Raja Ram Mohan Roy | The First Indian Liberal | By Dhruv Rathee


Hello, friends !

Today, the majority of people in our country know that such statements are purely superstitious. So they mock these openly.Don't they? 

But I'll consider you brave when you could've mocked these things 300 years ago. When the majority believed in such superstitions. There was one such person who was truly brave enough to do so. 

22nd May 1772. Exactly 249 years ago, he was born. A revolutionary who is known as the Father of Modern India. I'm talking about Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

Come, let's get to know his ideologies and how he brought a revolution in the country.   Our story begins in the year 1757. 


The year when the British East India Company defeated the Nawab of Bengal in a battle and established British Raj in India. It was the era when Indian society was extremely conservative. And superstitions and social evils were common and abundant. 

Casteism, child marriages, In several cases young girls, children,were bought for these marriages. Dowry was prevalent. These are things that we still get to seeto some extent. There was also polygamy where a man could have multiple wives. 

Specifically, this was seen in the community of Kulin Brahmins. The community Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born into. There was also the practice of Sati where if the husband of a woman died for any reason, the widow would then be cremated alive. 

It is said that initially, this practice was voluntary. Meaning, only the widows who wanted to be cremated with their husband would be cremated alive. But later this practice started to become compulsory. Society pressurized the widows to the extent that they had to be cremated alive. 

But there were some exceptions to it. Like if the widow had young children or if she were pregnant. Then they could escape being Sati. These social evils were justified using religion, culture and traditions. And practised. There is a famous dialogue about it in Shahrukh Khan's famous film Swadesh.   

When the British came to India And saw these happening. They didn't see the point in interfering with these. Lest a new issue is created. Had they criticised these practices people would've revolted even more. Because it'd be going against the culture. So these were left alone. 

When Warren Hastings became the first Governor-General of Bengal in 1772 Then he clarified these things.   These were called Anglo-Hindu and Anglo-Muslim laws. The Britishers, obviously, didn't know Sanskrit. So they couldn't read the Hindu scriptures. So they appointed Hindu priests to do it. And whatever the conservative priests said, was made into a law by the Britishers. 

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born into such social conditions. He was born into a rich Brahmin family. He completed his early education at a school in a village after which he was sent to a madrasa in Patna. Where he studied Persian and Arabic languages. He read the Qur'an and Sufi philosophy. Along with the works of Greek philosophers like Aristotle. Because of his ideologies, he got into a conflict with his father.

 Following which he left his home for the Himalayas. He reached Tibet where he studied Buddhism. After that, he came to Banaras And studied Sanskrit. And read the Vedas and Upanishads. So he had the knowledge of many different ideologies, languages, and philosophies.

 After 1815, he resigned from his job as a clerk at the East India Company. And devoted all his time to bringing about educational, social and religious reforms. A feminist is a person who believes that men and women should have equal rights. 

By this logic, Raja Ram Mohan Roy can be called the first feminist of Modern India. He campaigned to end polygamy, child marriage and dowry. In addition to education for girls, women's property rights and widow remarriage. These ideas were also propagated by him. But the thing he is the most known for is for ending the practice of Sati. 

It was 1811 when Raja Ram Mohan Roy's elder brother Jag Mohan died. He was already grieving the death of his brother. When he was shocked at seeing his sister-in-law. Her name was Alakamanjari. She bought a new sari. Why?

So she could be cremated in it. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the only person in his entire family to protest against this. All the other family members and relatives were supportive of this. 17-year-old Alakamanjari was forced to commit Sati because of pressure from society. 

And while she was being burnt alive, the priests and relatives around her were chanting "Maha Sati! Maha Sati!" This whole incident had a deep emotional impact on Ram Mohan Roy. After this incident, he had decided that he would not rest until he gets Sati banned. 

But this was a society where the majority of people were against him. The biggest challenge for him was figuring out how to go against the majority. Where the people believed in the practice. 

How could he speak out against it? 

In 1814 he formed the Atmiya Sabha. A conference of a close-knit group of people. This was basically the place for these people to meet and discuss their ideas. One of its members was Dwarkanath Tagore. He is the grandfather of Rabindranath Tagore.

 In 1818, Raja Ram Mohan Roy wrote an article originally in the Bengali language. In this article, he depicted the debate between two imaginary people on Sati. And he presented strong arguments on both sides. One in favour of Sati,the other against. 

Among the arguments in favour of Sati were that is was supported by ancient saints. And the arguments against Sati were also taken from the scriptures to prove his point. Obviously, he showed that the arguments against Sati were stronger And the person wins the debate. 

Historically speaking, even before Ram Mohan Roy's time several kings had tried to stop Sati. Like Tughlaq, Akbar, Jahangir and Aurangzeb. These kings had passed laws prohibiting Sati. The Dutch, French and Portuguese government had banned Sati in their Indian colonies as well. 

But despite these, the Britishers couldn't do it because they were afraid that the opinion of most of the Indian society was in favour of Sati. So they didn't do anything. But when Raja Ram Mohan Roy wrote this article, it had astounded the entire society and Bengal at large. People were shocked to see a person speaking against Sati so openly. And using scriptures at that. Basing his arguments on scriptures and history. 

In 1820, he published a sequel to his article. His Christian friend, William Carey had also played an important role in this process. By highlighting the cases of Sati. In addition to these articles, whenever Ram Mohan Roy came to know of anyone's death, he would go to the cremation ground immediately. To protect the life of the widow. He would physically go there to save as many widows as possible. He would go there to convince the families personally. 

