History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2011: Q.1 (b)
Q.1 (b) “Young Bengal left little distinctive or permanent impression on the plane of religion and philosophy.” Critically evaluate.
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 their teacher Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, an Anglo-Indian teacher at the Hindu college of Calcutta.
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was a radical thinker and one of the first Indian educators to disseminate Western learning and science among the young men of Bengal. Derozians were inspired and excited by the spirit of free thought and revolt against the existing social and religious structure of Hindu society.
Derozians formed in 1832 the “Society for Acquisition of General Knowledge” where they discussed various aspects of western science and stood for a number of social reforms such as prohibition of caste taboo, child marriage, kulin polygamy or the ban on the widow remarriage, yet they could not usher in the desired age of reform.
Historian Sumit Sarkar concludes: “the Young Bengal, the followers of Derozio, left little distinctive or permanent impression on the plane of religion and philosophy”. The reasons were the following:
(1) The total faith in British and in English education with rationalism and values derived from the west set them apart from the masses of the Indians. Their professed atheism was too radical for masses.
(2) Their stand lacked much positive content and they failed to develop a definite progressing ideology.
(3) Because of their limited and shaky ideology, the movement was never able to fully capture the public’s attention. They never succeeded in organizing any social reform movement in support of their proposed reforms, because social conditions were not yet ripe for their ideas to flourish.
(4) 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.
(5) 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.
(6) They failed to gather support from other Bengali literati or academics. Raja Rammohan himself was out of sympathy with them. Rammohan’s sense of decency and theistic idealism was absolutely absent in this movement.
Hence, they made some mark in their day but, nonetheless, they faded out slowly.
Though there were some temporary and indirect impression of the Young Bengal Movement because:
(1) Young Bengal Movement was one of the earliest reform movement which produced several reformers like Tarachand Chakraborti.
(2) A number of Derozians later attracted to the Brahmo Samaj movement which contributed to many social reforms.
(3) Derozio was an atheist but his ideas are generally believed to be partly responsible for the conversion of many upper caste Hindus to Christianity.
(4) Surendra Nath Benerjee, 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”.
Hence, the Young Bengal Movement was like a mighty storm that tried to sweep away everything before it, but hardly left any permanent impact.