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Intelligentsia


Intelligentsia The word 'intelligentsia' first appeared in the 1860s, when a group of Russians used it to define their own intellectual circle. Believing in 'revolution, atheism and materialism', they considered themselves to be the predominant intellectual cult in Russia. Their distinctive behaviour and outlook was largely inspired by Nikolay Chemyshevsky's utopian novel, Chtodelat (What is to be done?), which was published in 1863. The intelligentsia insisted that literature should be a mechanism for socialist propaganda. Many of the prominent Bolshevik leaders who were to seize power in 1917, including Lenin and Stalin, were members of the intelligentsia. By contrast, the most prominent Russian writers such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov, were contemptuous of the intelligentsia because of their intellectual intolerance, addiction to theory, and utilitarian ideals.

The term 'intelligentsia', then, arises out of an aggressively secular in fact, anti-religioussocial philosophy. However, its meaning has expanded since the English language borrowed the word from nineteenth-century Russia. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as 'The class consisting of the educated portion of the population and regarded as capable of forming public opinion'. In modern usage, both Tolstoy and Chemyshevsky would be considered part of a broad intelligentsia. Karl Marx's analyses of class-based systems and groups would probably equate the intelligentsia with the bourgeoisie.

Currently, 'intelligentsia' is generally used in English to mean the best educated and most articulate section of society the group often referred to in Britain and the United States as 'the chattering classes'. It embraces both secular and religious traditions. The intelligentsia are believed to have the ability to influence public opinion, politics and the values of the society in which they are located. However, this does not necessarily mean that all individuals within the intelligentsia are personally able to exercise such influence.

This definition in terms of Bengal, especially of East Bengal, may be traced back to the early nineteenth century when Raja rammohun roy and a radical group called 'Young Bengal' began to raise questions which took contemporary Bengal society by surprise. However, the modern intelligentsia of Bengal have a deep root in the past.

Intelligentsia ancient and medieval Bengal The Bengal states under Hindu and Buddhist regimes were governed essentially by priestly classes who constituted the intelligentsia of the time. Their approach to intellectualism was conformity to established institutions and customs and rituals. Their status and authority enabled them to impose their interpretations on society. The caste system was the principal mechanism for the preservation and continuation of their dominance. The idea of establishing and sustaining princely and priestly dominance and social stability by means of caste and cults received universal endorsement from later reformers too. The vast majority of people remained by birth outside the hallowed circle of the intelligentsia. Under the more egalitarian Buddhist influence, there was in theory a more relaxed social environment for people outside the priestly class to acquire learning, but, in practice, few people had the opportunities, means or motivation to go for learning and enter the realm of the ruling intelligentsia.

From the 13th to the mid-18th century, Bengal was ruled by Muslim sultans and subadars as part of the Afghan and Mughal administration. During this period a significant section of the population is believed to have been converted from hinduism and buddhism to islam. This conversion process was led not by generals but by Sufis who were both spiritually and intellectually inclined. The darbars or courts of the Bengal nawabs in the eighteenth century consisted of state grandees called amirs and mutsuddis. The mutsuddis (bureaucrats) were mostly educated, upper-classbrahmins versed in management. The judiciary was manned by muftis who were educated Muslims.

In the eighteenth century many European maritime companies came to Bengal for trade and commerce. For negotiations between the companies and the local government, vakils (lawyers) and banians were engaged by both parties. As agents and brokers, the compradors of China played a similar role under similar circumstances. In Chinese history, the compradors were members of the intelligentsia. European descriptions of Bengal banians make it clear that they were similarly members of the intelligentsia. Working as agents for the Europeans, the banians successfully convinced the Mughal government that granting the English the privilege of duty-free trade in the country and the zamindari in calcutta would be beneficial to the country and to the ruling aristocracy. They could, again, convince the government of the rationale of allowing English and other European mercantile companies to set up factories or trading stations on advantageous terms in all major business centres of Bengal. They made significant contributions to the formation of the colonial state. Joynarayan Ghoshal, a poet and mystic of the late eighteenth century, was a banian to the English. So was Raja Rammohun Roy who worked as a mutsuddi and diwan of the company officials until he came to settle in Calcutta in 1815.

The pre-colonial intelligentsia had some distinct characteristics. Their serious writings were in Persian, the official language, and Sanskrit and Pali, the classical languages. Literary and scientific works were always addressed to the priestly and ruling classes. The great eighteenth century authors and political activists like Ghulam Husain Salim, Ghulam Husain Tabatabai, Mirza Nathan, Shihabuddin Talash and others wrote in Persian. The contents of their works were also elitist. They all thought and wrote about royalty and social and religious conformism. Even Raja Rammohun Roy, called by many the first modern man of Bengal, wrote his earliest work, Tuhfat-ul-Muwahhiddin (A Gift to Monotheists) in a mixture of Persian and Arabic. Hindu pundits wrote their treatises on medicine, logic, rhetoric, astrology and religious and social discourses in Sanskrit. In short, the pre-colonial intelligentsia seldom descended to the vernaculars and indigenous problems.

