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Two Social Reformers In India History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

As a result of the expansion of British imperialism to Asia, Sri Lanka and India became British colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively .Subsequently due to the mode of administration introduced by the British, many significant changes were caused in political, social, economic, cultural and religious spheres. Most of these transformations were not beneficial for the people of both these countries as they rather conformed to the British way of life. Mostly affected by these were the ordinary people while a section of the middle class society in both countries acquired the English education and were actively supporting the British another section of the same class who was also nurtured by English education worked with dedication to safeguard the indigenous identity. This section further formed the necessary background for liberating their countries from British imperialism by initiating social reforms. Raja Ram Mohan Roy of India and Anagarika Dharmapala of Sri Lanka could be shown as two significant personalities among those who contributed towards such social reforms. They first brought about a religious revival and subsequently contributed towards achieving economic, political and cultural awakening. These two leaders expected to awaken the masses through this and to finally uproot the British imperialism from the two countries.

Raja Rammohan Roy

As no any aspect of western political history can be spoken without mentioning Aristotle, the most revered name of Raja Rarnmohan Roy is engraved in the political history of modern India. It was Aristotle is political thoughts that inspired the Western world after twenty-three centuries. Similarly there was a need for a movement in modem India to go back to the ideal of Raja, who is regarded as the pioneer of many fields in the social and religious movements. Raja is well known throughout the world as the pioneer of the school of comparative religion. This great Vedantist, opposed the influence of the Christian missionaries, while laying the foundation of monotheistic revival in India. He is the most famous advocate of the social reformation on the logical principles, and one of the pioneers of Western education in this country for the understanding of the political thought of modern India. (Sharma 1996) It is essential to have a very deep understanding of the political ideas of this great reformer. Raja was essentially a philosopher. Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were the pioneers of the western political field. India did not have a shortage of philosophers in the middle ages, but none of the philosophers from Sankaracharya of the eighth century to Valadeva Vidyabhushan of the eighteenth century were interested in the political field. Politics had no appeal to anybody when there was guarantee of independence, or enlightened public opinion. Politics was thought to be a concern of the princes alone. That was the situation of India in the middle ages, under the Rajputs and the Mohammedans. Responsibility of the government to the people of India was being slowly but gradually awakened. He set out the vernacular journal, Sambad Kaumudi in 1821 to make the political thoughts of the people of Bengal improve and it was the earliest favourable opportunity that helped the spreading of political ideas in Bengal (Samuelson,1889). Security of life and property had been ensured in Calcutta. If not, the English language might have been picked up by a small number of wealthy citizens, and their ideas might be broadened and liberalized with their connections of the English merchants and officials in Calcutta. A selected band of devoted followers had gathered round him with a determination to spread English education and to reawaken the country by means of social and religious reforms. We find Raja R. Roy fighting vigorously against the corrupt practices ‘in the Hindu religion, against the superstitions and inhuman customs of the Hindu society and against the narrow parochial outlook of Indian mind. But a letter of Raja says that all his ideas of social and religious reforms were based on the ideal of bringing about the political regeneration of India. Raja said in 1828, “I regret to say that the present systems of religion adhered to by the Hindus is not well-calculated to promote their political interest.(Bimanbihari 1967) Of these the names of Dwarkanath Tagore, Ramanath Tagore, Kaleenath Roy, Uoykontonath Roy, Ram. Chunder Bidyabagish, Hurehuricler Ghose, Gowrechurun Bonnerjee, Shibchandra Dcv and Tarachand Ghuckcrvcrty were associated with Raja in his social, religious, educational and political activities, and in demanding elementary political rights for the people of India. He did not have to see the establishment of a free press in India, but neither the European nor the Indian citizens of Calcutta forgot that it was the effort of Raja which secured for them the freedom of the press in 1835.Raja was acknowledged and respected not only in India but also in England as the pioneer of the political movement in this country.

