Raja Rammohan Roy As A Harbinger Of Indian Liberalism


Essay, 2014

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Raja Rammohan Roy As A Harbinger Of Indian Liberalism.

It will surely not be in a hyperbole to regard Raja Rammohan Roy as one of the most outstanding personalities of the 19th century, as a pioneer of modernity, and a visionary of Liberal Democracy not just of Bengal or India but of the whole world. He is universally acknowledged as the prime crusader against the infamous practice of Sati, and pioneer of the progressive Atmiya Sabha, but he also inadvertently preached constructive capitalistic activism. He was engaged in investment( he owned companirkagoj) shares of the East India Company , which was a bold deviation when his contemporaries like Dwarkanath Tagore and Ram DulalDey ( shipping magnate) abandoned their capitalist ventures and invested in rural estates leading to a flourishing second phase of feudalism. Binoy Ghosh[1] in this context conjectures that Bengal might have had a flamboyant entrepreneurship had the capitalists back then not regressed to owning rural estates thus leaving the nascent private capital sector at the mercy of the subsequent spate of refeudalization.

Rammohan’s reformist /non conformist spirit extended not only to the public arena of advocating freedom of press, educational reforms but also hi personal sphere. PanditSibnathSastri[2] in ‘’RamtanuLahiriO TatkalinBangasamaj’’ traces his secular attitude regarding clothes . His manifold activities in religious, social, literary, educational and political sphere backed by a robust intellect and rational thinking enabled him to rise above the decadence and stagnation and corruption of the contemporary society and its prejudices.

Personalities like Rabindranath Tagore and philosophers like Brajendranath Seal[3] found a father figure for modern India in him. To them he signified a radical break with the mediavel past which signalled the beginnings of the 19th century phenomenon generally known as '' The Bengal Renaissance''.

Dilip Biswasdescribes him as the perpetrator of democratic values in India.[4] C.A Bayly thinks that throughout the southeast Asia only India had democratic constitution due to Rammohan's liberalism adapted by his countrymen and embraced democracy after gaining Independence.[5]

But it would be somewhat of an anomaly to conclude that he represented a total break with all the indigenous traditions. He was born in a transitional period when the Mughal empire had not been completely eclipsed as yet. The British East India Company's government under "Orientalist' Warren Hastings ruthless commercial expansionism, political activities through indigeneous customs, language, history for administrative convenience it led to growth of the study of Orientalism.[6] (David Kopf) . On the other hand there was the Anglicist lobby backed by philosophies of Utilatarianism and Evangelicalism which disapproved of the Indian culture and wanted to create a native collaborator class learned in English and fond of products made in English ,indebted and bonded to the government (BinoyGhose). They were to serve the interest of newly created trading classes of England. Cornwallis's introduction of the British Penal Code, judicial reform, Permanent Settlement and gradual introduction of English education, this colonial modernization was characterisedby consolidation of traditional high caste rural gentry on the land transformation of mediaeval literati to modern bourgeoiseecumeni . There also occured the transition of the Company's monopoly to free trade imperialism . According to Rajatkanta Ray[7] all these strands were exhibited in Rammohan's career.

Rammohon's ideology of Brahmoismderived from the Upanishadscondenmed polytheistic practises, idolatry system and encouraged practise of the Unity Of Godhead, God was supposed to be formless, universal and omnipresent. ( In 1828 the BrahmoSamaj was formed for worship of the Single Divinity irrespective of caste creed or sect. ) However Rammohan's spiritual devotion was not confined to the sphere of spirituality alone as social and religious reforms were inseparable to him. True religion was to him an antidote of political tyranny and social oppression. The Brahmo religion itself symbolised liberal Components like secularism, and cosmopolitanism, as it was heavily influenced by the philosophy of not only the Upanishads, but the esoterism of Persian sufism , philosophy of the Mutazillas and the monotheism of Islam and also the moral precepts of Jesus which connected the love of God with that of fellow men. So scholars like Nirod C Chaudhary says that though he wasquite divorced from the colonial hangover and mindless Anglicism of his many contemporaries, he never abandoned his religion ( or his sacred thread) but tried to redeem it by looking back to the Upanishads.[8] RadharamanMitra has shown how liberal he was that despite opposing the order of Trinity and had given financial assistance to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and not only attended the St. Andrew's Kirk but had also supported the General Assembly of Church of Scotland to send missionaries to British India. [9]

He began a lifelong crusade against Suttee or voluntary immolation of widows. In the First and Second Conference 1between an Advocate and an opponent of Practice of Burning Widows Alive he tried to establish that it is not the Shastras which sanction Sati but the avarice of the relatives refusing to support the widow the Shastras actually condone a life of purity and retirement for widows and not immolation. He showed that out of 463 cases of Suttee in Bengal 420 took place in Lower Province , 287 in Calcutta division. Due to his instigation, General Lord William Bentinck passed in 1829 the Law of Abolition Of Suttee.