The colonial period Under the British a new class began to emerge. Members of this class came mostly from the landed interests. The permanent settlement (1793) created a socially ruling class in the persons of zamindars and taluqdars who controlled the land resources of the country as absolute proprietors. It was the members of this landed class who first availed the modern education provided by the colonial rulers.

The early nineteenth century intelligentsia drew their inspiration from three major sources: the colonial administration, orientalism-spearheaded by the asiatic society and fort william college and new western education. Calcutta was the centre of this new intellectualism. Understandably, the intelligentsia found British rule beneficial. Raja Rammohun Roy, Raja radhakanta deb, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, bhabanicharan bandyopadhyay and others were critical of many aspects of British rule, but, at the same time, loyal and even grateful to colonial rule.

The new intelligentsia viewed the British as deliverers who had liberated India from the 'oppressive' Mughal rule, a view similar to that of contemporary British writers who tried to prove the superiority of British rule over the Mughal. Of course, the members of the traditional Muslim intelligentsia like Fakir Maznu Shah, Balaki Shah of bakerganj, Aga Muhammad Reza Beg of sylhet, Nawab Shamsuddaula of dhaka and Titu Mir of Barasat looked at British rule differently. They stubbornly refused to recognise British rule and put up a stiff resistance at the popular level. All of them were put behind bars and tried for treason. Calcutta, as it emerged in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, was essentially a Hindu city. Many of the Hindus whose wealth gave them the leisure to form an intellectual elite derived their incomes from estates across the province.

Economic development and improved communications during the nineteenth century such as the opening of railway networks during 1885-86, the creation of the Municipality of Dhaka in 1864, and the establishment of schools and colleges helped to revive Dhaka and Eastern Bengal, creating the conditions for the emergence of a larger educated class or intelligentsia. This progress was consolidated by two events in the first decades of the twentieth century: the Partition of Bengal and the creation of the university of dhaka. Consequent upon the partition of Bengal, for six years, from 1905-1911, Dhaka was the capital of Eastern Bengal and assam. This gave it the status and infrastructure of a modern provincial capital, while Calcutta's loss of status through the transfer of the imperial capital to Delhi in 1911 helped to redress the balance between Bengal's two major cities. The second event was the establishment of the University of Dhaka in 1921. The influx of teachers and students, of booksellers and publishers, meant that Dhaka could establish its own intellectual tradition, rooted in Eastern Bengal, to rival the intelligentsia of Calcutta.

Given Bengal's history and demography, the intellectual development of Dhaka and Calcutta tended to polarise along religious lines. The demarcation, however, was not always clear-cut. The Muslim as well as the Hindu elite still regarded Dhaka as the poor relation. Calcutta was the centre of international trade and commerce. It was the focal point of Bengal's legal and political systems, the home of the high court and the legislative assembly, where the lawyers and politicians, who were the most vocal members of the intelligentsia, made their careers. Its university, schools and colleges had built their reputations over decades, and its lively intellectual life was enhanced by a host of well-established newspapers, magazines and learned and literary societies. Until the 1930s and 1940s, English-educated Muslims still tended to take their inspiration from Calcutta. Like the Hindu intelligentsia, they used the language of the indian national congress in conducting their struggle against British rule.

Muslims from Eastern Bengal were disproportionately under-represented among the English-educated elite. They tended to be maktab- and madrasah-educated, and their political discourse was framed in overtly Islamic, rather than secular, terms. That is not to say that there was a divergence of opinion between the English-educated and Islamic-educated Muslims who shared a broad Muslim platform with specific differences of attitude and approaches to society and politics. The attitude of the Muslims in general towards the Hindu zamindars and the professional middle class such as doctors, lawyers, teachers etc, was affected by a number of factors including nostalgia for the past Muslim rule in India and Eastern Bengal, a dislike of absentee Hindu landlords, and also by Hindu and Muslim communalism. The colonial administration was often regarded by the Muslims in general and East Bengalis in particular as hostile towards them and conciliatory towards the Hindus.

