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Day, Rev. Lalbehari


Day, Rev. Lalbehari (1824-1894) Writer, Babgali missionary, born in a poor suvarna-banik family in the village of Sonapalsahi in Burdwan district. Lalbehari Day's father, Radhakanta, was a small bill broker in Kolkata. Realising the importance of English for material advancement, Radhakanta sent his son to General Assembly's Institute, alexander duff's free school. Duff was a missionary, and students at the school were exposed to his Christian ideas. Lalbehari soon became skeptical about his own faith and got inclined towards Christianity. He was converted to christianity by rev. krishna mohan banerji in 1843. In 1851, he was ordained and sent to Burdwan district.

Lalbehari's work at Burdwan enabled him to see rural life from close quarters, an experience that he drew upon to write Bengal Peasant Life (1874). At this time landlord-tenant relations had greatly deteriorated, and there was peasant unrest in various parts of Bengal. Bengal Peasant Life explains the reasons for this situation. Rev. Lalbehari also wrote two novels, Chandramukhi, A Tale of Bengali Life (1859) and Govinda Samanta, which portray the suffering of peasants under the zamindari system.

At Burdwan, Lalbehari also started collecting folk tales, which were later anthologised in his Folk Tales of Bengal (1875). This scholarly compilation is again a path-breaking effort in cataloguing the cultural heritage of rural society. This compilation not only preserved folk tales that might otherwise have been lost, but also paved the way for the modern study of folk literature.

Another contribution made by Lalbehari was to vernacular education. Arunodaya, a fortnightly journal that he published and edited, made it a policy to publish features on the importance of education in the vernaculars. Lalbehari's powerful advocacy of Bangla as the medium of instructions seemed incredible to most Bengali literati of the time. Nevertheless, Lalbehari Day's views on education were given due attention by the Education Commission, 1882 (popularly known as the hunter commission) which was assigned by the government to outline an education policy for popularizing education among the depressed classes.

Lalbehari was against the zamindari system. Indeed, he may be called the first man to investigate and report the actual problems of the depressed classes under the operation of the permanent settlement and suggest remedies towards solving the problem. His writings on peasant sufferings captured the imagination of his contemporaries, bankimchandra chattopadhyay and kishori chand mitra, both of whom wrote powerfully about peasant problems. Their opinions greatly influenced the report of the Rent Commission of 1880 which led to the enactment of the famous bengal tenancy act of 1885, which has been termed as the Magna Carta of peasant rights in Bengal. [Sirajul Islam]