Social and Religious Reforms�and the Main Reformers

During the nineteenth century, India witnessed the emergence�of many intellectual currents for national regeneration including�in its religious, social, cultural, economic and political aspects.�In practice the main emphasis was accorded to social and�religious aspects as these problems acquired predominance�over economic and political ones in the thinking of the�emerging intellectuals. During the first decades of the century,�the movement was a very small affair based on the efforts of�a limited number of individuals whose passion for fighting�social dogmatism initially could not pose a major challenge to�the advocates of orthodoxy. The movement gradually gained�momentum and attracted growing support and reached its�peak during the second half of the nineteenth century. It also�contributed significantly to the rise of the national movement�in the last quarter of the century.

Ram Mohan Roy and the Brahmo Samaj

Ram Mohan Roy was a multifaceted personality who�touched upon every aspect of national life and worked for the�regeneration of India. He learned several languages and was a�leading scholar of his times. He published his first philosophical�work, Tuhfat-ul Murahhiddin in 1805 in which he analysed the�major religions of the world in the light of ‘reason’ and ‘social�comfort’. He denied the notion that religion was merely a matter�of faith outside reason and attempted to dispel the myth of�miracles associated with it.

His reform activities were strengthened after he settled�down in Calcutta in 1814. He started the Atmiya Sabha and�started a struggle against the religious and social malpractices.�He denounced idolatry and advocated monotheism. He blamed�the Brahman priests for perpetuating religious evils by keeping�people ignorant about the true teachings of the scriptures. To�educate the people he published Bengali translations of some�of the scriptures and strongly defended monotheism in his�writings. His translations and writings in the vernacular also�promoted the growth of the Bengali language.

Ram Mohan remained a rationalist throughout his life.�In his writings reason is considered the touchstone of reality.�Although he later sought the support of the scriptures, that�was only to promote reform of the Hindu society. In 1828�he established a new society, the Brahma Sabha which later�came to be known as the Brahmo Samaj. Its main objective�was to rid Hinduism of its evils and to preach monotheism. It�incorporated the best teachings of other religions and acted as a�powerful platform for the advocacy of humanism, monotheism�and social regeneration.

Ram Mohan Roy and Social Reforms

Ram Mohan was extremely pained at the prevailing social�degeneration in India. He was particularly concerned with the�miserable plight of women in Indian society. He launched a�crusade against the evil practice of sati, the burning of a widow�on her husband’s funeral pyre. His agitation bore fruit finally in�1829 when William Bentinck enacted a law against that practice.�However, the solution which he put forward for the widows was�not widow marriage but ascetic widowhood.

He also condemned polygamy, and early marriage, and�opposed the subjugation of women and their inferior status in�society. In his view the root cause of the problem was the absence�of any rights for women. To him, female education was another�effective method to free them from their social stagnation.

He propagated the introduction and spread of modern�education which could act as a major vehicle for the�dissemination of modern ideas in the country. For its promotion�he provided enthusiastic support to David Hare who, along�with many Indian notables of Calcutta, founded the famous�Hindu College in the year 1817. He also ran an English School�at Calcutta at his own cost. In 1825 he founded the Vedanta�College which offered both Indian and Western learning.

In particular he emphasised upon India’s need for Western�scientific knowledge, mathematics, natural philosophy and�other beneficial sciences. He understood the causes underlying�Western intellectual progress and wanted Indians to acquire�the fruits of Europe’s progress by focussing on science and�technology. His goal was the fusion of the best in the East as�well as the West.

Ram Mohan took up not only social and religious problems�but also political and economic issues. He called for the�Indianisation of services, trial by jury, separation of powers�between the executive and the judiciary, freedom of the press,�and judicial equality between Indians and Europeans. He was�critical of the zamindari system for its oppressive practices.

Ram Mohan was a forerunner of nationalist consciousness�and ideology in India. Through his reforms he wanted to lay�the foundations for the unity of Indian society, splintered into�divergent groups. In particular he attacked the rigidities of the�caste system which, according to him, had been a major cause�of disunity among Indians.

Ram Mohan was an internationalist, libertarian and democrat�in his orientation. He took an active interest in international�affairs and wanted to develop amity among nations.

Henry Vivian Derozio and Young Bengal�Movement

Henry Vivian Derozio, a free thinker and rationalist, was the�founder of the Young Bengal Movement. Derozio was born on�April 18, 1809 and died on December 26, 1831. During his very�short lifetime Derozio produced several important works of�poetry and was well on his way to becoming a legendary figure.�Derozio was generally considered an Anglo-Indian, being of�mixed Portuguese descent, but he was fired by a patriotic spirit�for his native Bengal, and considered himself Indian.

The years in which Derozio penned his major works, was�a decade of major world-wide change and this was reflected in�his writings also. As a lecturer at the Hindu College of Calcutta,�he invigorated a large group of students to think independently;�this Young Bengal group played a key role in the Bengal�renaissance.

Derozio’s intense zeal for teaching and his interactions with�students created a sensation at Hindu College. His students came�to be known as Derozians. He organised debates where ideas�and social norms were freely debated. In 1828 , he motivated�them to form a literary and debating club called the Academic�Association. In 1830, this club brought out a magazine named�’Parthenon’.

Apart from articles criticising Hindu practices, the students�wrote on women emancipation and criticised many aspects of�British rule. He also encouraged students into journalism, to�spread these ideas into a society eager for change. In 1831, he�helped Krishna Mohan Banerjee start an English weekly, The�Enquirer, while Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee and Rasik Krishna�Mallick began publishing a Bengali paper, the Znananvesan.

Many of his inner circle of students eventually rebelled�against Hindu orthodoxy, and joined the Brahmo Samaj, while�some like Krishna Mohan Banerjee converted to Christianity,�and others like Ramtanu Lahiri gave up their sacred thread.�Others went on to write in Bengali, and these included Peary�Chand Mitra, who authored the first novel in Bengali. The�radicalism of his teachings and his student group, however,�caused an intense backlash against him.

Due to his unorthodox views on society, culture and�religion, the management committee of the college, expelled him�as a faculty member, “for having materially injured the student’s�morals and introduced some strange system the tendency of�which is destruction to their moral character and to the peace�in society.”

Written by princy

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