The colonial rule eliminated the Muslim gentry from power in the late eighteenth century. Being deprived of power, the traditional Muslim classes maintained a distance from the colonial rulers for about a century before they recognised English rule and English education in the late ninteen century. Dhaka and the Eastern Bengali Muslims put themselves on the intellectual map as the distinction between Muslim and Hindu political thinking became more pronounced during the twentieth century. The partition of Bengal in 1905 forced both schools of thought to reconsider their positions. The Hindu intelligentsia responded by opposing the partition, often in language which revealed a deep-seated communal hatred of Muslims. While older leaders like Sir surendranath banerjea maintained a moderate stance and rabindranath tagore warned against the danger of attacking Muslims, radicalism among the younger Calcutta-based opponents of partition, such as Bipin Chandra Pal, aswini kumar dutta and aurobindo ghosh, was increasingly associated with antagonism against Muslims. In Eastern Bengal, Pulinbehari Das and Bupeshchandra Nag formed the anushilan samiti, a network of terrorist cells dedicated to rescinding partition.

By contrast, most Eastern Bengali Muslims welcomed partition. On 16 October 1905, the day that the partition became legally effective, khwaja salimullah, the Nawab of Dhaka, established the Eastern Bengal and Assam Mohammedan Provincial Union (later Provincial Mohammedan Association) to unite the Muslims of the new province. The following year, Sir Salimullah broadened his platform by founding the all-india muslim league. In 1908, he formed the East Bengal and Assam Muslim League, to develop Muslim political debate within the new province. All of these organisations were primarily vehicles for the elite of the Muslim community. Membership of the Provincial Mohammedan Association, for instance, was limited to 'men of social position and dignity'. Similarly, the Muslim League was at that time largely a vehicle for Muslim aristocrats across India to gain further recognition and patronage than they were already receiving from the British Raj. The annulment of partition in 1911 showed that the Hindu strategy of mass agitation was more effective in shaping imperial policy than gentlemanly debates among Muslim aristocrats.

With the annulment of partition, the centre of political and intellectual gravity shifted back to Calcutta. There was never any question of basing the Bengal Presidency Muslim League, uniting the two Leagues of divided Bengal, anywhere else. Nevertheless, the six years of partition had put a spotlight on Eastern Bengal. The family of the Dhaka nawabs had been stimulated to take an unprecedented interest in provincial politics, and several members took leading political roles in the 1930s and 1940s, notably khwaja nazimuddin and khwaja shahabuddin. Other Eastern Bengali Muslims had also taken on a wider role, notably Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury of Dhanbari and, perhaps most important of all, ak fazlul huq.

Paradoxically, the annulment of partition created the conditions for a major step forward in terms of the development of the Eastern Bengal intelligentsia: the foundation of Dhaka University in 1921. Sir Salimullah had raised the issue at the first meeting of the Muslim League in 1906. In 1911 the Eastern Bengal and Assam branch of the All India Muhammedan Education Conference formally demanded the establishment of a Muslim University in Dhaka, on the model of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan's great institution at Aligarh. When a deputation led by Sir Salimullah, Nawab Ali and Fazlul Huq, took this demand to the Viceroy the following year, they were confident of a sympathetic hearing from a government anxious to keep Muslims on-side after the annulment of partition. Since the British also wished to keep the Hindus on-side, there was no question of a Muslim university. It was founded as a secular institution, and, when it opened, only eight of the sixty teaching staff were Muslim. This reflected the generally low level of educational achievement among Muslims at that time.

The Dhaka University represented a significant counterweight to Calcutta. Most Hindus from West Bengal opposed the establishment of Dhaka University, notably Surendranath, Bipin Chandra Pal, rashbehari ghose and (for obvious reasons) Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. Nevertheless, some of its champions were Hindus from Eastern Bengal, notably Narendra Narayan Roy of Baldha, and its governing body was a roll-call of both Muslim and Hindu members of the Eastern Bengal intelligentsia, such as Fazlul Huq, Sir Syed Shamsul Huda, Khan Bahadur Amirul Islam, Altaf Ali, Pandit Hariprasanna Goswani, TC Banerjee, Sarat Chandra Chakravarti and Keshab Chandra Banerjee. Intellectual thinking in Bengal was never straightforwardly communal, and many of the arguments were about economics as much as culture or religion. For the most part, the Bengali intelligentsia in the nineteenth and early twentieth century were upper-caste Hindus. They feared that educational advance among Muslims would threaten their jobs and status. They were equally nervous of progress among lower-caste Hindus and Harijans. Bengal's two greatest poets, kazi nazrul islam and rabindranath tagore, who were writing throughout this period, firmly set their faces against the religious divide.