Recently scholars like Lata Mani had opined that by using scriptures as his tool Rammohon failed to Abolish Suttee and the Law was not uniformly enforced throughout the realm of India.[10] But Sudhir Kumar Mitra has shown in HooghliJelarItihaas has shown that over the whole of India 90% of Sati took place in Calcutta and both sides of river Ganges but as Bengal gradually became the British bridgehead the government was able to successfully abolish Sati in Bengal but turned a blind eye to the provinces of North India. Practices of Sati were profuse in the provinces of Rajasthan especially JhunJhun from where Marwaries originatedand often continued with the practice of suttee.[11] So Rammohun's attempt to abolish Sati cannot be deemed as unsuccessful.

Regarding the sphere of education also Rammohun remains a pioneer and a visionary. In his Letter On ''English Education to Lord Amherst'' he explains the regressive and stagnant nature of the Sanskrit system of education and urges a ''more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, embracing mathematics natural philosophy chemistry, anatomy furnished by western education. He cooperated closely with David Hare in founding the Calcutta School Book Society ( 1817) and published textbook on Geography. The indigeneous educational institutions - the tols dominated by insular minded Brahmins did not support the teaching of Geography as a subject to forbidden jabondesh over kalapani. But he did not completely abandon the indigeneous system of education the 7th Report of Bengali and English Book Society Proceedings ( 1826-1827) shows that he wrote a book on Bengali Grammar the ''GaudiyaVyakarana''. He also helped establishing a school for Alexander Duff.

Radha Raman Mitra (KolikataDarpan) confirms the school was in Firingi Kamal Basu's home near Chitpore Road ( calledJorabagan now), a dense Hindu area. In 1830 heconvinced many orthodox students who refused to recite the Lord's prayer by citing examples of Dr. H.H Wilson who had studied the Hindu Shastras and had not become one himself. His establishment of an Anglo Hindu school at the Hindu dominated Heduya incited the wrath of the Hindu orthodox sect ( allegedly led by Radhakanta Deb) who sent messengers with dhols singing abusive ballads like '' Bata suraimelerkulbatarbarikhanakul, batarjatboshtomkul, om tatsat bole batabaniyecheiskul.''[12]

According to Nirodh C Chaudhary Ram Mohun Ray's attire reflects his liberal attitude his head was adorned by Hindustani Baniyan cap ( he was a moneylender through Company papers) his moustache that of a Bengali Brahmin he was swathed in a chapkan and a shawl indicating his Persian influence, and wearing a boot shoe like an Englishman.[13] In November 19 1830 Rammohun sailed from Calcutta for England as a representative of Emperor Akbar II He reached London at April 18 1831 during his 3 year sojourn in England we get a glimpse of his unique political ideology. , Invited by the Select Committee Of House Of Commons to appear before it he tendered the ''Communications To The Board Of Control wherein he championed the cause of rack rented ryots who had been ruined by the Permanent Settlement of 1793 and asked for prohibition of further rise in rent and also reduction in their demand for rents to zamindars to ensure reduction of rental pressure on the ryots so the Marxist assumption that he represented the class of landed gentry and he symbolised the new commercial ''comprador'' class ( as scholars like Sumit Sarkar refers him as[14] ) is not feasible.

