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While these social and religious reform movements were taking place in the urban, western-educated, Hindu middle-class society, the Muslim social and religious reform movements were unfolding in the countryside amongst the peasantry. The ideas of these movements may be traced back to Shah Waliullah (1703-62) of Delhi, who had called for a puritanic reform of Indian Islam, but in Bengal the movements took the form of a peasant revolt. The first such movement was led by Syed Nisar Ali (1782-1831), better known as Titumeer, who organized the peasants as a distinct militant group. Reacting to the potential danger of letting the peasants get organized, the local landlord, who was a Hindu, took such steps as would lead to a disbanding of the organization. In the ensuing clash that took a communal color, the administration came out in support of the landlord, and finally crushed the movement through military action.

A similar one known as the Faraizi movement was organized among the peasants and artisans of East Bengal by Haji Shariatullah (1780-1840), who was said to have had a following of 12,000 men in 1837. He declared that India, under the British, was a land of the infidel, but did not call for a holy war against them. His son, Muhsinuddin Ahmad, alias Dudu Miyan (1819-60), who took the leadership from his father, declared that all land belonged to God and no landlord had any right to levy taxes on those who tilled it. Again, a combination of landlords, indigo-planters, and the administration finally saw the doom of the movement.

It is undoubted that in their religious outlook, these movements were not far-sighted, but their social and economic views had a potential force of creativity that was not allowed to flower. The fact that the peasants were organized and threw up their own leadership was of great significance. It cannot, however, be denied that the movements sharply demarcated the boundaries between a Muslim and a non-Muslim, or, for that matter, between a Muslim belonging to the movement and a Muslim who was not. This was just another episode the tradition of resorting to religion for the solution of problems, which was the archaic practice, with instances even occurring in recent history.

The revolt that distinguished itself as being based on purely economic issues, and having nothing to do with religious persuasions, was the Indigo Revolt of 1860, directed against European planters whose exploitation had pushed the peasants to the wall. A surprising aspect of this revolt was the support it enlisted from the Bengali intelligentsia, who had otherwise shown no interest in the earlier peasant movements. The Indigo Revolt elicited much support from a Bengali journalist, whose speeches and writings made a definite contribution to its cause. It also inspired a playwright to produce the ..nost popular play of the time, which in turn contributed a great deal to the nationalist movement in Bengal.

All the time religious ideas seemed to be overtaking economic and political issues. The work of the European Orientalists, whose footsteps were followed by Bengali scholars, had re-awakened the image of ancient India as a land of great charm and achievements. The pride in India's past meant a pride in Hindu India to the intelligentsia. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-86), a poor Brahmin having no formal education, ushered in a new wave of revivalism by a simple and emotional interpretation of the Hindu faith. His disciple, Swami Vivekananda (1862-1902), supplied the intellectual basis of Hindu revivalism and declared the need of a spiritual conquest of the West by Hindu India.

The modernist Muslim leaders of Bengal, Abdul Luteef (1828-93) and Syed Ameer Ali (1849-1928), in their turn, stressed the separate identity and tradition of the Muslim. To them the issue of obtaining greater access to education was of the same importance as was the question of female emancipation to Hindu social reformers. Abdul Luteef, a high government official, made special efforts for the spread of western education among the Muslims of Bengal, who were lagging behind the Hindus in this respect, and thus obtaining a lower share of government jobs which were made to appear very covetable. Ameer Ali, who later became a member of the Privy Council, was well known for his liberal interpretation of Islam. Both of them wrote exclusively in English, one for the benefit of the government hierarchy, the other for that of the western readers. The parallel development of Hindu and Muslim revivalism, which proved stronger than the efforts at forging unity between the two communities, had well known political consequences. The eventual consequences were also affected by development which took place in the twentieth century, when Bengal politics were engulfed by the currents of the all-India political scene.

Until that time, however, Bengal had given the lead to endogenous political activism in India. Bengal was politically more articulate than any other province of India, perhaps due to the fact that English education was first imparted here, and that a middle class grew up earlier. The ideas of nationalism and political freedom were learnt not from experiences of life but from English textbooks. The blessings of British rule were, therefore, time and again recounted, and political leaders imbued with Victorian liberalism appealed to the good sense of the rulers for allowing the Indians more participation in the political process. The aim was set at constitutional development after the British model, and the demise of colonial rule was demanded much later.

Bengal contributed a great deal to this political process. The politics of "associations" had appeared in Bengal in the 1840s. The India League founded by Sisir Kumar Ghosh (1840-1911), the Indian Association founded by Surendranath Banarjee (1848-1925), and the National Mahomedan Association founded by Ameer Ali preceded the Indian National Congress (1885). From Ghosh and Banarjee to C. R. Das (1870-1925) and Subhaschandra Bose (1897-1945), Bengal had produced a number of great political figures, and when radicalism appeared in politics, it was echoed more distinctly by the youth of Bengal who chose the path of violence in the early years of this century.

By the time the phase of radicalism showed its face, political appeals were being made to the masses in the language they were traditionally used to - the parlance of religion. The image of the country as a mother goddess became popular and the Gita became the handbook of the revolutionaries, which could hardly appeal to the Muslims. Given the late growth of the middle class in that community, their interest was expectedly different from that of their Hindu counterparts. A separate bargaining counter for the Muslims was now founded in the Muslim League (1906).

The economic interests of classes became clouded by the collective emotional upsurge against colonial rule. The leadership generally came from the upper and middle class gentry who had better mastered the language of western political ideas and movements. The political process and movements also imparted education to the working class. Consequently, the development took place in the present century of the Communist Party and of peasant organizations and trade unions which put forward economic demands of exploited interest groups. A tangible outcome of this trend was seen in the 1940s in the Tebhaga movement of the Bengal peasantry, based on the demand for a greater share of output for the actual tiller of the land.

The foremost vehicle of intellectual creativity, however, was literature. It will be unjustified to overlook the contributions made by writers trained in the endogenous tradition who favourably responded to the changing situation, but individuals who brought revolutionary change were the English-educated writers, such as Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73) and Bankimchandra ChatterJee (1838-94), who turned to Bengali only after their English writings were met with a limited appreciation.

 
 

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