In the Free Press Dinner given to Sir Charles Metcalf in the Town hall on the 9th February, 1838, Mr. Leith proposed a toast to “the memory of Ramrnohan Roy”, and Prasannacoomar Tagore rose as a friend of the late Roy to thank the liberator of the Press. (Chunder 1901) Rammohan was deeply attached to the right of expressing one’s opinion freely. His memorandum to the Supreme Court and appeal to the King in Council regarding the freedom of the press are regarded as “the Areopagltica of Indian History.” He drew upon history as well as the broad principles of political science to show that freedom of the press is beneficial to the government. Raminohan shows that whatever is of highest excellence in government, or of greatest virtue and social conscience, it can be secured only by the freedom of the Press; while licensing and tyranny of opinion have always gone hand in hand with bad government. He claimed that the Indian people had enjoyed the liberty of the press for so many years since the establishment of the British Rule. (Bimanbihari 1967) A free press means to be the very best channel of information to the supreme authorities in England. Roy did not claim clear liberty for the Indian press. He brought it to the attention of the King in Council that in the past high offices had been open to the people. The freedom of the press had a significant effect to change the thought of the people.

The principle of economic activities of Roy was based on the very important practical matters in the country, rather than on the theoretical and philosophical matters. He was strictly attached to the institution of individual property. He deeply believed that the benefits of permanent settlement should be extended to the cultivators, the farmers and labourers in every part of the country. He did not want to see the direct management of land by the Government. Roy believed that every man is entitled by law and must be allowed to enjoy the fruits of his honest labour and good management.” (Dutta 1944) He was in favour of the existing prosperous middle class in the country. Roy strongly thought that the duty of the government must be to protect the poor cultivators from the powerful Zamindars. Also the Hindu females must be protected from the oppression of their male relatives. But no legal protection was afforded to the cultivators by the Government.'(Poonam 1990) Raja was moved deeply on seeing the poor condition of the peasantry. Raja suggested three methods for this. The first was the taxation on luxuries which are not necessities for life.” The second was the reduction of expenses of the revenue establishment. He proposed that respectable Indians might be appointed collectors on a salary of about three or four hundred rupees per month, instead of European collectors getting a salary of a thousand or one thousand five hundred rupees per month. He wanted to help the over-burdened peasants through reform. And also he wanted to make the higher class of Indians contented and efficient. For the reduction of the cost of administration another reform of far-reaching consequence was suggested. (Tagore 1981) He maintained that permanent settlement with the cultivators would make them attach to the British Government. The question of the ‘drain’ of Indian wealth was discussed for the first time in the periodical Press. To check such a large drain of Indian wealth, he proposed that the European capital earned in India should be encouraged to settle in India. Then the wealth might not go out of the country. That is what he believed. Roy opposed the ordinary labourers of England to come and cultivate the land. He expected to welcome only European skill and capital but not labour. He hoped that Europeans would introduce better methods of agriculture and effect improvements on the mechanical side. He knew, however, that it was futile to make a prophecy about the course which History might take in future. (Tagore1981)

He wanted to help the Government in improving the moral, social, cultural and political condition of India. He insisted on the moral obligation of the Government to protect the cultivators. He demanded that the Government should promote a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, embracing Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and Anatomy, with other useful Sciences. He was the earliest pioneer of the rights of women. In 1822 he wrote a book “Brief Remarks regarding Modern Encroachments on the ancient rights of females according to the Hindu Law of Inheritance.” He pleaded here for the rejection of the modem doctrine limiting women’s rights in favour of the older and more liberal views. (New Delhi Publications 1977) By citing texts from ancient law- givers he showed that daughters were entitled to one-fourth part of the portion which a son could inherit. He regretted that the Government had not taken any step to regulate the custom of taking a second wife during the life time of the first. He wrote “Had a Magistrate or other public officer been authorized by the rulers of the empire to receive applications for his sanction to a second marriage during the life of the first wife, and to grant his consent only on such accusations as the foregoing being substantiated, the above law might have been rendered effectual, and the distress of the female sex in Bengal and the number of suicides would have been necessarily very much reduced,” (Chunder 1901) Roy, the first great thinker, suggested a plan for breaking down the barriers of caste system by introducing inter-caste marriage. (Nag 1972) In this matter, he took the help of the permission given in one of the scriptures In the Mahanirvana Tamtra the Saiva form of marriage is described: “There is no discrimination of age, caste or race in the Saiva marrege. As enjoyed by Siva, one should marry a woman without husband and who is not ‘Sapindaie’, who is not within the prohibited degree of marriage.” (Barua, ed. 1988) He wanted to make this form of marriage more widely prevalent in Hindu society. Had his plan been acceptable to the people, widow-remarriage, inter-caste and interracial marriage would probably have become valid without any fresh legislation. R.R. Roy refused that women were inferior to men in understanding and firmness of character.

