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Bethune Society


Bethune Society (established- 1851) a learned association established in Calcutta with the object of promoting the spirit of inquiry and knowledge among the Bengalis on the one hand, and establishing racial harmony between the Europeans and the natives on the other. The Bethune Society, established jointly by some liberal Europeans and enlightened natives, was named after eliot drinkwater bethune (1801-1851), Law Member of the Governor General's Council. In contemporary society he was well known for his liberal views and acts. Bethune drafted a bill making the Europeans and Indians equal in the eye of law.

As a patron of education, Bethune had established several schools and colleges. He encouraged the Bengalis to write in Bangla. He even introduced a competitive gold medal to popularise cultivation of Bangla alongside English. Many believe that Bethune influenced poet michael madhusudan dutt, who had been trying to establish himself in English literature, to cultivate, instead, in vernacular. Bethune, a humanist and a genuine advocate of Indian cause, died prematurely on 12 August 1851. In his memory the Calcutta literati had established and named the association, Bethune Society.

The early initiative to establish the Society came from FJ Mouat, a professor of Medicine at the calcutta medical college, and a close associate of Bethune. The Society was established at a meeting held on 11 December 1851 in the College Theatre. In the meeting Mouat explained how a society not so serious as the asiatic society and nor so light-hearted as many others around was necessary for serving the rising middle class of the country. The members of the meeting discussed Mouat's proposal and resolved to found the Society as a non-political and non-theocratic body for the discussion and investigation of only literary and scientific questions. Mouat proposed to bear personally the entire operational cost of the Society for one year. The members of the first Council of the Society included FJ Mouat (president), Ramgopal Ghosh and Rev. james long (vice president), peary chand mitra (General Secretary), Major GT Marshall, Rev Krishnamohan Banerjee and debendranath tagore (member).

The Bethune Society lasted for forty years. During the period it could attract many intellectuals, native and European, to its activities. Begun with only 21 members, the Society's membership rose to 250 in 1860. In the published transactions of the period we find participation of many distinguished Bengal literati of the mid-nineteenth century among whom are Pundit iswar chandra vidyasagar, Ramchandra Mitra, Haramohan Chattopadhyaya, Radhanath Sikdar, Kishorichand Mitra, Raja Pratapchandra Singha, rajendralal mitra, Nabin Kristo Bose.

Though short lived, the Bethune Society was successful in achieving its objects: it could help develop scientific outlook among many Bengalis and promote understanding and toleration between the Indians and the Europeans. Customarily, the president of the Society was a European and the Vice Presidents and the Secretary, Indians. Many of the lectures presented at the Society's monthly meetings and subsequently published either as articles or in book forms, were found to have been so competent that these, particularly those on native traditional arts and sciences, are referred to even today. In response to Western sciences and technologies, many members tried to bring the local sciences and technologies to the notice of the Europeans. These serve as valuable references for digging into the past of Bengal. [Sirajul Islam]