Solution: Weekly Problem Practice For History Optional- 2022 [Modern India: Week 3]

Solution: Weekly Problem Practice For History Optional- 2022 [Modern India: Week 3]

Q.1 “Raja Rammohan Roy was the herald of new age who fought against the forces of medievalism in India.” Comment. [20 Marks]


  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy is considered as the father of Indian Renaissance as he and his Brahmo Samaj form the starting point for all the various Reform Movements-whether in Hindu religion, society or politics-which have agitated Modern India”.
  • He is credited of starting the religious and social reformation in modern India.
  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy as a religious reformer
    • He was born at such a time when various evils like blind-faiths\ sacrificial rituals, caste division, idol worship etc., had greatly overshadowed the Hindu religion.
    • Rammohun imbibed rationalism from his early training in the eighteenth-century Perso-Arabic literature.
      • He studied Vedantic monism and after his migration to Calcutta in 1815  after retiring from the East India Company’s service was exposed to Christian Unitarianism.
      • Raja Ram Mohan Roy tried to revive in the Hindu world the doctrine-of the Unity of Godhead.
    • Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a man of liberal religious views.
      • He believed in the fundamental truth and unity of all religions. According to Monier Wiliams, the Raja was a great investigator of the science of comparative religions.
      • He believed that basically all religions preach a common message and that their followers are all brothers.
    • Such intellectual influences motivated him to contest the missionary claim of superiority of Christianity; his answer was to reform Hinduism in the light of reason, by going back to its purist form as enshrined in the Vedanta texts.
    • He condemned idolatrypriestcraft and polytheism and translated the Upanishads into Bangla to demonstrate that ancient Hindu scriptures themselves propagated monotheism.
    • He was influenced by monotheism of Islam and the moral principles of Christianity.
    • His earliest attempt was the foundation of the Atmiya Sabha, an association of free dissemination of religious truth and the promotion of free dissemination of religious truth and the promotion of free discussions of theological subjects, which lasted from 1815 to 1819.
      • The next important step was his foundation of another organisation, which later on became famous as the Brahma Samaj on 20th August 1828, with Tarachand Chakravarty as its secretary.
      • But its new theistic service soon excited the hostility of the orthodox organisation named the Dharma Sabha, with Bhavani Charan Banerjee as the Secretary, and with as organ, the Samachar Chandrika, which opposed Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Bengali Weekly, Samvada Kaumudi.
    • While he defended Hinduism against the hostile criticism of the missionaries, he sought to purge Hinduism of the abuses that had crept into it.
      • He had criticised idolatry and supported his view point by quotations from the Vedas.
      • He reinterpreted Hindu doctrines and found ample spiritual basis for his humanitarianism in the Upanishads.
    • He rejected Christianity, denied the divinity of Jesus Christ, but accepted the humanism of Europe.
      • Thus Ram Mohan Roy sought to effect a cultural synthesis between the East and the West.
    • He admired the moral and philosophic message of Jesus and wanted it to be incorporated in Hinduism. At one stage his missionary friends hoped that he might even embrace Christianity.
      • But as a rationalist he was equally critical of the Trinity and miracle stories.
      • He vigorously defended Hindu religion and philosophy from the ignorant attacks of the missionaries.
    • Raja Ram Mohan Roy as a social reformer
      • Raja Ram Mohan Roy raised his voice against all sorts of social evils and oppression.
      • He worked very hard to slop the evil practice of Sati. He wrote articles in the papers and delivered speeches in public meetings against this evil practice.
        • He used to go to the, cremation grounds in Calcutta and tried to stop Sati by talking lo the relatives of the woman.
        • He wrote many letters to Lord William Bentinck (Governor General) to resort to legal proceedings against the people who encouraged Sati.
        • By quoting from the ancient scriptures, he declared that even Hindu religion was against the practice of Sati.
        • When the conservative section amongst the Hindu presented a petition to parliament to continue this inhuman practice, then Raja Ram Mohan Roy presented a counter petition advocating that the customs of Sati was inhuman and unjust.
        • It was because of his co-operation that Governor General Bentinck prohibited sati in 1829 by a government regulation, which could not be overturned by a Hindu petition from the anti-abolitionist Dharma Sabha to the Privy Council in 1830.
      • Along with the suppression of Sati he also preached in favour of the widow remarriage as of the suppression of Sati would otherwise remain meaningless.
      • He quoted extensively from the Vedic literature in order to raise the status of the Hindu women.
      • To improve the status of women he, also demanded for them the right of inheritance to property.
      • He also condemned the practice of polygamy as it would not be possible to ensure a place to respect for women unless polygamy was suppressed.
