In 19th century Maharashtra, reformists tried to examine critically their social system and religious beliefs and gave priority to social reform as against political freedom. In their reform efforts, they had to contend with stiff opposition from the conservatives. Foremost among the reformists were Balshastri Jambhekar (1812–1846), who condemned the evil customs of sati and female infanticide, Gopal Hari Deshmukh (1823–1892) who, through his shatpatre (a bunch of letters numbering 100) attacked orthodox Brahmans opposing social and religious reforms and Jotirao Govindrao Phule (1827–1890) who revolted against the unjust caste system, and upheld the cause of untouchables and education of women of lower castes.
Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar (1837–1925) and Justice Ranade (1842–1901) were the pioneers of Prarthana Samaj, an organisation for general, social and religious reform. Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (1856–1895) gave priority to social reform. Dhondo Keshav Karve (1858–1962) devoted his life to the cause of women's education. Behramji Malbari (1853–1912), a Parsi of Bombay, started Seva Sadan for the care of women of all castes.
Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922) founded the Sharada Sadan in 1890 to help upper-class widows. Mahatma Jyotirao Phule established Satyashodhak Samaj, Vitthal Ramji Shinde (1873–1944), fought for the eradication of untouchability through his Depressed Classes Mission. Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur (1874–1922) also plunged into this movement and defied the caste system, championed the cause of the untouchables and promoted education in his state. Karmaveer Bhaurao Patil (1887–1959), the architect of the Rayat Shikshan Sanstha, followed in the footprints of Phule, Shinde and Shahu Maharaj.
Maharashtra will always remain proud of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and the creator of a social and political awareness among the Scheduled Castes of India.
The social reform measures brought about a renaissance and social-awakening in Maharashtra. The efforts of DK Karve to improve women's education, of Bhaurao Patil, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Dr. Panjabrao Deshmukh, who championed the downtrodden people, as well as those of Tarabai Modak in Vidarbha and Anutai Wagh in the Adivasi areas, have set an example for other states. The services rendered to victims of leprosy by Dr Shivaji Patwardhan and Baba Amte perhaps have no parallel. Vijay Merchant fought relentlessly for facilities for the physically handicapped. Vinoba Bhave, the spiritual heir of Gandhi, sacrificed his life for sarvodaya.
Thus, the works of the saint-poets, the social reformers and the social constructive workers have made Maharashtra a progressive state.