Earlier in August 18 1828 in his letter to Mr J Crawford we find him protesting against the new Jury Act of 1827 and reflecting deeply on the analogy between India and Ireland and prospects of nationalism and criticising passing of Government Regulation without consulting Indian subjects ( here we see germination of nationalism such as representation of Indians in Imperial Parliament and Home Rule Movement) His nationalism was ready to welcome interest of labouring masses but also importation of European capital so A.R Desai sees him as the predecessor of the subsequent social reform movement of Ranade and the political reform of the Indian National Congress.[15]

We also see traces of the universal liberalism in his political ideology, in this context C.A In his Question And Answers on The Judicial system Of India ( September 19 1831) he proposed substitution of English for Persian as language of the court of law, application of native assessor in civil courts trial by jury , separation of offices of judge and revenue commissioner , codification of criminal and civil laws of India. Here thus he proves himself to be a true follower of the Utilatarian principle of John Stuart Mill which advocates that rule of law is imperative but law must also be made to conform 6to its most socially useful purpose and decrease poverty unhappiness and injustice. In July 14th 1832 in '' Remarks on Settlement In India by Europeans '' he displays a rare farsightedness by expostulating that if India were raised to wealth intelligence and public spirit by accession and by example of numerous respectable European Settlers the community so formed would revolt ( as USA did) so Bayly observes that his liberalism was not merely geographically Indian but international.[16] delighted by the overthrow of the Bourbons in France, he proposed a kind of European Parliament anticipating the early cosmopolitanism of Giuseppe Mazzin's Giovani Europa quite soon.

He also argued for reform of British Parliament urging an extension of sufferage so as to allow a fuller representation to mighty people of England. He also wrote in Mirat- Ul-Akbar ( Mirror Of Intelligence) in its issue of October 11 1822 of the deficiencies of British rule in Ireland in the excess of Protestant landlords in Ireland and persecution of poor Catholic peasantry.[17] We get a valuable insight regarding Roy's ideology of universal liberalism from James Sutherland's account in Indian Gazette ( February 18 1834 ) where it is described that delighted by the news of the Three Days ( in France) Roy even after suffering a nasty accident, cried out triumphantly '' Vive La France, Vive La France.''[18] ( Glory, Glory Glory to France) at the sight of two French frigates under Revolutionary flags.

Hence we can conclude that Rammohun Roy was a true champion of liberalism and republicanism. In '' The Makers Of Modern India'' Ramachandra Guha calls him the first liberal Indian whose ideas influenced the formation of Indian Republic after Independence. Guha shows that he can also be regarded as a pioneer in journalistic works as he was the founder and editor of two newspapers the SamvadKaumudi for common folk and MiratUl Akbar ( Mirror Of Intelligence) for the erudite.[19] His modernity confronted head on the Middle Age as early as 1820 he talked of the Freedom Of Press .Rammohun Roy therefore symbolises religious cultural eclecticism and cosmopolitanism.

However Rammohun’s brand of liberalism was not bereft of limitations. Santoshkumar Dutta has shown how he still maintained a Hindu cook in England, and limited criticisms on the heinous caste system to a single Vajrasuchi, and proclaimed that idolatry was preferable to atheism.[20] Ashish Nandy has expostulated that as a progressive liberal, advocating reforms for the emancipation of womem, his propagation of a a religion that glorified Brahma , an irredeemably masculine personification of the divine forces, was almost an anomaly.[21] Recently Alok Ray and GoutamNiyogi in ‘’ UnishShatoker Bangla’’ has shown how the this internal conflict between traditionalism and modernity became so pronounced that in his old age Rammohun retreated into the traditional spiritual realm.[22]

But it must be kept in mind that Rammohun was no zeitgeistadhering blindly to the trends of his age. His objective criticism of the institution of the institution of the Holy Trinity and the notion of ‘’ Son Of God’’ which attributed divinity to Jesus can be interpreted as a testimony of his scientific liberalism as well as an inadvertent critique of a dominant British ideology

Thus he embodies the new spirit of enquiry of the 19th century its humanism , rationality thirst for science and its reverent yet not uncritical regard for the past so he does not signify as what Sumit Sarkar classifies as a '' break with the past'' but what his biographer Sophia Dolson Collet has aptly observed as '' a living bridge over which India marches from her unmeasured past to her incalculable future , between ancient caste and modern humanity, immemorial tradition and inevitable enlightenment. ''

Rammohun Roy therefore represents a mutually dependant and symbiotic relation between past present and perhaps the future in this regard we can truly conclude that both the man and his ideology was monumental as well as transcendental.

Bibliography:

[1] ‘’BanglarNavajagoron’’ by Binoy Ghosh in ‘’Banglar Renaissance’’ edited by DipankarChakravarty, first published in Kolkata, March 2006

2‘’Raja Rammohun Roy’’ chapter 8 pg 59-67 in ‘’RamtanuLahiri O TatkalinBangasamaj’’ by PanditSibnathSastri 2nd Edition, published in 1909 by S.K Lahiri& Co, 54 College Street, Calcutta. And printed by Atul Chandra Bhattacharya.