      • The Indians were backward in respect of education and as such they felt a prey to various superstitions and useless rituals.
        • It was necessary to introduce western education and literature to fight these evils therefore, he helped Lord William Bentinck in spreading English literature and Sciences in India.
      • Raja Ram Mohan Roy as a propagator of modern education
        • Ram Mohan Roy was one of the earliest propagators of modern education in 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. Raja Ram Mohan 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 Indian learning and in Western social and physical sciences were offered.
        • He 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.
      • Raja Ram Mohan Roy as a pioneer of political agitation
        • Politically also he fought for the advancement of this country.
        • He believed, the British were in India by a divine dispensation. They had a mission to perform in this country, and therefore they must continue till that mission is fulfilled.
        • He was in favour of the Indians getting political rights, but according to him only such rights should be given to them as they were competent to enjoy.
          • In other words, he stood for a steady political reform in this country.
        • He was, however, anxious that the essential conditions for the political awakening of this country must be created as early as possible.
          • He therefore supported the introduction of English education in this country, which he believed would throw open the floodgates of English liberal and democratic thought to India.
        • He sponsored the opening of the Hindu College in 1819, to educate the Indians on modern lines. He also helped Alexander Duff and John Wilson to start an English School.
        • He demanded:
          • Indianisation of the superior services,
          • separation of executive and the judiciary,
          • trial by jury,
          • judicial equality between Indians and Europeans.
        • The Raja stood and fought for the freedom of speech and expression.
          • He condemned the Press Regulations of 1823 and carried on a vigorous agitation against them.
            • He also submitted a memorial to the Supreme Court in this respect.
          • He was the initiator of public agitation on political questions in the country.
          • He condemned the oppressive practices of the Bengal zamindars which reduced the peasants to a miserable condition.
            • He demanded that the maximum rents paid by the actual cultivators of land should be permanent 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 tax-free lands.
          • He demanded the abolition of the Company’s trading rights.
          • He was influenced in his political ideas by the great English philosophers such as Bacon and Bentham.
          • He was anxious to bring reforms in the administrative system of the country and was the first Indian to be consulted by the British parliament on Indian affairs.
            • He gave an evidence before a select committee of the British House of Commons.
          • The Brahma Samaj also participated in building national settlement among the Indians.
            • It glorified the ancient culture of India, helped in developing confidence among Indians in their own religion and, thus, participated indirectly in the resurgence of Indian nationalism.
          • Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Journalism
            • Rae Ram Mohan Roy was a pioneer of Indian journalism.
            • He was a very well-read man. He studied Oriental languages like Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit and attained proficiency in European languages like English French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. His extensive studies freed his mind from the bigotry that characterised Bengali.
            • He brought out journals in Bengal, Persian, Hindi and English to spread scientific, literary and political knowledge among he people to educate public opinion on topics of current interest, and to represent popular demands and grievances before the Government.
            • In 1821, and he set up the first press in this country.
            • He started the first vernacular paper in India, Sambad Kaumudi.
          • Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Internationalism
            • Ram Mohan Roy was a firm believer in internationalism and in co-operation between nations.
            • He took a keen interest in international events and supported the cause of liberty, democracy, and nationalism and opposed injustice, oppression, and tyranny in every form.
            • The news of the failure of the Revolution in Naples in 1821 made him so sad that he cancelled all his social engagements.
            • On the other hand, he celebrated the success of he Revolution in Spanish America in 1823 by giving a public dinner.
            • He condemned the miserable condition of Ireland under the oppressive regime of absentee landlordism.
            • He publicly declared that he would emigrate from the British Empire if Parliament failed to pass the Reform Bill.
            • In joining hands in his individual capacity as well as collectively with those persons who demanded the freedom of the country and who stood for the greatness of India, he demonstrated his greatness as a patriotic statesman.