Dhaka University made distinctive contributions towards the rise of a Muslim intelligentsia. A critical class of Muslim writers committed to social change emerged from Dhaka University, similar to the group known as Young Bengal that originated from Hindu College. In the late 1920s, this band of Muslim teachers and students organised themselves into a syndicate named muslim sahitya samaj with the intention of introducing liberalism in Muslim social thought and Muslim social structure. The leading members of this group were abul hussain, kazi abdul wadud, abul fazal, quazi motahar husain, Tasaddak Husain, and abdul quadir. They published an annual magazine called shikha or burning torch to which the Rebel Poet Kazi Nazrul Islaalso contributed. This band of renascent writers, who became known as the Shikha Group, challenged many of the dogmatic aspects stifling Muslim society. In spite of recriminations from the Dhaka nawab family, the members of the group kept their movement alive for several years.

The polarisation between Hindu and Muslim politics became increasingly sharp in the late 1930s and 1940s, and communal riots were commonplace. The fear of being exploited and dominated by a perpetual Hindu majority in India, reinforced by the communal attitude of some national Hindu leaders of the Indian National Congress, split the Bengali intelligentsia along the fault line between the Hindu and Muslim traditions which had been developing for centuries. The English-educated Muslim intelligentsia of Bengal became more self-consciously Muslim in their public discourse and more aware of their roots in Eastern Bengal as they used the ideas of the Muslim League to mobilise the Muslim masses to realise their vision of a separate country called Pakistan. Fazlul Huq's krishak praja party, originally a coalition of Hindu and Muslim cultivators against Hindu and Muslim landlords, formed an alliance with huseyn shaheed suhrawardy's Muslim League in 1943, recognising that there was no longer any room for purely secular discourse in Bengali politics. In 1947, following a second partition of Bengal and a larger partition of India into the two sovereign states of Pakistan and India, Eastern Bengal emerged with a new identity as East Pakistan.

Post-colonial period The intelligentsia of East Pakistan down to the early 1960s were by and large believers in the concept of Pakistan. Their discourse during this period was inspired by Muslim nationalism and was laden with examples of Hindu-Muslim differences. This trend pervaded the consciousness of the intelligentsia in spite of the language movement and the demands for autonomy. But the language and autonomy questions had a sure and certain impact on the integrity of Pakistan. Many intellectuals had already begun to raise doubts about the two-nation theory, though such an awareness worked only as an under-current. The doubt was particularly pronounced among leftist intellectuals who guided the language movement and whose activities led to the birth of several political parties opposed to the Muslim League.

But in spite of doubts about Pakistan, the left-wing intelligentsia did not entirely abandon the concept of Pakistan. They accepted Pakistan subject to their own conditions, one of which was the establishment of socialism. The Martial Law (1958) imposed by General mohammad ayub khan and the Ayub decade witnessed a real erosion of the concept of pakistan. The intellectuals, particularly of the leftist and nationalist brands, came forward with the two-economy theory which was, in practical terms, a negation of the two-nation theory that had resulted in the division of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan on the basis of religion. These intellectuals pointed out that the economic disparities between East and West Pakistan were so enormous that there were essentially two different economies. East Pakistan, they pointed out, was still treated as a colony rather than as an equal.

The intelligentsia successfully sold the two-economy idea to politicians who later developed a six-point programme which attempted to give East Pakistan greater autonomy. The general elections of 1970 and subsequent negotiations with the central government were governed by the Six-Point Programme. This explains why the intelligentsia became the special target of the Pakistani army's genocidal vengeance during the war of liberation. A small section of the intelligentsia, however, did not support the Six-Point Programme and remained loyal to the concept of Pakistan. During the war of liberation they joined hands with the occupation army in winning local and international support in favour of Pakistan.

The intelligentsia greatly influenced the state formation process of bangladesh and its constitution, particularly the incorporation of the policies of secularism, nationalism, socialism and democracy. The intelligentsia's influence on the affairs of the state was at its peak from 1969 to 1975.

In the two and a half decades following the assassination of President sheikh mujibur rahman, the intelligentsia has had to adjust rapidly to changing national and international forces. Three major reasons may be ascribed for these changes: the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the growth of donor agencies and NGO's and the 1973 University Ordinance. With the division of the communist bloc and the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the left-leaning intellectuals of Bangladesh-and in many other countries across the world-lost their moorings. They got split into many groups and sub-groups and became allied to one or other party. The rightist intelligentsia who had remained torpid immediately after liberation became active with the patronage of the various rightist regimes.

The 1973-University Ordinance had been promulgated to ensure the autonomy of the public universities. The hall-mark of the Order is the election system under which the decision-making authorities of the universities (Vice-chancellor, Academic Council, Syndicate, Dean) have been made elective institutions. However, the electoral system of managing the universities has gradually degenerated into politicising and jobbery. The system has segmented the faculty members of the universities, including their students, into interest groups with strong associations with one or other political party. Furthermore, it is widely believed that the fact of the association of great many intellectuals with the non-intellectual projects of various donor agencies and NGOs has also had a negative impact on the image of the intelligentsia. [Nazia Khanum]