3 ‘’ Bangla Rachana’’, by Brajendranath Seal, edited by Tapankumar Ghosh (published by Patralekha in January 2013)

4 ‘’ The Life & Letters Of Raja Rammohun Roy’’ ( 3rd Edition) by Sophia Dolson Collet edited by Dilip Biswas &Prabhat Chandra Ganguli , published in SadharanBrahmoSamaj 1962, Calcutta.

5‘’ The Advent Of Liberal Thought In India &Beyond : Civil Society & The Press ‘’ by C.A Bayly in ‘’ Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought In Age Of Liberalism & Empire. ( First published in Cambridge University Press, New York, November 2011)

6 ‘’ The Cultural Policy Of Warren Hastings’’ pg 13-22 and ‘’ The Evangelical Challenge In London & The Orientalist Response In Calcutta 1800-1827’’ pg 129-145 in ‘’ British Orientalism & The Bengal Renaissance : The Dynamics Of Indian Modernization 1773-1835’’ by David Kopf.

7[1]‘’ Indian Society & The Establishment Of British Supremacy 1765-1818’’ by RajatKanta Ray, in ‘’ The Oxford History Of The British Empire Volume II : The Eighteenth Century’’ edited by P.J Marshall ( first published in 2010 at Great Clarendon Street Oxford, ) pg 508

8‘’ NirbachitoProbondho’’ by Nirodh C Chaudhary, published by Ananda Publishers Pvt. Ltd, 1997.

9. General Assembly Institution SthaponeRammohunerShahajyo’’ pg 33 by RadharamanMitra, in ‘’KolikataDarpan’’ (by same author), first published in ‘’ Subarnarekha’’ Kolkata in 2004.

10.‘’ Contentious Traditions : The Debate On Sati In Colonial India’’ by Lata Mani ( source : www.jstore.org, Cultural Critique No. 7 The Nature & Context Of Minority Discourse II , Autumn 1987 pg 119-156.

11. ’Sati Daha’’ by Sudhir Kumar Mitra, in ‘’HoogliJelarItihaas O SamakalinBangaSamaj’’ ( same author) published by Government Of West Bengal, Department Of Information, 1962.

12. ‘’KolikataDarpan’’ pg 29-30

13‘’ NirbachitoProbondho’’ pg 15 concluding paragraph.

14‘’ Rammohun Roy & The Break With The Past’’ bySumit Sarkar in ‘’ Rammohun Roy & The Process Of Modernization’’ edited by V.C Joshi, pg 64-65.

15 ‘’ Social Background Of Indian Nationalism’’ by A.R Desai, first published in 1948, reprinted in 2010 by Popular Prakashan, Pvt. Ltd, pg 85.

16‘’ Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought In Age Of Liberalism & Empire,’’ by C.A Bayly ,pg 55-56.

17.[1] ‘’Ireland: The Causes Of Its Distress And Discontent’’, by Rammohun Roy, in ‘’ Mirat-ul-Akbar’’ Calcutta Journal 16th October 1822, pg 19.

18‘’ The Life & Letters Of Raja Rammohun Roy’’

19 ‘’ Makers Of Modern India’’ edited by Ramachandra Guha, ( first published by Penguin in 2012) pg 26.

20‘’ BanglarNavajagoroneSaptarathirBhumika’’, by Santoshkumar Dutta, in journal ‘’Katha Sahitya’’ No. 7 Volume 64, published 7th April 2013, pg 65.

21 ‘’ The Intimate Enemy : Loss & Recovery Of Self’’ by Ashish Nandy, published in Oxford University Press in 1983, accessed at multiworldindia.org/uepcontent/upload/2010.

22 ‘’ Samakal O Brahmadharma’’ review of ‘’ UnishSatoker Bangla’’ by SwapanBasu ( Boyer Desh issue of October – December 2012)

[...]


[1] ‘’BanglarNavajagoron’’ by Binoy Ghosh in ‘’Banglar Renaissance’’ edited by DipankarChakravarty, first published in Kolkata, March 2006.

[2] Chapter 8 ‘’Raja Rammohun Roy’pg 59-67 by PanditSibnathSastri in ‘’RamtanuLahiri O TatkalinBangasamaj’’ 2nd Edition (by same author) , published in 1909 by S.K Lahiri& Co, 54 College Street, Calcutta. And printed by Atul Chandra Bhattacharya.

