Social and Religious Reformsï¿½and the Main Reformers
During the nineteenth century, India witnessed the emergenceï¿½of many intellectual currents for national regeneration includingï¿½in its religious, social, cultural, economic and political aspects.ï¿½In practice the main emphasis was accorded to social andï¿½religious aspects as these problems acquired predominanceï¿½over economic and political ones in the thinking of theï¿½emerging intellectuals. During the first decades of the century,ï¿½the movement was a very small affair based on the efforts ofï¿½a limited number of individuals whose passion for fightingï¿½social dogmatism initially could not pose a major challenge toï¿½the advocates of orthodoxy. The movement gradually gainedï¿½momentum and attracted growing support and reached itsï¿½peak during the second half of the nineteenth century. It alsoï¿½contributed significantly to the rise of the national movementï¿½in the last quarter of the century.
Ram Mohan Roy and the Brahmo Samaj
Ram Mohan Roy was a multifaceted personality whoï¿½touched upon every aspect of national life and worked for theï¿½regeneration of India. He learned several languages and was aï¿½leading scholar of his times. He published his first philosophicalï¿½work, Tuhfat-ul Murahhiddin in 1805 in which he analysed theï¿½major religions of the world in the light of ‘reason’ and ‘socialï¿½comfort’. He denied the notion that religion was merely a matterï¿½of faith outside reason and attempted to dispel the myth ofï¿½miracles associated with it.
His reform activities were strengthened after he settledï¿½down in Calcutta in 1814. He started the Atmiya Sabha andï¿½started a struggle against the religious and social malpractices.ï¿½He denounced idolatry and advocated monotheism. He blamedï¿½the Brahman priests for perpetuating religious evils by keepingï¿½people ignorant about the true teachings of the scriptures. Toï¿½educate the people he published Bengali translations of someï¿½of the scriptures and strongly defended monotheism in hisï¿½writings. His translations and writings in the vernacular alsoï¿½promoted the growth of the Bengali language.
Ram Mohan remained a rationalist throughout his life.ï¿½In his writings reason is considered the touchstone of reality.ï¿½Although he later sought the support of the scriptures, thatï¿½was only to promote reform of the Hindu society. In 1828ï¿½he established a new society, the Brahma Sabha which laterï¿½came to be known as the Brahmo Samaj. Its main objectiveï¿½was to rid Hinduism of its evils and to preach monotheism. Itï¿½incorporated the best teachings of other religions and acted as aï¿½powerful platform for the advocacy of humanism, monotheismï¿½and social regeneration.
Ram Mohan Roy and Social Reforms
Ram Mohan was extremely pained at the prevailing socialï¿½degeneration in India. He was particularly concerned with theï¿½miserable plight of women in Indian society. He launched aï¿½crusade against the evil practice of sati, the burning of a widowï¿½on her husband’s funeral pyre. His agitation bore fruit finally inï¿½1829 when William Bentinck enacted a law against that practice.ï¿½However, the solution which he put forward for the widows wasï¿½not widow marriage but ascetic widowhood.
He also condemned polygamy, and early marriage, andï¿½opposed the subjugation of women and their inferior status inï¿½society. In his view the root cause of the problem was the absenceï¿½of any rights for women. To him, female education was anotherï¿½effective method to free them from their social stagnation.
He propagated the introduction and spread of modernï¿½education which could act as a major vehicle for theï¿½dissemination of modern ideas in the country. For its promotionï¿½he provided enthusiastic support to David Hare who, alongï¿½with many Indian notables of Calcutta, founded the famousï¿½Hindu College in the year 1817. He also ran an English Schoolï¿½at Calcutta at his own cost. In 1825 he founded the Vedantaï¿½College which offered both Indian and Western learning.
In particular he emphasised upon India’s need for Westernï¿½scientific knowledge, mathematics, natural philosophy andï¿½other beneficial sciences. He understood the causes underlyingï¿½Western intellectual progress and wanted Indians to acquireï¿½the fruits of Europe’s progress by focussing on science andï¿½technology. His goal was the fusion of the best in the East asï¿½well as the West.
Ram Mohan took up not only social and religious problemsï¿½but also political and economic issues. He called for theï¿½Indianisation of services, trial by jury, separation of powersï¿½between the executive and the judiciary, freedom of the press,ï¿½and judicial equality between Indians and Europeans. He wasï¿½critical of the zamindari system for its oppressive practices.
Ram Mohan was a forerunner of nationalist consciousnessï¿½and ideology in India. Through his reforms he wanted to layï¿½the foundations for the unity of Indian society, splintered intoï¿½divergent groups. In particular he attacked the rigidities of theï¿½caste system which, according to him, had been a major causeï¿½of disunity among Indians.
Ram Mohan was an internationalist, libertarian and democratï¿½in his orientation. He took an active interest in internationalï¿½affairs and wanted to develop amity among nations.
Henry Vivian Derozio and Young Bengalï¿½Movement
Henry Vivian Derozio, a free thinker and rationalist, was theï¿½founder of the Young Bengal Movement. Derozio was born onï¿½April 18, 1809 and died on December 26, 1831. During his veryï¿½short lifetime Derozio produced several important works ofï¿½poetry and was well on his way to becoming a legendary figure.ï¿½Derozio was generally considered an Anglo-Indian, being ofï¿½mixed Portuguese descent, but he was fired by a patriotic spiritï¿½for his native Bengal, and considered himself Indian.
The years in which Derozio penned his major works, wasï¿½a decade of major world-wide change and this was reflected inï¿½his writings also. As a lecturer at the Hindu College of Calcutta,ï¿½he invigorated a large group of students to think independently;ï¿½this Young Bengal group played a key role in the Bengalï¿½renaissance.
Derozio’s intense zeal for teaching and his interactions withï¿½students created a sensation at Hindu College. His students cameï¿½to be known as Derozians. He organised debates where ideasï¿½and social norms were freely debated. In 1828 , he motivatedï¿½them to form a literary and debating club called the Academicï¿½Association. In 1830, this club brought out a magazine namedï¿½’Parthenon’.
Apart from articles criticising Hindu practices, the studentsï¿½wrote on women emancipation and criticised many aspects ofï¿½British rule. He also encouraged students into journalism, toï¿½spread these ideas into a society eager for change. In 1831, heï¿½helped Krishna Mohan Banerjee start an English weekly, Theï¿½Enquirer, while Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee and Rasik Krishnaï¿½Mallick began publishing a Bengali paper, the Znananvesan.
Many of his inner circle of students eventually rebelledï¿½against Hindu orthodoxy, and joined the Brahmo Samaj, whileï¿½some like Krishna Mohan Banerjee converted to Christianity,ï¿½and others like Ramtanu Lahiri gave up their sacred thread.ï¿½Others went on to write in Bengali, and these included Pearyï¿½Chand Mitra, who authored the first novel in Bengali. Theï¿½radicalism of his teachings and his student group, however,ï¿½caused an intense backlash against him.
Due to his unorthodox views on society, culture andï¿½religion, the management committee of the college, expelled himï¿½as a faculty member, “for having materially injured the student’sï¿½morals and introduced some strange system the tendency ofï¿½which is destruction to their moral character and to the peaceï¿½in society.”
Written by princy