Hence, Raja Ram Mohan Roy is recognised as the forerunner of Modern India for he embodied the new spirit of enquiry, thirst for knowledge, broad humanitarianism and heralded of new age of modernity in India.

Q.2 “The religious reform movements of the 19th century were endeavours to recast the old Hinduism into a new form suited to meet the needs of the new society.” Comment.  [20 Marks]


  • The programmes of religious reform movements in the 19th century was not restricted to the task of merely reforming religion but extended to that of the reconstruction of social institutions and social relations.
    • This was due to the fact that in India religion and social structure were organically interwoven. Nowhere in the world did religion dominate and determine the life of the individual as in India.
    • Caste hierarchy, sex inequality, untouchability, and social taboos, flourished because of the sanction of the religion. Social reform, consequently, constituted a part of the platform of all religious reform movements and this was equally true of Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj, Ramkrishna Mission, Theosophical Society in Hinduism as also among the Muslims, the Parsis and the Sikhs.
  • The reform movements provided a cultural defence against the assault of the colonial culture. They played a significant role in quest and struggle for new identity.
    • By interpreting their religious past in modern rational terms and by weeding out many of the corrupting and irrational elements from the 19th century religious beliefs and practices, the reformers enabled their followers to meet the official taunt that religion and society were decadent and inferior.
  • Indian civilisation was despised because it assigned such a low status to women. This gender question was a key issue for James Mill condemning Indian civilisation in his The History of British India. So, the Indian intelligentsia also responded to this civilisational critique by advocating and supporting reforms to improve the status of women in Indian society.
  • Rajarammohan Roy contested the missionary claim of superiority of Christianity and he tried to reform Hinduism in the light of reason, by going back to its purist form as enshrined in the Vedanta texts.
    • He condemned idolatry, priestcraft and polytheism and translated the Upanishads into Bangla to demonstrate that ancient Hindu scriptures themselves propagated monotheism.
    • In this way he endeavoured to recast the Hinduism into a new form suited to meet the needs of the new society.
  • Dayanand Saraswati also tried to recast Hinduism as an aggressive response to the Western culture. He invoked the authority of the Vedas as the most authentic Indian religious texts, and sought to purge Hinduism of all its post-Vedic accretions.
    • His discourse had the Western Orientalist touch that tried to project Hinduism as a “religion of the book”, like Christianity and Islam. He claimed that the Vedas alone contained “scientific truths”, and therefore, the religion based on these texts was superior to Christianity and Islam.
    • On the authority of the Vedas, he attacked idolatry, polytheism, ritualistic religion dominated by the Brahman priests, condemned child marriage and stood for widow remarriage, inter-caste marriages and female education.
    • He also denounced untouchability, and repudiated caste system; but at the same time, he upheld the fourfold varna division, thus retaining the core of the Indian social organisation.
  • Similarly, the goal of Prarthana Samaj was not to break with the past and cease all connection with our society and thus recasting Hinduism to achieve gradual changes in the society.
  • Neo-Hinduism was interpretations of Hinduism that developed in the 19th century to incorporate western ideas into traditional Indian religions, especially Advaita Vedanta, which is asserted as central or fundamental to Hindu culture and the main exponents were Ramkrishna Paramhans, Vivekananda, Theosophical Society. They attempted to recast Hinduism and regain the glory of Ancient India to counter the colonial narrative which considered Indian society degenerated.

Q.3 What do you understand by the element of “reverse acculturation” in British Orientalism in India? To what extent Orientalism was aimed at producing a knowledge of the past to meet the requirements of the present? [20 Marks]


  • British Orientalism in India was the 18th century administrative policy of the East India Company favoring the preservation of Indian languages, laws and customs.
    • It is said that for several years, the
      government of the East India Company functioned like an “Indian ruler”, in the sense that it recognised the authority of the Mughal emperor, struck coins in his name, used Persian as the official language and administered Hindu and Muslim laws in the courts.
    • Lord Clive himself had recommended a system of “double government” as a matter of expediency, under which the criminal justice system would be left in the hands of Nawabi officials, while civil and fiscal matters would be controlled by the Company. It is called the period of Orientalism.
  • The period of Orientalism can be said to begin from 1773 with Warren Hastings being appointed the
    Governor General of the East India Company and extends up to 1832, when the East India Company government made English education compulsory in India and brought the Orientalist phase to a close.
  • The fundamental principle of this tradition was that the conquered people were to be ruled by their
    own laws-British rule had to “legitimize itself in an Indian idiom”.

