The Young Bengal Movement
- The Young Bengal movement was launched in Calcutta by a group of radical Bengali free thinkers, called Derozians, emerging from Hindu College. They were known as Derozians after Henry Louis Vivian Derozio.
- Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was a poet and teacher of Hindu College, Calcutta, a radical thinker and one of the first Indian educators to disseminate Western learning and science among the young men of Bengal. He was Anglo-Indian (born to an Indian father and an English mother). In 1826, at the age of 17, Derozio was appointed teacher in English literature and history at the Hindu College.
- At Hindu College, through his reportedly brilliant teaching, he influenced his students and won him their loyalty. Derozio’s intense zeal for teaching and his interactions with students created a sensation at Hindu College. He organised debates where ideas and social norms were freely debated. His students came to be known as Derozians. They were inspired and excited by the spirit of free thought and revolt against the existing social and religious structure of Hindu society.
- He constantly encouraged students to think freely, to question and not to accept anything blindly. His teachings inspired the development of the spirit of liberty, equality and freedom. His activities brought about intellectual revolution in Bengal.
- In the spirit of English rationalism and French Revolution, Derozio criticized the social practices and religious beliefs of orthodox Hinduism. Round Derozio rallied the best boys of the College who ridiculed old traditions, defied the social and religious rites, demanded education for women, and to flaunt their independence indulged in wine-drinking and beef-eating.
- Accused of irreverence by his students’ orthodox Hindu parents, he was forced to resign by the directors of Hindu College in 1831 due to his radical teachings. Derozio died of cholera soon after at the young age of 22 in 1831.
- Long after Derozio’s death, his influence lived on among his former students, who came to be known as Young Bengal and many of whom became prominent in social reform, law, and journalism.
- In economy, Young Bengal followed classical economics, and was composed of free traders who took inspiration from Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo. They were passionate advocates of women’s rights and demanded education for them.
- Derozio and/or the Young Bengal group set many establishments and published journals which played a role in the Bengal Renaissance. Two of them are:
(1) Academic Association
- Derozio joined Hindu College in 1828 and within a short period attracted students. The Academic Association, established in 1828 under the guidance of Derozio, arranged discussions on subjects such as: free will, free ordination, fate, faith, the sacredness of truth, the high duty of cultivating virtue, and the meanness of vice, the nobility of patriotism, and the arguments for and against the existence of the deity, the hollowness of idolatry and the shames of priesthood. It drew both Britons and Indians to discussions of religion and philosophy.
- After moving around for a place for its meetings, it settled down in Mainktala. Derozio was its president. One of his students, Uma Charan Basu, was its secreatry.
- The sessions of the Academic Association attracted attention to such an extent that amongst those who used to be present fairly regularly were. David Hare, Col. Benson, private secretary of Lord William Bentick etc.
- Derozians kept up Derozio’s Academic Association upto about 1839.
- Radical activities in England seem to have exercised an influence over Derozians for we find them setting up a Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge in 1838, to be followed by a Mechanical Institute in 1839.
(2) Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge
- The Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge was established on 20 February 1838 by Young Bengal group. Trachand Chakrabarti was its president, Ramgopal Ghosh its vice president. The society elected David Hare as honorary visitor.
- Some of the prominent papers it published were: Nature of Historical Studies and Civil and Social Reform by Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Interests of the Female Sex and the State of Hindustan by Peary Chand Mitra.
- These associations of the Young Bengal group were forerunners of later organisations such as the Landholders’ Society, British India Society, and British Indian Association with all of which the Young Bengal group had links.
Impact of Young Bengal Movement
- Derozian ideas had a profound influence on the social movement that came to be known as the Bengal Renaissance in early 19th century Bengal. And despite being viewed as something of an iconoclast by others like Alexander Duff and other (largely evangelical) Christian Missionaries; Derozio’s ideas on the acceptance of the rational spirit were accepted partly as long as they were not in conflict with basic tenets of Christianity, and as long as they critiqued orthodox Hinduism.
- Derozians carried forward Raja Rammohan’s tradition of educating the people in social, economic and political questions through newspapers, pamphlets and public associations. They carried on public agitation on public questions such as the revision of the Company’s Charter, the freedom of the Press, better treatment for Indian labour in British colonies abroad, trial by jury, protection of the riots from oppressive zamindars, and employment of Indians in the higher grades of government services.
- Derozio was an atheist but his ideas are generally believed to be partly responsible for the conversion of upper caste Hindus like Krishna Mohan Banerjee and Lal Behari Dey to Christianity.
- Christianity claimed many other converts like Madhusudan Datta (another promising student of the College who left his ancestral faith in 1843) and Jnanendra Mohan Tagore (the only son of Prasanna Kumar Tagore).
- Drinking which the Derozians had introduced as a symbol of emancipation began to spread in an alarming manner amongst people who were untouched by the nobler marks of Derozian free thought.
- Derozio was perhaps the first nationalist poet of Modern India .His famous poem is To India – My Native Land.
Why Young Bengal Movement did not last long?
- The Young Bengal movement was unsuccessful because the group failed to gather support from other Bengali literati or academics. Raja Rammohan himself was out of sympathy with them. Arising out of the tradition of the French Revolution and English radicalism, this movement had a distinct element of free thought in it which offended Rammohan’s sense of decency and theistic idealism.
- Because of their limited and shaky ideology, the movement was never able to fully capture the public’s attention. They did not succeed in creating a movement because social conditions were not yet ripe for their ideas to flourish.
- The Derozians were a band of bright young men who had come under the spell of a striking personality and they created a sensation and a stir. But their stand lacked much positive content and they failed to develop a definite progressing ideology. The concept of the people and their rights which had flowered in the great Western bourgeois democratic revolution that had awakened them did not take much concrete shape in their mind.
- They were brilliant individuals faithful to the last to the memory of their master and close-knit to each other by the bonds of affection and friendship. Yet they did not prove to be a growing school of thought attracting new adherents from wider circle. They made some mark in their day but, nonetheless, they faded out like “a generation without fathers and children.”
- The common people, who were not acquainted with those ideologies, indicated those young as arrogant, revolutionists of the customary thinking, belief, and extremist as they had declared one kind of war against the religion and prevalent customs. Radical politics of a Western type were hardly possible in Bengal at that time and the rich promise we see in the Derozians never matured into anything solid.
- Derozians did not take up the peasant’s cause and there was no other class or group in Indian society at the time which could support their advanced ideas. They forgot to maintain their links with the people. In fact, their radicalism was bookish; they failed to come to grips with the Indian reality.
- A number of Derozians were attracted to the Brahmo Samaj movement much later in life when they had lost their youthful fire and excitement. The Young Bengal movement was like a mighty storm that tried to sweep away everything before it. It was a storm that lashed society with violence causing some good, and perhaps naturally, some discomfort and distress.
- The famous leader of the nationalist movement, described the Derozians as “the pioneers of the modern civilization of Bengal, the conscript fathers of our race whose virtues will excite veneration and whose failings will be treated with gentlest consideration”.