Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Bengalee Babu began to think as an Englishman thought


The mutiny was quelled. The ringleaders among the mutineers were killed, hanged or shot, and with them a lot of those who were innocent. Many of the rank and file were pardoned, as no government could shoot or hang all those who had taken part in the mutiny. Their number was legion. The British Empire in India was saved, but the East India Company was gone. The system of open pillage was ended. The crown assumed the direct government of India. The Queen's Proclamation and the policy of " mercy and reconciliation " inaugurated by Canning calmed the country.

The Bengalee Babu. The only parts of the country which had received some education on modern lines were the provinces of Bengal, Bombay and Madras. The number of educated men even in these provinces was small. In the work of settlement that followed the mutiny, these educated men found ample scope for their ambition. Men who knew English had the advantage over those who did not. Men with a knowledge of English were few. The posts requiring a knowledge of that language were many. Consequently, the English-knowing Indians were in great demand and secured ample salaries to make them " happy and loyal." The English-knowing Bengalees spread over the whole of Northern India, lately the scene of mutiny, and materially helped in bringing about settled conditions of life.

They were the pioneers in every department of governmental activity and were looked to, both by the rulers and the people, for advice and guidance. The Bengalee is a sentimental being. His position under the Government filled him with pride and his gratitude and loyalty were overflowing. The British also liked him because he was useful, intelligent, keen, shrewd, ready to serve, and willing to be of use. He relieved the British officer of much of his intellectual work, and left him ample time for play and rest. Many a departmental head ruled the country with the brain of the "Bengalee Babu."

The Bengalee Babu worshipped the Feringhee as Mai Bap, and began to imitate him in his tastes. He began to live as the Britisher lived; English life, English manners and customs, became his ideal. Gradually he became very fond of English literature and began to think as an Englishman thought. The Bengalees were the first to send their sons to England for their education and to compete for the I. C. S. (Indian Civil Service) and the I. M. S. (Indian Medical Service). They with the Parsees were the first to qualify for the English bar. In England they lived in an atmosphere of freedom.

With freedom in drinking and eating they also learned freedom of thought and expression. The first generation of the Bengalees was thus Anglicised through and through. They looked down upon their own religion ; they thought poorly of Indian society. They knew nothing of their own past history, and they glorified in being "Sahibs." Some of them became Christians. Alarmed at this transformation, Ram Mohan Roy and a few others resolved to stem the tide. For a time they succeeded, but only partially. Be it said to the credit of the Bengalees that a fairly good number refused to be carried down-stream, and in spite of their English education stuck to their own religion and their own customs. They saw a good deal in their society which needed reform; but they declined to make sweeping changes and would not imitate. These veterans laid the foundations of the modern Bengalee literature. They wanted to pour their knowledge, derived from a study of English language and literature, into their own mother tongue, and in order to enlarge the vocabulary of the latter for their work, they had to study Sanskrit. Thus in spite of the Anglification of the first generation of Bengalees, there grew up a class of men imbued with nationalistic tendencies. Ram Mohan Roy, the founder of Brahmo Samaj, was the first nation-builder of Modern India.

For a time the field that was opened for the employment of English-educated Bengalees in Upper India (in the then N. W. Provinces, in the Punjab, in Behar, in Central India, in Rajputana, even in Sindh) checked the growth of these tendencies. The feeling of gratitude and contentment was supreme. The Bengalee was indispensable in almost every department. The reins of practical management were mostly in Bengalee hands, whether it was a court of justice, or a Revenue Commissioner's office, or a commissariat depot, or an adjutant's camp, or the department of land survey, or education. The heads of departments were always English, but the heads of ministerial establishments were generally Bengalees. The English could not do without them. The former did not know the language of the country, nor did they know the character of the people. The Bengalees were thus an absolute necessity. With the spread of a knowledge of the English language, the first generation of English-knowing Indians in every province came to occupy an important position. While the old-fashioned Pandit or Moulvie sulked, the English-knowing Hindu or Mohammedan basked in sunshine and flourished. The British laid down policies and gave orders ; the English-knowing Indian saw that they were carried out. They thus came to enjoy the confidence of their masters and imitated their vices.

But what was most important was that they began to think like their English masters. The English read their newspapers ; so the Indians started their newspapers. The English met in clubs and churches. So the Indians started Samajes and Sabhas and debating clubs. For a time the English-knowing Indian prided himself in imitating his master. He took his dress, he took his cheroot and pipe, and also his cup and beefsteak. He began to live in houses built and furnished in the English way. He detested Indian life and took pride in being Anglicised. Everything Indian was odious in his eyes. The Indians were barbarians; their religion was a bundle of superstitions; they were dirty people ; their customs and manners were uncivilised; they were a set of narrow-minded bigots who did not know that man was born free. So the English set the fashion for them in everything. If their English masters went to church and read the Bible, they did the same. If the English masters indulged in free-thinking, they did the same. They wanted to be like their English masters in every way. Their ambition, however, soon met a check. They could equal the British in drinking and in free-thinking, but they could not aspire to his position and place in the government of the country. Some of them decided to try this in the case of their sons. They sent them to England. A few passed the Indian Civil Service and the Indian Medical Service examinations, others became barristers. Both found out by bitter experience that, however able and clever they might be, whatever their intellectual acquirements, no matter if they were Christians, or semi-Christians, or free-thinkers, there was a limit to their aspirations both in service and out of it. That was the first eye-opener.