    • It therefore needed to produce knowledge about Indian society, a process which Gauri Viswanathan would call “reverse acculturation”, whereby the dominant society (i.e the British) acculturated themselves to the colonized society (i.e Indian society).
    • It informed the European rulers of the customs and laws of the land for the purposes of assimilating them into the subject society for more efficient administration.
  • There was an urge to know Indian culture and tradition, as reflected in the endeavors of scholars like Sir William Jones, who studied the Indian languages to restore to the Indians their own forgotten culture and legal system-monopolized hitherto only by the learned pundits and maulvis.
  • By establishing a linguistic connection between Sanskrit, Greek and Latin-all supposedly belonging to the same lndo-European family of Languages-Jones privileged India with an antiquity equal to that of classical West.
    • This was the beginning of the Orientalist tradition that led to the founding of institutions like the Calcutta Madrassa (1781), the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1784) and the Sanskrit College in Banaras (1794), all of which were meant to promote the study of Indian languages and scriptures.

Orientalism was not knowledge of the Orient produced by Englishmen sympathetic to the cultures of the East but it was knowledge meant to serve the need of the colonial state because of the following reasons:

(1) Efficiency of administration

  • Warren Hastings, who found himself in charge of a corrupt and degenerate government, saw the Indianization of the civil servants as a means to improve the administration of the newly acquired territories. Thus, for Hastings the quickest way to increase the efficiency and honesty of the civil servant was to develop in them a love and affection for India, to love India one must communicate with her people and to communicate with her people it was necessary to learn her languages and her culture and history.
  • It was with this political aim that Fort William college at Calcutta was established in 1800 to train civil servants in Indian languages and tradition.

(2) To placate Indian sentiments

  • Further, there was fear amongst the East India Company officials in the late 18th century that the Indians might reject British rule as being alien and thus ventured to study Indian culture and history to placate such sentiments.

(3) Moral justification of colonialism

  • William Jones established linguistics between Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, all supposedly belonging to the same Indo-European family of languages. This along with Max Muller’s Aryan Migration Theory gave the idea of kinship between the British and the Indians dating back to the classical period.
  • It was said that once golden Indian civilization got degenerated and British, with superior civilization, is morally bound to advance Indian culture due to blood relation. This was used as moral justification of colonialism through rhetoric of kinship love.

(4) Racial Theory

  • Max Mueller synthesized this philological discovery into the Aryan Migration theory, whereby the Aryans migrated to India from Central Asia and subjugated the natives. This racial theory provided a pseudo scientific basis for racism in the late 19th century.
  • In this view, Indians were seen as inherently backward and inferior compared to the superior Western civilization, while at the same time it created an inclusive space whereby Indians and Europeans were related by blood. Both facts were used to justify colonialism.

While in most of the cases, Orientalism was of an attempt to legitimize colonization, there were few

(1) H.T. Colebrooke, an Orientalist, pushed for the establishment of a museum on the premises of the Asiatic Society to preserve and display the vestiges of India’s past while also criticizing the practice of Sati as having no validation in the shastras, calling for its abolition thus, demanding a change in ancient traditions.

(2) The special enthusiasm of the Germans (such as Max Mueller) in studying the Orient was not to serve imperialism as Germany was not involved in any imperial projects in India.

Q.4 “The Widow Remarriage Movement of Vidyasagar ended in an unavoidable defeat.” Comment. [10 Marks]


The main protagonist of widow remarriage was Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, who like his predecessor Rammohun Roy, also looked to the colonial state for a piece of legislation. This led to the passing of The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act of 1856, which legalisedsuch marriages.

The movement ended in what has been described as an “unavoidable defeat”.Vidyasagar failed to see many widows being remarried, as in this case the Act of 1856 had only legalised their marriage, in the sense that children born of such marriages would inherit ancestral property. But the legislation could not make widow remarriage socially acceptable; nor was it possible to enforce it with the help of a police force. So Vidyasagar had to depend ultimately on social consent, not on the power of the state, and it was here that his ‘defeat’ was quite manifest.

On the contrary, the legislation was intrinsically conservative in character, as on remarriage it disinherited the widow of her deceased husband’s property, and thus endorsed the Brahmanical norm of rewarding only “the chaste, prayerful widow”.

As a result, not only the practice of widow remarriage remained rare and exceptional among the educated classes in Bengal,but in the next few decades the taboo came to be further universalised and it became a forbidden practice even among the lower orders.

It may also be argued that in retrospect the movement does not appear to have totally failed after all. That widow remarriage has gained in social legitimacy today is partly due to this nineteenth century reform endeavour. ©


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