IMMENSE intellectual and cultural strirings characterised 19th century India. The impact of modern Western culture and consciousness of defeat by a foreign power gave birth to a new awakening. There was an awareness that a vast country like India had been colonised by a handful of foreigners because of internal weaknesses of Indian social structure and culture. Thoughful Indians began to look for the strengths arid weaknesses of their society and for ways and means of removing the weaknesses. While a large number of Indian refused to come to terms with the West and still put their faith in traditional Indian ideas and institutions, others gradually came to hold that elements of modern Western though bad to imbibed for the regeneration of their society. They were impressed in particular by modern science and the doctrines of reason and humanism. While differeing on the nature and extent of reforms, nearly all 19th century intellectuals shared the conviction that social and religious reform was urgently needed.
He believed that the philosophy of Vedanta was based on this principle of reason. In any case, one should not hesitate to depart from holy books, scriptures and inherited traditions if human reason so dictates and if such traditions are proving harmful to the society, But Rammohan Roy did not confine his application of the rational approach to Indian religions and traditions alone. In this he disappointed his many missionary friends who had hoped that his rational critique of Hinduism would lead him to embrace Christianity, Rammoh an Roy ins is ted on applying rationalism to Chirstianity too, particularly to the elements of blind faith in it. In 1820, he published his Precepts of Jesus in which he tried to separate the moral and philosophic meassage of the New Testament, which he praised, from its miracle stories. He wanted the high moral message of Christ to be incorporated in Hinduism. This earned for him the hostility of the missionaries.
Thus, as far as Rammohan was concerned there was to be so blind reliance on India’s own past or blind aping of the West. On the other hand, he put forward the idea that new India, guided few reasons should acquire and treasure all that was best in the East and the West, Thus he wanted India to learn from the West; but this learning was to be an intellectual and creative process through which India culture and thought were to be renovated; it was not to be an imposition of Western culture on India. He, therefore, stood for the reform of Hinduism and opposed its supresession Christianity. He vigorously defended Hindu religion and philosophy from the ignorant attacks of the missionaries at the same time. He adopted an extremely friendly attitude towards other religions. He believed that basically all regligions prereach a common message and that their followers are all brothers under the skin.
All his life Rammohan Roy paid heavily for his daring religious out look. The orthodox condemned him for criticizing idolatry and for his philosophic aminiration of Christianity and Islam. They organized a social boycott against him in which even his mother joined. He was branded a heretic and an out caste.
In 1828 he founded a new religious society, the Brahma Sabha, later known as the Brahmo Samaj, whose purpose was to be based on the twin pillars of reason, and the Vadas and Upanishads. It was also to incorporate the teachings of other religions. The Brahmo Samaaj laid emphasis on human dignity, opposed idolatry, and criticized such social evils as the practice of sati.
Rammohan Roy was great thinker. he was also a man of action. There was hardly any aspect of nation-building which he left untouched. In fact, just as he began the reform of Indian society. The best example of his lifelong crusade against social evils was the historic agitation he organized against the inhuman custom of women becoming sati.
Beginning in 1818 he set out to rouse public opinion on the question. On the one hand he showed by citing the authority of the oldest sacred books that the Hindu religion at its best was opposed to the practice; on the other, he appealed to the reason and humanity and com passion of the people. He vi sited the burning ghats at Calcutta to try to persuad the relatives of widows to give up their plan of self-immolation. He organized groups of like minded the relatives of widows to give up their plan of self-immolation. He organized groups of like-minded people to keep a strict check on such, performances and to prevent any attempt to force the widows to become sati. When the orthodox Hindus petitioned to Parliament to withhold its approval of Bentick’s action of banning the rite of sati, he organized a counter-petition of enlightened Hindus in favour of Bentick’s action.
He was a stout champion of women’s rights. He condemned the subjugation of women and opposed the prevailing idea that women were inferior to men in intellect or in a moral sense. He attacked polygamy and the degraded state to which widows were often reduced. To raise the status of women he demanded that they be given the right of inheritance and property.