In his Persian weekly journal, entitled Mirat- ul- Akkhbar, Rammohan wrote an article in April, 1822 on the principles of the English Constitution. He explained the basic objectives of Government as follows, “It is not concealed from rational men, that in order to preserve men’s lives and properties from the attacks of their fellow-citizens, and to form friendly relations with neighbouring states, and resist the aggressions of nations who aim at aggrandizing themselves on the ruin of others-it is absolutely necessary that every nation should have some kind of government.” (Collet 1913) To conquer other peoples’ territories had been a time-honoured custom of the state in ancient and medieval India. Following the traditional classification of the forms of Government, Roy said, “There are three species of Government that may be deduced from reason namely, first every individual of a nation may have an actual share in the executive government; or secondly, the reins of government may be committed to a single person ; or thirdly, the affairs of the nation may be entrusted to a portion of the higher class or of the lower class of the people.” (Bimanbihari 1967) He did not like to have the rule of a monarch with unlimited power for the best of men are not supposed to be free from passion, and immoderate desires which very often overcome the dictates of reason; or exempted from those errors and vices which belong to human nature…. ” Having thus shown the defects of all the three categories, of Government Rammohan supports the cause of limited or constitutional monarchy in the following words “As it is absolutely necessary to have some form of Government, the executive power should be committed to a single individual on condition that he does not infringe the laws ‘established by the nation; which has been experienced to be the best of all forms of Government, since in this case the subjects have the power, of watching the proceedings of the executive Government; which is thus obliged to court the goodwill of its subjects”. (Bimanbihari1967)

Raja Rammohan Roy was one of the earliest champions of the noble ideal of international cooperation. The prayer he made to the Supreme Being was “May God render religion destructive of differences and dislike between man and man, and conducive to the peace and

union of mankind.” Rammohan, the strong thread of the universal brotherhood, suggested various means by which the union between India and Great Britain might become strong and permanent. He thought that the complete security of property, equality before the eye of law, enjoyment of all the civil rights, appointment to high offices according to merit, and consultation of public opinion, if allowed by the Government, would make the Indians firmly “attached to the present system of Government, so that it may become consolidated, and maintain itself by the influence of the intelligent and respectable classes of the inhabitants, and by the general good-will of the people, and not any longer stand isolated in the midst of its people, supporting itself merely by the exertion of superior force.” (New Delhi Publications 1977) But Raja was no doctrinaire and did not believe in political prophecy. He knew perfectly that in spite of all he had said about the means of securing the permanence of British rule in India, a time might come for India to become independent of England. He expected that the separation should be a peaceful one and that India with the help of the Christian powers of Europe should take up the task of ‘enlightening and civilizing the surrounding nations of Asia.