[3] ‘’ Bangla Rachana’’, by Brajendranath Seal, edited by Tapankumar Ghosh (published by Patralekha in January 2013)

[4] ‘’ The Life & Letters Of Raja Rammohun Roy’’ ( 3rd Edition) by Sophia Dolson Collet edited by Dilip Biswas &Prabhat Chandra Ganguli, published in SadharanBrahmoSamaj 1962, Calcutta.

[5] ‘’ The Advent Of Liberal Thought In India &Beyond : Civil Society & The Press ‘’ by C.A Bayly in ‘’ Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought In Age Of Liberalism & Empire. ( First published in Cambridge University Press, New York, November 2011)

[6] ‘’ The Cultural Policy Of Warren Hastings’’ pg 13-22 and ‘’ The Evangelical Challenge In London & The Orientalist Response In Calcutta 1800-1827’’ pg 129-145 in ‘’ British Orientalism & The Bengal Renaissance : The Dynamics Of Indian Modernization 1773-1835’’ by David Kopf.

[7] ‘’ Indian Society & The Establishment Of British Supremacy 1765-1818’’ by RajatKanta Ray, in ‘’ The Oxford History Of The British Empire Volume II : The Eighteenth Century’’ edited by P.J Marshall ( first published in 2010 at Great Clarendon Street Oxford, ) pg 508

[8] ‘’ NirbachitoProbondho’’ by Nirodh C Chaudhary, published by Ananda Publishers Pvt. Ltd, 1997.

[9] ‘’ General Assembly Institution SthaponeRammohunerShahajyo’’ pg 33 by RadharamanMitra, in ‘’KolikataDarpan’’ (by same author), first published in ‘’ Subarnarekha’’ Kolkata in 2004.

[10] ‘’ Contentious Traditions :The Debate On Sati In Colonial India’’ by Lata Mani ( source : www.jstore.org, Cultural Critique No. 7 The Nature & Context Of Minority Discourse II , Autumn 1987 pg 119-156.

[11]. ‘’Sati Daha’’ by Sudhir Kumar Mitra, in ‘’HoogliJelarItihaas O SamakalinBangaSamaj’’ ( same author) published by Government Of West Bengal, Department Of Information, 1962.

[12] ‘’KolikataDarpan’’ pg 29-30

[13] ‘’ NirbachitoProbondho’’ pg 15 concluding paragraph.

[14] ‘’ Rammohun Roy & The Break With The Past’’ bySumit Sarkar in ‘’ Rammohun Roy & The Process Of Modernization’’ edited by V.C Joshi, pg 64-65.

[15] ‘’ Social Background Of Indian Nationalism’’ by A.R Desai, first published in 1948, reprinted in 2010 by Popular Prakashan, Pvt. Ltd, pg 85.

[16] ‘’ Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought In Age Of Liberalism & Empire,’’ by C.A Bayly ,pg 55-56.

[17] ‘’Ireland: The Causes Of Its Distress And Discontent’’, by Rammohun Roy, in ‘’ Mirat-ul-Akbar’’ Calcutta Journal 16th October 1822, pg 19.

[18] ‘’ The Life & Letters Of Raja Rammohun Roy’’

[19] ‘’ Makers Of Modern India’’ edited by Ramachandra Guha, ( first published by Penguin in 2012) pg 26.

[20] ‘’ BanglarNavajagoroneSaptarathirBhumika’’, by Santoshkumar Dutta, in journal ‘’Katha Sahitya’’ No. 7 Volume 64, published 7th April 2013, pg 65.

[21] ‘’ The Intimate Enemy : Loss & Recovery Of Self’’ by Ashish Nandy, published in Oxford University Press in 1983, accessed at multiworldindia.org/uepcontent/upload/2010.

[22] ‘’ Samakal O Brahmadharma’’ review of ‘’ UnishSatoker Bangla’’ by SwapanBasu ( Boyer Desh issue of October – December 2012)

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Details

Title
Raja Rammohan Roy As A Harbinger Of Indian Liberalism
College
Presidency College, Kolkata
Course
Modern History
Grade
A
Author
Year
2014
Pages
9
Catalog Number
V289160
ISBN (Book)
9783656894711
File size
417 KB
Language
English
Tags
History Of Liberalism, Colonial India
Quote paper
Dolna Ray (Author), 2014, Raja Rammohan Roy As A Harbinger Of Indian Liberalism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/289160

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