smriti literature (the Sutras and the Sastras). His persistent efforts led to the enactment of the Hindu Widows Remarriage Act, known as Act XV in 1856.
He also campaigned against polygamy. He even petitioned the government for the prohibition of polygamy among Kulin Brahmins.