Anagarika Dharmapala

One who was to be born in1864 fathered by a businessman called Don Carolis Hewavitharana, was named as Don David. His parents had to name him so because a Christian name had to be given to a child born during this period. Don Carolis Hewawitharana was one of the most cordial and the closest helpers and the followers of Henry Olcott. Don David was educated in English at Saint Benadict College and at Saint Thomas college and finally at Royal college. Then he had to learn Christianity. In the meanwhile he was taught Buddhism at home by his parents. Colonel Henry Olcott came to Sri Lanka with his wife and were warmly welcomed. In 1880 he joined the Anti-Alcoholic Movement (Amadyapa viyaparaya) and became a fulltime activist. In 1883, the attack on the procession at Kotahena was witnessed by him and he determined to devote his time and energy for the improvement of the standard of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka. In 1884 with Madam Blawtski-the wife of Henry, he went to India. In 1886 he was the interpreter of Sir Olcott’s speeches at his journey of reformation of Buddhism and the Buddhists and for this duty he decided to resign from his government job. Then onwards he devoted his full time and energy for the securing of the Buddhism and the Buddhists. In 1886-1890 he was appointed as the General Manager of the School of Idealism. In 1888 he changed his name given to him in his birth certificate and came to be named as Dharmapala. In 1895 he left his lay- life or the household life andbecame as a monk. In1890 he went to India and experienced the destructive situation of the temples in India and started a reconstruction campaign. He established the Maha Boddhi Society (The Great Buddhist Association) and brought all those temples and their administration under the control of the above association. In the establishment of the G.B.A, he was helped by Ven..Hikkaduve Sumangala, Colonel Olcott, G.P.Weerakkodiand Charles Batuwantudawe. In 1893 at the World Religious Conference in Chicago he worked and appeared for the Theravada Buddhism. At this conference his speech brought him an invitation to England made by Sir Edwin Arnold. He was on the religious diplomatic service of Buddhism in countries like Japan, Burma, Englandand Switzerland. He became a very famous figure at the judicial trial made in 1895 at Buddhagaya. After this trial Buddhagaya was brought under a Buddhist administration. As a result Dharmapala became a prominent figure among the Buddhists and was recognized as a hero for securing the Buddhagaya. (Sangharakshita 1983)                 

Around the 1890s ,his an article arousing the patriotic feelings among the Sinhalese Buddhists through the Sarasavi Sadaresa newspaper, became a very crucial matter of his career as a national hero. He wrote, “By studying the stone scriptures and stone structures in Anuradhapura it is very clear that the incomparable, invaluable and skilful works of talented ancient Sinhalese but” he wrote on “today the white men are addressed as “Sir” by all Sinhalese and they must not be slaves to them at any cost.”(Sarasavi Sandarasa 1881) His devotion on the upliftment of Buddhism and the Buddhists made him a very popular figure among the people of the country. In 1911 he came to Sri Lanka after a long of journey on religious services. In 1906 he started a Sinhala Buddhist newspaper called Sinhala Bauddhaya and it was the main means to unite the Sinhala Buddhists. (Karunarathna 2002) In 1903 he started a project to protect the holy places of ancient value in Anuradhapura.(Jayawardene 2004)

He started an Anti-alcoholic Movement under the slogan of “Alcoholic addict is an outcast”. (Jayawardene 2004) He had many lectures against the use of alcohol by the Sinhalese. He was strictly against the slaughtering of cattle for flesh eating. “Don’t drink toddy and don’t be a toddy cat” were the words which came out of his lips seeing the mad addiction of people on alcohol. He voiced out saying “Don’t do any menial services to the whites”. (Karunarathna 2002) Around 1911 he became a pioneer social reformer. He was a patriot and made speeches arousing the patriotic feeling of the people. He wanted to keep the younger generation stand against the whites and to make them stand erect with the real Sinhalese backbone. The speeches made by him resulted in motivating the self-confidence in the heart of the nation. He attacked verbally to the Westernized well – to – do class in Sri Lanka very seriously. He made them aware of the need of their full cooperation in the case of the development of the Sri Lankan nation. (karunarathna 200) Dharmapala said that while Tamils and Muslims were keenly participating in business the Sinhalese Buddhists never attempted to develop themselves. He blamed the Sinhalese at point blank for their weak points and asked them to think and start practising the skills they had for the benefit of themselves and for the country. Whatever the wealth the Sinhalese had, he said that they only followed the life of the white and were their followers. He had seen that the resources we had, weren’t utilized by the majority of the Sinhalese instead what they did,  according to him, was copying the Western life ,culture and spending money only on that.(Nawarathna 2007)