Due to all these efforts, in 1829,the Governor-General William Bentinck finally passed the Bengal Sati Regulation Act. And abolished Sati. But our story does not end here. This was only the beginning of the battle. Some orthodox Hindus formed an organisation as a response to this. Led by Radhakant Deb. 

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This organisation was named Dharam Sabha. He submitted a petition for the repeal of the Act. He wanted Sati to not be abolished and that it continues to exist. By this time Ram Mohan Roy had left for England. To ensure that the law regarding Sati Cannot be overturned.

This was the time when the Mughal king Akbar II had bestowed the title of Raja to Ram Mohan Roy. This is why we address him as Raja Ram Mohan Roy. 

In England, his struggles were successful when in 1832, Dharam Sabha's appeal was rejected by the Privy Council. And Sati remained abolished. But unfortunately, in 1833, Raja Ram Mohan Roy died in England. If you visit Bristol, there is a statue ofRaja Ram Mohan Roy there.

After this, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar continued the work of Raja Ram Mohan Roy. And campaigned for widow remarriage. The members of the Dharam Sabha protested this as well. They protested against The Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856. 

They even collected the signatures of more than 38,000 people but they had to face disappointment. Because widow remarriage was legalised. Many organisations like the Dharam Sabha exist in our country even today. Those who consider themselves as the guardians of the religion. But ironically, often these are the people who have never studied the religion properly. 

What were the religious views of Raja Ram Mohan Roy? 

Adi Shankaracharya is a renowned philosopher who propagated the philosophy of Vedant. That Soul and God are one and the same.

He had famously said "Ahaṃ Brahmāsmi Tvamcha"  

Meaning: I am Brahm and You are Brahm too. 

It was Raja Ram Mohan Roy who had reviewed the Hindu principles of Vedant. He wrote Bengali commentaries on several Upanishads. And translated them into English as well. For this reason, the organisation he set up in 1828, was named Brahmo Sabha. And it was later renamed Brahmo Samaj. 

One of its several principles was the Universal Brotherhood. That there be no barrier of caste or religion among people. Every person is equal. Swami Vivekanand was also a Vendanti who liked Raja Ram Mohan Roy. And like him, spoke out for universal brotherhood and against religious fanaticism.   

Raja Ram Mohan Roy believed that your faith, the religion that you believe in, and your reason, your logic, can exist together harmoniously. But for this, you have to ignore every person, or mediator, getting between the two. 

All the guardians of the religion that interfere in your relationship with God, need to be removed completely. And then whenever you apply logic, all the meaningless rituals would need to be removed from the way as well. All the superstitious practices will have to be eradicated. 

Ram Mohan Roy believed that the Hindu religion has been deformed by these superstitions. In reality, these superstitions have nothing to do with Hinduism. Ironically, where on one hand Raja Ram Mohan Roy was teaching the real principles of Hinduism, on the other hand, several guardians of the religion, had declared Raja Ram Mohan Roy to be Anti-Hindu.   

Not only this, some Buddhist people considered him to be Anti-Buddhist. Because he spoke out against idol worship in Buddhism. He used to tell Buddhist people that they do not need to pray to an idol. And that it is an empty ritual. This is why the Buddhist people started considering him to be Anti-Buddhist. And it didn't end here. 

Christians called him Anti-Christians. This was because Raja Ram Mohan Roy believed in the Singularity of God. That there is only one God.   But many Christians believed in the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Some Christians considered these views to be against Christianity. And the biggest worry of Christians and Europeans was that a practising Hindu was teaching them Christianity. This was also a reason why they were wary of Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

 For this reason, Ram Mohan Roy learnt Hebrew and Greek languages as well. He knew so many languages. So that he could read the Bible written in Hebrew as well as the New Testaments. After which he wrote his famous bookThe Precepts of Jesus. 

In this book, he took the ethical teachings of Jesus, the moral and spiritual things taught by Jesus, and separated them from the stories of miracles performed by Jesus. This book was very controversial. Many missionaries criticised him because of this book. But Ram Mohan Roy appealed to the Christians that his book should be taken in a positive spirit because ultimately, he was teaching universal tolerance. And was talking about universal brotherhood. 

In India we get to see two types of people in abundance. First, who blindly believe in everything that comes from a western country. They believe in the philosophy 'West is the Best'. On the other hand, there are people who are the exact opposite. They believe that anything from the western countries, the philosophies or goods are all unpatriotic. They're sinful. And that the 'nationalists' should abstain from them. 

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Which side is logically correct in your opinion? 

Obviously, neither of the sides is correct here. The path in between is the correct one. The good things of the western countries should be adopted. And those that aren't shouldn't be adopted. Quite simple. 

Raja Ram Mohan Roy introduced this thing in India. And tried to get people to understand this. He talked of the ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity which were used in the French revolution. He promoted English as a mode of instruction. 

He said that if people studied in English they would get more exposure to western science, literature and western political philosophy. Things that were needed to be learnt. Overall, the secular and liberal ideas of Raja Ram Mohan Roy Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, all of these were implemented later in our Constitution. 

Thanks to Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. Their vision was the same. So it is not surprising that because of all these things and because of fighting against blind faith and superstitions today, Raja Ram Mohan Roy is often referred to as the Father of Modern India. We can learn a lot from his life. 

What do you think? 

Write your opinions in the comments below. 

 Thank you very much!

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