|Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee • Hara Chandra Ghosh • Krishna Mohan Banerjee • Peary Chand Mitra • Radhanath Sikdar • Ramgopal Ghosh • Ramtanu Lahiri • Rasik Krishna Mallick • Sib Chandra Deb|
The Young Bengal was a group of Bengali free thinkers emerging from Hindu College, Calcutta. They were also known as Derozians, after their firebrand teacher at Hindu College, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio.
The Young Bengals were inspired and excited by the spirit of free thought and revolt against the existing social and religious structure of Hindu society. A number of Derozians were attracted to the Brahmo Samaj movement much later in life when they had lost their youthful fire and excitement. As one scholar characterized it:
- "The Young Bengal movement was like a mighty storm that tried to sweep away everything before it. It was a storm that lashed society with violence causing some good, and perhaps naturally, some discomfort and distress."
The Young Bengal Movement peripherally included Christians such as Reverend Alexander Duff (1806–1878), who founded the General Assembly's Institution, and his students like Lal Behari Dey (1824–1892), who went on to renounce Hinduism. Latter-day inheritors of the legacy of the Young Bengal Movement include scholars like Brajendra Nath Seal (1864–1938), who went on to be one of the leading theologians and thinkers of the Brahmo Samaj. The Derozians however failed to have a long term impact. Derozio was removed from the Hindu college in 1831 because of radicalism. The main reason for their limited success was social conditions prevailing at that time which were not ripe for adoption of radical ideas. Further, they did not link masses through peasant causes.
- "With respect to the questions relating to Political Economy, they all belong to the school of Adam Smith. They are clearly of opinion that the system of monopoly, the restraints upon trade, and the international laws of many countries, do nothing by paralyse the efforts of industry, impede the progress of agriculture and manufacture, and prevent commerce from flowing in its natural course."
Derozio and the Young Bengal group set two establishments and published journals that played a role in the Bengal Renaissance. These are noted below:
Derozio joined Hindu College in 1826 and within a short period attracted students. The Academic Association, established in 1828 under the guidance of Derozio, arranged discussions on subjects such as:
- Free will, free ordination, fate, faith, the sacredness of truth, the high duty of cultivating virtue, and the meanness of vice, the nobility of patriotism, the attributes of God, and the arguments for and against the existence of the deity as these have been set forth in Hume on one side, and Reid, Dugald Stewart and Brosn on the other, the hollowness of idolatry and the shames of priesthood.
After moving around for a place for its meetings, it settled down in Maniktala. Derozio was its president. One of his students, Uma Charan Basu, was its secretary. The principal speakers in the association were: Rasik Krishna Mallick, Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Ramgopal Ghosh, Radhanath Sikdar, Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee, and Hara Chandra Ghosh. Amongst its organisers were Ramtanu Lahiri, Sib Chandra Deb and Peary Chand Mitra.
The sessions of the Academic Association attracted attention to such an extent that amongst those who used to be present fairly regularly were. David Hare, Col. Benson, private secretary of Lord William Bentick, Col. Beatson, later adjutant general, and Dr. Mills, principal of Bishop's College. They applauded the youngsters for their brilliant oratory.
Haramohan Chatterjee has written as follows about the debates in the association"
- "The principles and practices of Hindu religion were openly ridiculed and condemned, and angry disputes were held on moral subjects; the sentiments of Hume had been widely diffused and warmly patronised." The accusation of being irreligious is not entirely correct. The Derozian aim was in truth "to summon Hinduism to the bar of reason." When Derozio was dismissed he wrote back, "That I should be called a sceptic and infidel is not surprising, as these names are always given to persons who think for themselves in religion…" Derozio died in 1831, but the Academic Association was kept alive till about 1839. David Hare accepted the presidency after Derozio.
Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge
The Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge was established on 20 February 1838. It had 200 members in 1843. Trachand Chakrabarti was its president, Ramgopal Ghosh its vice president and Peary Chand Mitra its president. The society elected David Hare as honorary visitor. Some of the prominent papers it published were: Nature of Historical Studies and Civil and Social Reform by Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Interests of the Female Sex and the State of Hindustan by Peary Chand Mitra, Sketch of Bankuja by Hara Chandra Ghosh, Notice of Tipperah, A New Spelling Book, Notices of Chittagong by Gobinda Chandra Basak.
These associations of the Young Bengal group were forerunners of later organisations such as the Landholders’ Society, British India Society, and British Indian Association with all of which the Young Bengal group had links.
Prominent Derozians and Young Bengal group members who left a distinct mark in Calcutta society of the 1830s and 1840s were:
- Krishna Mohan Banerjee (1813–1885), whose conversion to Christianity raised a great storm
- Tarachand Chakraborti (1805–1855), prominent in the Brahmo Sabha and Young Bengal
- Sib Chandra Deb (1811–1890), a prominent Brahmo Samaj leader of Konnagar
- Hara Chandra Ghosh (1808–1868), judge of the Small Causes Court.
- Ramgopal Ghosh (1815–1868), a successful businessman and public speaker whose attacks on the Black Acts and criticism of the European protests against a well-intentioned government move to bring Europeans on a par with the natives in judicial treatment were landmarks
- Ramtanu Lahiri (1813–1898), publicly removed his sacred thread in 1851 and as a teacher became a centre of progressive thoughts
- Rasik Krishna Mallick (1810–1858), refused to swear by the holy Ganges water and ran away from his orthodox home
- Peary Chand Mitra (1814–1883), founded the Monthly Magazine in Bengali that set a non-journalistic style of writing intelligibly to all, including average women, and also took part in establishing the Calcutta Public Library in 1831 which became an intellectual forum
- Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee (1818–1887), donated the site for the Bethune College for women
- Radhanath Sikdar (1813–1870), caused a sensation by refusing to marry a child bride and thereafter rose to be a surveyor, mathematician, diarist, writer, public speaker and the calculator of the height of the Himalayas. He was the first one to accurately measure the height of Mt. Everest but the peak was named after George Everest and not Radhanath Sikdar.
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