He expected a self-developed, self dependant and an independent economic system in the country based on the exemplary plans of Japan. During 1860-1905 Japan could overcome all the difficulties caused by the war and she became an industrialized nation and it was more prominent during the Russian-Japan war. In this situation it was Japan which exhibited that Asians could win the goal of industrialization better than Europeans. Above were the ideas Dharmapala motivated to go ahead of fighting for an independent self confident and self-developed nation. Once he described how Japan reached the goal of self- prosperity like this” In 1870 Europeans knew nothing of Japanese. In the same year some nobles of Japan left for America, England, France, Germany and Russia on an educational tour. There they could examine the cultural environment and the skilfulness of their technical methods. Coming back to their mother country they planned their own way of teaching these aspects to the Japanese younger generation. More than fifty students were sent to such developed countries and they were given a thorough knowledge of the relevant fields. They came back to Japan and started their duties and responsibilities to develop the country in an indigenous way securing their local culture and customs. Then only they were able to produce high standard industrial productions instead of importing them from European countries. He further explained that without producing anything and waiting for the goods to come from other countries agape the rich class in Sri Lanka tried to earn money from unnecessary sources. He criticized this practice very gravely and the oppressing of common people by the ‘haves’ was also critically rejected by Ven.Dharmapala. (Sinhala Bauddhaya 1911)

He had a great expectation to secure the development through harmonizing the working people and the businessmen and achieving the industrial knowledge for the development process. He was a great believer in developing the local economy based on local resources. Once he said that “there is no other stupid nation in the level of as Sri Lanka”. He wrote to Sinhala Bauddhaya, “Every basic need is expected to come from the ship. The richest in my country are the best fools in the world. The other nations in other countries collect wealth through businesses. Some are producing many goods and earn enough money. But the richest in my country do nothing but only kill cattle, eat their rotten flesh, establish taverns and bars or distil arrack. They enjoy life by drinking alcohol and enwrapping the westernized cultural cloth around their fleshy naked body. (Sinhala Bauddhaya 1911)

The common Sinhalese were very fond of listening to his speeches and he was very popular among them. He was a prominent leader among the common folk. His speeches depicted the urgent necessity of reawakening of Sinhalese into the self prospering future. He expressed that Sinhalese are fools with no abilities of handicrafts but only have the abilities of begetting children”. He seriously opposed and rejected the way of addressing the whites by our Sinhalese. He didn’t like to hear them being addressed as ‘Sir’. He understood that the whites will never develop the country but they wanted only to earn money here and destroy the Sinhalese nation. (Karunarathna2002) He said that only 10 Sinhalese youth who knew the crafts would be enough to develop the country. He strongly believed in the self governing system. (Sinhala Bauddhaya 1912) It was the experience of Japanese. He requested the local wealthy class to come forward and be the leaders of the development process of the country. On the other hand, he was a racist. He believed that by rousing the thoughts of Sinhalese racism the awakening of Buddhism and economic development could be gained. For this he invited the rich to take the lead. To enjoy the self- government and the Buddhist cultural environment he stressed the need of racism. He made an invitation to three groups in society. They were the working class, crafts men farmers and businessmen and the educated lot such as Sir Obeysekara, Sir James Peries, Paul Peries, Simon Silva, Richard Silva, John Silva, Donald Obeysekara, Jayawardhana, Hulugalle Adhikaram and the authors of the press. From the business class the figures like M. Don Karolis and sons H.Fernando, D.D. Pediris, W.E.Bestian, etc were among them. (Sinhala Bauddhaya 1912)

