Part two of my early historic review toward Hindu nationalism, undertaken when I first arrived in India in an effort to understand her.
To large for one post, here is part two, from Ram Mohan Roy to Macaulay, revealing my thinking of the past. Click For Part 1, from Akbar to Derozio With a more retailed review of Ram Mohan Roy’s philosophy and the political debates of the time here.
Ram Mohun Roy (1772- 1833) strongly presented methods for the British too improve government in India.
Ram Mohan Roy offered Indians a way out of the divisive corruptions while retaining Indian self respect by rediscovering Hindu monotheism. He argued that these were an ‘allegoric adoration’ which had over time developed a life of their own and covered the truth of the one supreme being.
He also argued successfully against suttee, or widow burning and in doing so praised women who had been described as contemptible, uneducated and prone to mischievous female passions.
Roy argued it is wrong to criticize women for being uneducated when men denied them the opportunity and points to many educated female elite ‘celebrated for their thorough knowledge of the Shastrus.’ Rather than ‘want of resolution’, a women who would submit to being burned alive while has more resolve than men who would flee from this death.
Women are universally more faithful to their friends and their men, he said. Women ‘virtuously endure’ ‘mental miseries and constant quarrels’ caused when husbands marry many wives – often for financial advantage only to neglect them for the favour of a preferred spouse. Treated severely for the smallest fault, they are forced to eat the insufficient remnants after the men.
He had a high regard for the Christian humanitarian ethic, which he believed was ‘likely’ to improve hearts and minds – but clearly argued that Hinduism was not inferior. He strongly rejected the trinity – even persuading a minister of its falsehood – and carefully studied and even translated the Christian texts into Sanskrit and Bengali.
While recognizing that the early church proselytized its message he criticized Indian missionaries who – unlike the apostles – preached as members of a ruling class who submitted with fear. He points out that the Greeks Romans, Moghuls all criticized the gods of the people they subjugated, as Christians criticized ‘Asiatic effeminacy’.
Christians depreciated the ‘sublime mysteries’ of Hinduism, but Mohummud Roy, notes that Christians equally cannot explain the mystery of the trinity. Roy criticizes Christians who turn a deaf ear to reasonable contrary opinions, the laws of nature, human reason and divine revelation.
Grateful for the ‘useful mechanical arts’ introduced by the West, but to science, literature and religion “I do not acknowledge that we are placed under any obligation.”
He argues that continued Indian loyalty depended on continuing the civil liberties granted under British rule. In particular, he argues for freedom of the press. Indian princes had kept people in darkness and this inspired revolt. Free press helps good government, he argues, by revealing the errors or injustice of leaders because of our imperfect human nature.
In 1828, he supposes ‘one hundred years hence’, discourse with Europeans, will result in the rise of Hindu nationalism, especially on occasions when restrictive regulations are applied by the British.
One of the Britain’s lasting legacies was sponsoring English education. Although he was a highly skilled linguist, Roy, argued for an English, rather than Sanskrit, education system. English is best suited to needed real knowledge, and practical science and ‘Baconian philosophy.’
Orientalist, Sir William Jones (1746 – 1794) praised the rich, melodious and eloquent languages of India, claiming there was a rich demand for their study and a dearth of books. These languages had been neglected, few in the West appreciated their value or ‘some detest the Persians , because they believe in Mohomed.’ Jones hoped ‘languages of Asia, will be studied with uncommon ardour’, however, Roy, claimed these complex languages was a lifelong study of “learning concealed under this most impervious veil’ with insufficient reward for the long hours of labour.
Thomas Babington Macauley, who decided for government funded English studiestook a utilitarian approach.
“We have a fund to be employed as government will direct for the intellectual improvement for the people of this country” he wrote. “The simple question is, what is the most useful way of employing it?”
Macauley sees value in Asiatic poetry, but claims to have never met an Orientalist who equates Arabic or Sanskrit it as good as European verse.
Macauley does not share Roy’s high estimation of science or literature . He had never found one orientalist ‘who could deny that a single shelf on a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.”
While sadly depreciating Asiatic literature and science, his approach simply recognized that education revolutionized Russia and the demand to learn English was far higher than for oriental languages by the Indian peoples themselves.
Funds have limits and it is better to teach English to a class, who will appreciate the works of Hume and Milton, even learn Greek to study Herodotus and Sophocles, and who can translate government directives to the rest, he said. Sanskrit is mostly for religious study and not government funding.
Macaulay’s hoped for classically educated elite would renew appreciation for Hinduism and inspire Indian national pride. Just as Kabir and Nanak addressed the 15th and 16th century Muslim idea that all believers are equal before God, a resurgent reform toward Hindu monotheism responded to Western secularism and Christian missionaries.
British rule gave Indians an unprecedented opportunity that many Muslims were slow to accept, resentful of the Moghul decline and suspicious of religious corruption. Edwin Arnolds translation of the Gita and Sanskrit scholar Max Muller glowing estimation of the Indian mind inspired pride. The Theosophy Society spoke of reincarnation and Karma. It would move to Adyar, Madras.
Eventually, as we will see in part 3, the most sincere simple devotees would inspire Hindu belief more than the West or skilled Indian orators.