Young Bengal

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Young Bengal a socio-intellectual label that was given by the contemporary Calcutta society to the students of hindu college who followed their teacher Henry Louis Vivian derozio, a free thinker and rationalist.

Derozio taught his students to develop critical outlook about life and societal processes. He taught them how social institutions take root and develop and how people become attached to dead and fossilised ideas and institutions. Drawing examples from world history and philosophy, Derozio tried to persuade his students to love knowledge and abandon the habit of believing groundlessly. To his students his repeated sermon was 'to live and die for truth'.

The most favourite students of Derozio were a band of brilliant students of the Hindu College like Krishnamohan Bndyopadhyay, Rashik Krishna Mallik, Dakhinaranjan Mukhopadhyay, Ramgopal Ghose, Madhab Chandra Mallik, ramtanu lahiri, Maheshchandra Ghose, Sibchandra Deb, Harachandra Ghose, Radhanath Sikder, Govindachandra Basak, Amritalal Mitra and others. They were inspired and excited by a spirit of free thought and revolt against the existing social and religious structure of the Hindu society.

As a mark of emancipation from decayed traditions they exulted in taking beef and drinking wine, which they regarded as a yardstick to measure their freedom from all religious superstition and prejudice and a notable effort to break social fetters. Many of Derozio's students found logic and substance in the arguments of the christian missionaries against many superstitious and cruel beliefs of the Hindus. Quite a number of them including Dakhinaranjan Mukhopadhyay and Krishnamohan Bandyopadhyay even left Hinduism and embraced Christianity.

In 1828 Derozio founded with his students the 'Academic Association', which organised debates on various subjects. Derozio's students read the writings of Voltaire, Hume, Locke, Tom Paine and others and quoted them freely in their debates. Another organisation of the Young Bengal was the 'Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge' founded in 1838. Tarachand Chakravarty was the president of the society and secretaries were peary chand mitra and ramtanu lahiri.

The Young Bengal published quite a few journals between 1828 and 1843 to give wider publicity to their views and principles. Among these were the Parthenon, Hesperus, Jnanannesan, Enquirer, Hindu Pioneer, Quill and the Bengal Spectator. Only one issue of the Parthenon came out in 1830 and then it discontinued. Encouraged by the missionaries, the Young Bengal group published the Jnanannesan (Quest for Knowledge) for disseminating their views. It had a longer life; starting in 1831, it continued up to 1844. Organised by Rashik Krishna Mallik, Jnanannesan was a bilingual journal aimed at educating the people in the science of government and jurisprudence. Krishnamohan started the Enquirer in 1831 and vehemently criticised the orthodox community that had mobilised its forces against the young radicals. Many of the Young Bengal faced with social excommunication and social pressure were brought to bear on them to persuade them to give up their radical views. The articles written by members of Young Bengal and published in the Hindu Pioneer (started in 1838) clearly showed the growth of political consciousness among them. The Quill, run by Tarachand Chakravarty, also was critical of the government.

In their writings the Young Bengal expressed frustrations about the unequal political status of the natives and Europeans. The Bengal Spectator, a progressive publication, was perhaps the last of the Young Bengal journals. Starting in 1842, these monthly-published articles on social, political and economic problems of the period and discussed such subjects as female education and remarriage of Hindu widows. Later it became a daily.

Besides their attacks on Hinduism, the Young Bengal supported most vocally the westernization processes initiated by the colonial state and their agencies. The Young Bengal movement is one of the most controversial phases of the bengal renaissance in the nineteenth century. They earned both unstinted praise and outright condemnation. They were connected with the efforts made for the introduction of western medical education in the country, which ultimately led to the foundation of the calcutta medical college in 1835. They also encouraged the students of the Medical College to overcome the prevailing prejudice against dissecting dead bodies and soon the prejudice was removed. Some scholars assert that the Young Bengal activists were the pioneers of the Bengal Renaissance. There is no doubt that they contributed much to the awakening of Bengal in the early nineteenth century.

The greatest folly on the part of the Young Bengal, however, was that they found perfection in everything western. Oriental ways of life and thought appeared to them superstitious and unacceptable. Their aversion to native practices and their uncritical adoption of western habits and manners, though unsuccessfully, made them hateful in the eyes of the natives in general.

The Young Bengals were indeed too young to grasp and evaluate the significance of freethinking and disinterested questioning. Their half-baked knowledge about western civilization and their ignorance of the oriental culture and historical processes made them highly audacious to the extent of downgrading Bengal culture and achievements as a whole. Consequently, in spite of their eloquent arguments against many aspects of contemporary life and institutions, they failed to enlist support from the Bengal literati and sustain their ideology. The Young Bengal spirit proved to be ephemeral and shallow and faded away as quickly as it appeared. In the later part of the nineteenth century Young Bengal turned into a social gossip. [Sirajul Islam]