Anagarika Darmapala strongly objected to the taking over of the lands under the Barren Lands Act. He did not like to see the Sinhalese landowners to become labourers of their own lands under the whites. (Bandara 2007) The Colonial authorities paid their keen attention to the continuation of Dharmapala’s bitter criticism of their regime. Dharmapala wanted to have an organization of the people to work against the English rulers in the country. On the 20th of September in 1911 he wrote an article to the press speaking of the need of self – government of Sinhalese for the Sinhalese land. (Sinhala Bauddhaya 1912) Dharmapala was reported to be an extremist by the Colonial Secretary to the then Governor. As a result it was decided to bring him before the court for acting against the Crown. (Guruge1965) But Attorney General said that there was no clue to have any law suit against him. But the Governor didn’t accept it. Further, Attorney General wrote that, after a long period of investigation with the help of the police, on his work, there was no evidence to sue him. (Bandar 2007)

The saddest thing was that some Sinhalese who were the followers of English rulers went against his ideas. Such a one was the author of ‘Lakmini Pahana’ Reginold Fernando. He wrote a letter to the Colonial Secretary dated 17th October in 1912 (Guruge1965) requesting to take legal action against the patriot Anagarika Dharmapala for being a real local hero for fighting for the independence of the nation. However, the Government couldn’t take action against Dharmapala and instead the author of the paper was taken into custody and was sent to prison for 3 months. (Guruge1965)

Whatever the struggle he made for the protection and the establishment of Buddhism and the benefits of the Buddhists and the freedom of the country Anagarika Dharmapala didn’t have any vision of a political movement. Among the business society and the educated class he was not welcomed as they were afraid of him to be their closest friend. This is because his ideas were against the British rulers. He was accused of being against the working class. He wrote to the Governor saying that he only opposed the ways the officials worked and it was a truth that he worked against them but not against the British Crown. He firmly said that he was a strong believer in the Crown and he was much trustworthy of the Crown. (Guruge1965) He insisted that his only aim was to work for the sake of Buddhism and the people of the country and for the ethics, customs and the cultural values of the people but not for the British government. (Siri Sumedha 1999) But the rulers did pay careful attention to his work. As the things went on like this he started a campaign for making the people of the values of enjoying the self economical development and Buddhist based self-sufficiency with the process of self government. He made a scholarship scheme to Japan and educated the able students for establishment of a systematical industrial economic situation in the country with the improvement of handicraft abilities of the youth. As a result in 1913 at Rajagiriya, Hewawitharana Weaving School was started with the patronage of Hewawitharana family. (Dinamina 1915, Sinhala Bauddhaya 1922)

 Finally, he invited the educatedand other well to do groups in the country to take the leadership of building a Buddhist cultural and economic country based on racism. However, his addressing focused only on the well to do Sinhalese Buddhist figures in society. Those who benefited from the rulers of the Crown didn’t pay any attention to Dharmapala’s propaganda. Tamils, Muslims and Europeans were not addressed by him for the progress in the country. In 1915 Sinhalese and Muslim conflict made him a prisoner in India for about 5 years. (Jayawardene 200) But except a very few, others didn’t speak for him because of his racist thoughts. Though he was a Sinhalese Buddhist racist, if there was a Buddhists leader who worked for the benefit of the Buddhist people it was none other than Anagarika Dharmapala.


Raja Rammohan Roy and Anagarika Dharmapala could be recognized as two great personalities who fulfilled a special role in the social reform activities of their respective countries. Both of them had a good English education and learned various facts from books and newspapers as well as through social contacts about the freedom enjoyed in other countries of the world. Therefore they very well realized the miserable situation of the masses in their countries caused by the British hegemony. To rectify this and to supply the needs of the suffering masses they introduced social reforms. These were introduced along political, social, cultural, economic and religious lines and a national identity was formed through this. Therefore Roy and Dharmapala should indisputably be accepted as pioneer social reformists who paved theway for the national freedom urgently needed by the people of both countries.

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