In the meantime, the thoughtful among the Indians, who had not taken to English manners, were anxiously watching the flow of the current. They saw the disintegrating and denationalising forces that were at work ; they saw that their national edifice was crumbling down brick by brick ; everything which they had valued and held sacred was being devastated and treated with contempt and reduced to ashes. Their own children were deserting the old banners to which innumerable generations before them had clung with love and reverence. They saw all this; they were sorry; they wept tears of blood; but they could do nothing. They were powerless before the tide. They tried palliatives, but failed.

What was fatal to their pious wishes was that they could not themselves resist the fruits which English education brought in the shape of emoluments and rank and position. They wanted these fruits with- out the thorns. They soon found that that was impossible, and so they gave up the struggle in despair and became reconciled to the inevitable. What they failed to achieve was, however, brought about by a combination of circumstances which we will briefly enumerate below. Forces Resisting Denationalisation,

1. The English education imparted in schools and colleges established by the British, and the Christian missions (in some instances supplemented by Indian agencies), opened the gates of Western thought and Western literature to the mass of educated Indians.

2. Some of the British teachers and professors who taught in the schools and colleges consciously and unconsciously inspired their pupils with ideas of freedom as well as nationalism.

3. The over-zeal of the missionaries in their attacks upon Indian religions and Indian thought suggested to Indian minds a closer and deeper study of their own religion and thought.

4. In this they were materially helped by the awakening of Europeans to the thought of the East. The labours of the European savants and their appreciation of Eastern thought kindled a fresh fire in the bosom of Hindus and Mohammedans.

5. The writings of Ram Mohan Roy, Debendra Nath Tagore, Rajendra Lai Mitra, in Bengal, those of Ranade, Vishnu Pandit and others in Mahrashtra, of Swami Dayanand and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in Upper India, of Madam Blavatsky and the other Theosophists in Madras, brought about a new awakening, which afterwards received an even stronger impetus from the writings and speeches of Mrs. Annie Besant and Swami Vivekananda. This was on the religious and social side mainly, but its national character was unmistakable.

Political Disappointments. The current produced by these causes met another current, which was generated by political disappointments. The aspirations of the educated Indian had met a check. The few successes gained by Indians in the Indian Civil Service examinations alarmed the British, and they sought for means of keeping them out. One of the means adopted was to require that the candidates should not be more than 19 to 21 years of age at the time of examination, an age so young as made it impossible for Indians to come over to England and successfully compete. This raised a howl and cry in Bengal, and the rest of the country followed Bengal. Then came other measures like the Vernacular Press Act of Lord Lytton, and the remission of cotton duties, and so on. The generation educated in England had some experience of the methods of political agitation in that country, and they soon began to organise on those lines. Political agitation on modern lines thus became a fact of Indian life, and English-educated Indians began to talk of liberty and self-government.

Thus were laid the foundations of the national awakening, of which so much has been heard of late. The methods of the English Government in India, their educational system, their press, their laws, their courts, their railways, their telegraphs, their post-offices, their steamers, had as much to do with it as the native love of country, of religion and nation, which had received a temporary check by the crushing defeat of the mutineers in 1857, and by the Indian people's too ready acquiescence in the political and social domination of the foreigner which ensued.

This time, however, the movement was brought into existence by those who had received their inspiration from Europe. Within less than twenty years after the great mutiny, the Nationalist Movement of India was born, almost at the same time and place at which Lord Lytton was presiding at the great Imperial Durbar, and announcing that the great Queen of England was assuming the title of Empress of India. The Durbar reduced the chiefs of India from the position of allies to that of feudatories, but it quite unconsciously and against the intentions of its authors raised in theory the status of the Indian subjects of the Queen to that of citizens of the British Empire. Little did the authors of that Durbar realise the inner significance of the move they were making. That Durbar, we may say, marked the beginning of the movement which filled the educated Indian with the idea of obtaining his rightful place in the Empire. He became articulate
and began to assert himself. He was no longer satisfied with the minor positions which he held in the Government of India. He claimed his country as his own, and raised the cry of " India for the Indians." His cry gained strength when he found that the India which he looked down upon in the fifties or sixties, the system of thought and life which he considered barbarous, primitive and old fashioned, and the past which he despised, were after all not so bad as he had thought.

The latter was the contribution of the Brahmo Samaj, the Theosophical Society, the Society for the Resuscitation of Sanskrit Literature, the Bengal Sahitya Parishad, the Maharastra Sabha, the Arya Samaj, the Sanatan Sabhas and other societies of a similar nature. The Bengali and the Mahratta writers, who had carried on researches in Indian history and unearthed valuable documents and written in their respective vernaculars, contributed materially to the growth of this feeling. The Theosophical Society began to praise and justify every Hindu institution and to find science in every custom. In fact, for a time, the thoughtful began to fear lest the pendulum was swinging the other way and we were in the midst of a wave of reaction.

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