Rammohan Roy was one of the earliest propagators of modern education which he looked upon as a major instrument for the spread of modern ideas in the country. In 1817, David hare, who had come out to India in 1800 as a watchmaker but who spent his entire life in the promotion of modern education in the country founded the famous Hindu College. Rammohan Roy gave most enthusiastic assistance to Hare in this and his other educational projects. In addition, he maintained at his own cost an English school in Calcutta from 1817 in which, among other subjects, mechanics and the philosophy of Voltaire were taught. In 1825 he established a Vedanta College in which courses both in India learning and in Western social and physical sciences were offered.
Rammohan Roy was equally keen on making Bengali the vehicle of intellectual intercourse in Bengal. He compiled a Bengali grammar. Through his translations, pamphlets and journals he helped evolve a modern and elegant prose style for that language. Rammohan represented the first glimmerings of the rise of national consciousness in India.
The vision of an independent and resurgent India guided his thoughts and actions. He believed that by trying to weed out corrupt elements form Indian religions and society and by preaching the Vedantic message of worship of one God he was laying the foundations for the unity of Indian society which was divided into divergent groups. In particular he opposed the rigidities of the caste system which he declared, “has been source of want of unity among us ”. He believed that the caste system was doubly evil: it created in equality and it divided people and “deprived them of patriotic feeling”. Thus, according to him one of the aims of religious reform was political uplift.
Rammohan Roy was a pioneer of Indian journalism. He brought out journals in Bengali, Persian, Hindi and English to spread scientific; literary and political knowledge among the people, to educate public opinion on topics of current interest, and to represent popular demands and grievances before the Government.
He was also the initiate or of public agitation on political question in the country. He condemned the oppressive practices of the Bengal zamindars which had reduced the peasants to a miserable condition. He demanded that the maximum rents paid by the actual cultivators of land should be permanently fixed so that they too would enjoy the benefits of the Permanent Settlement of 1793. He also protested against the attempts to impose taxes on taxes on tax free lands. He demanded the abolition of the Company’s trading rifht and the removal of heavy export duties on Indian goods. He also raised the demands for the Indianization of the superior services ; separation of the executive and the judiciary, trial by jury, and judicial equality be tween Indians and Europeans.
Rammohan was a firm believer in internationalism and in free cooperation “between nations. Feet Rabindranath Tagore has rightly remarked: “Rammohan was the only person in his time, in the whole world of man, to realize completely the significance of the Modern Age. He knew that the ideal of human civilization does not lie in the isolation of Independence, but in the brotherhood of interdendence of individuals as wail as nations in all spheres of thought and activity”.
Rammohan Roy took a keen interest in international events and everywhere he supported the cause of liberty democracy, and nationalism and opposed injustices oppression and tyranny in every form. The new of the failure of the Revolution in Naples in 1821 made him so sad that fee cancelled all his social engagements on the other hand he celebrated the success of the Revolution in Spanish America in 1823 by giving a public dinner. He condemned the miserable condition of Ireland under the oppressive regime of absentee English landlordism. He publicly declared that the would emigrate from the British Empire if Parliament failed to pass the Reform Bill.
Rammohan was fearless as a lion. He did not hesitate to support a just cause. All his life he fought against social injustice and inequality even at great personal loss and hardship. In his life of service to society he of ten clashed with his family, with rich zamindars and powerful missionaries, and with high officials and foreign, authorities. Yet he never showed fear nor sharank from his chosen course.
Rammohan was the brightest star in the Indian sky during the first half of the 19th century, but he was not a lone star. He had many distinguished associates, followers and successors. In the field of education he was greatly helped by the Dutch watchmaker David H are and the Scottish missionary Alexander Duff. Dwarkanath Tagore was the foremost of his Indian associates. He other prominent followers were Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Chandrashekhar Deb and Tarachand Chakravarti, the first secretary of the Brahma Sahha.
DEROZIO AND YOUNG BENGAL
|1. What is social awakening in the first half of the 20th century?|
|2. Who were the key figures in the social and cultural awakening in the first half of the 20th century?|
|3. How did the social and cultural awakening impact Indian society?|
|4. What were the major social issues addressed during the social and cultural awakening in the first half of the 20th century?|
|5. How did the social and cultural awakening contribute to India's freedom struggle?|