The social environment during Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s time put women at a severe disadvantage. The practices of widow burning, female infanticide, and dowry did not allow women to be independent. Bhagwan Swaminarayan stopped immoral practices that were being labeled as religious rituals. He not only denounced them but actively worked towards their elimination. His contributions have been noted by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Sir John Malcom, Lt. Governor of the British East India Company.
If a husband died in the early years of his marriage, his parents and extended family would force his wife to burn on the funeral pyre with her husband’s dead body. This custom came about to lessen the burden of feeding and providing for an extra, non-income earning individual. Bhagwan Swaminarayan and His sadhus traveled extensively explaining the God-given right for each individual to love and enjoy their life within the codes of their dharma. He taught illiterate and ill-mannered people that it was not the woman’s fault that her husband had passed away and that she was innocent. She should have the right to live a life just like any other woman. By likening widow-burning to murder and suicide, families realized that by partaking in such a practice they were committing one of the greatest sins. As a solution, Bhagwan Swaminarayan created special communities for widows so they could live free from the social stigmas attached to being a widow. He created mandirs that catered specifically to women and offered formal religious education to them, an opportunity that was previously unheard of. He also encouraged them to marry again.
Another evil practice that had seeped into the list of false customs was female infanticide. Mothers would drown their newborn daughters in a large pot of milk because families did not want to carry the financial burden of eventually paying for their daughter’s dowry at the time of her marriage. Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s approach to eradicate this custom was two-fold. He assumed responsibility for finding well-bred, educated, and civil grooms for the daughters of His disciples and also abolished the practice of accepting and offering dowry in a marriage.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan formalized education and literacy campaigns for women in villages and towns. He encouraged women to operate properties, farms, and their family’s business ventures. He taught them how to face society with confidence and to voice their opinions. Women were given a place and function in society that they rightful deserved. He made them realize how important of a role they played in their families and communities. When women were not even considered citizens in most parts of the world, Bhagwan Swaminarayan encouraged them to take a leading role in society by reading, writing, thinking, and raising a family which would serve as a building block for their community.