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Bengal British India Society


Bengal British India Society founded in Calcutta in 1843, was the second politically inclined public association to be formed in British India, the first being the zamindari association (1837). It was, like its predecessor, avowedly a loyalist body based on limited Indo-British collaboration. But unlike the introvert Zamindari Association, representing solely the interests of the landed aristocracy, the Bengal British India Society was an organisation dominated by a section of the Bengal intellectuals, particularly by the young bengal group that boasted of their western education and awareness.

Its protagonist was a Briton, George Thompson, who, with his love for the Whiggish ideal of progress and interest in Indian affairs, had already established in London a platform by the name of the British India Society (1839) with himself as its head. During his sojourn in India in the spring of 1843 he gathered a group of Bengalis in Calcutta to form a rival body to the Zamindari Association, presumably as an extension of his own organisation, the British India Society. But ultimately it made its appearance with the appellation of the Bengal British India Society, probably as an autonomous body. It, however, maintained close liaison with the British India Society and with the government in India. Its stated aims and objectives were, to foster good citizenry qualities among the Indian populace, create public awareness about the state of governance and about their 'just rights', and strive for their realisation through peaceful and lawful means consistent with 'loyalty to the person and the government of the reigning sovereign' in England.

Its membership was open to all adults not 'under instruction in any public institution', paying subscription or donating to the society fund and 'conscientiously subscribing' to its aims and objects. But the members of the landed aristocracy studiously kept themselves aloof from it because of its open anti-landlord stance. Its Secretary had launched a trenchant attack on the permanent settlement and the zamindars and indigo planters from its platform and in the press.

Its first 15-member executive committee consisted of four Europeans and eleven Indians with George Thompson as President, GF Remfry and Ramgopal Ghosh as Vice-Presidents, Peary Chand Mitra as Secretary. The Bengali members on the committee were Tarachand Chakravarty, Dakshina Ranjan Mukhopadhyaya, Brojnath Dhar, Krishnamohan Banerjee, Hari Mohan, Govind Chandra Sen, Chandra Sekhar Deb, Shyama Charan Sen and Satkari Datta - all belonging to the Young Bengal group.

Lobbying the bureaucracy and petitioning the government comprised the principal modes of its activity. The Bengal British India Society sent petitions urging upon government for increasing employment of Indians in public offices and for judicial reforms. It is said that the appointment of Indians as Deputy Magistrates and reforms in the Registration Department were the results of these endeavours. But neither the Bengal British India Society nor the Zamindari Association could achieve much, although in the growth of political parties in India they played pioneering roles. Both languished by 1850. [BR Khan]