During the late 1820s and early 1830s, a radical intellectual trend emerged among the youth in Bengal, which came to be known as the “Young Bengal Movement”. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was the founder and leader of the Young Bengal Movement, who taught at Hindu College in Calcutta from 1826 to 1831. He influenced many people in college, encouraged them to think freely and promoted radical ideas in his teachings.
The Young Bengal was a group of Bengali free thinkers emerging from the Hindu College at Calcutta. They were also known as Derozians, after their teacher Henry Vivian Derozio (a rationalist and free thinker).
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was an Indian poet whose father was of Portuguese origin, and his mother was an English woman. At the age of 17 years, Derozio joined the Hindu College of Calcutta in May 1826 as a teacher of English literature and History. He was one of the first Indian educators to disseminate Western learning and science among the youngster of Bengal.
Drawing inspiration from the great French Revolution, Derozio inspired his students to think freely and rationally, question all authority, love liberty, equality and freedom, and oppose decadent customs and traditions. He also supported women’s rights and their education. Perhaps, Derozio was also the first nationalist poet of modern India.
Objectives of the Young Bengal Movement
- Derozio was a great propounder of liberal thinking. His Basic motto was to spread intellectual revolution among young students.
- Promote radical ideas through teachings and organising debates and discussions on Literature, Philosophy, History and Science.
- To end social evils, such as child marriages, child labour, sati practices, etc.
- To promote education for women.
- To spread ideas of the French revolution like liberty, fraternity and equality.
- To promote value-based and rational thinking through scientific-based knowledge rather than rote learning.
Derozio and Young Bengal Group
Derozio’s students, collectively called the “Young Bengal“, were inspired by the teachings of their teacher that changed their thinking and took the form of a revolution in the city. They were excited by the spirit of free thought and revolted against the Hindu society’s existing social and religious structure.
Henry Vivian Derozio taught his pupils to develop a critical outlook on life and societal processes. He tried to persuade his students to love knowledge and abandon the habit of believing groundlessly. The Young Bengal group ridiculed all old social traditions and customs, defied social and religious convictions, debated the existence of God, and demanded freedom of thought & expression and education for women.
The Young Bengal Movement included Christians such as Reverend Alexand Duff, who founded the General Assembly Institution and his students like Lal Behari Dey, who went to renounce Hindusim.
The most favourite students of Derozio at the Hindu college were Rasik Krishna Mallick, Ramgopal Ghosh, Hara Chandra Ghosh, Sib Chandra Deb, Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee, Madhab Chandra Mallik, Ramtanu Lahiri, Mahesh Chandra Ghosh, and others.
Latter-day inheritors of the legacy of this Movement include scholars like Brajendra Nath Seal, who also became one of the leading theologians and thinkers of the Brahmo Samaj.
The Young Bengal group, however, failed to have a long-term impact. The main reason for their limited success was the social conditions prevailing at that time, which were not ripe for adopting radical ideas.
The radical views of the Young Bengal group and their unconventional practices, such as not showing respect to religious idols, alarmed the orthodox Hindus of Calcutta.
The orthodox Hindus thought that the teachings of Derozio were the root cause of the views held by the Young Bengal group and exerted pressure on the authorities of the Hindu college to remove him. They forced Derozio to resign from the Hindu College in 1831 due to his radical teachings. He died of cholera at the young age of 22 years on 26 December 1831 in Calcutta.
The Young Bengal Movement continued even after the dismissal of Derozio from Hindu College and his sudden death in 1831. Though deprived of leadership, the Young Bengal group continued their preaching of radical ideas through teaching and journalism.
Derozio and Young Bengal group set up two establishments and published journals, which played a role in the Bengal Renaissance.
In 1828, Derozio, with his students, founded the “Academic Association” and settled down in Maniktala. The Association organised debates on various subjects. Derozio was its president, and one of his students, Uma Charan Basu, was its secretary. The principal speakers of the Association were: Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Rasik Krishna Mallick, Ramgopal Ghosh, Radhanath Sikdar, Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee, and Hara Chandra Ghosh. Its organisers were: Sib Chandra Deb, Ramtanu Lahiri and Peary Chand Mitra.
Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge
The “Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge” was established on 20 February 1838. Tarachand Chakraborti was its president, and its secretaries were Ramtanu Lahiri and Peary Chand Mitra. It had 200 Members in 1843.
Its main objective was to acquire and disseminate knowledge about the country’s condition. The Young Bengal group discussed various aspects of Western science. The Society stood for several social reforms, such as child marriage, the prohibition of caste taboos, and a ban on widow remarriage.
The Society elected David Hare as an honorary visitor. The Young Bengal group also had links with later organisations such as the British India Society, British Indian Association, and Landholders Society.
Between 1828 and 1843, the Young Bengal group published a few journals to give wider publicity to their views and principles, which include the Jnananwesan, Parthenon, Enquirer, Hindu Pioneer, Quill, and Bengal Spectator.
The Young Bengal group published the Jnananwesan (Quest of knowledge) to disseminate their views. Jnananwesan was a bilingual journal organised by Rasik Krishna Mallick, which aimed at educating the people in the science of government and jurisprudence. It started in 1831 and continued up to 1844.
Impact of the Young Bengal Movement
Derozio possessed a dazzling intellect and followed the most radical views of the time, drawing his inspiration from the great French Revolution. His ideas profoundly influenced the social movement that came to be known as Bengal Renaissance in the early 19th Century.
The Young Bengal group attacked old and decadent customs, rites and traditions. They were passionate advocates of women’s rights and demanded education for them. However, they did not take up the peasant’s cause, and no other class group in Indian Society existed at the time which could support their progressive ideas. They forgot to maintain their links with the people.
Even so, the Derozians or Young Bengal group took forward Raja Ram Mohan‘s tradition of educating people on social, economic, and political questions through newspapers, pamphlets, and public associations. They carried on public agitation on general questions such as the revision of the Charter of Company, better treatment of Indian labour in British colonies abroad, freedom of the press, trial by jury, protection of ryots from oppressive zamindars, and employment of Indians in the higher grades of government services.
The Members of Young Bengal later became prominent leaders in other social movements. Many Derozians later joined the Brahmo Samaj Movement, contributing to several social reforms.
Surendranath Banerjee, the famous leader of the nationalist movement, described the Derozians as “the pioneers of the modern civilisation of Bengal, the conscript fathers of our race whose virtues will excite veneration and whose failings will be treated with the gentlest consideration”.
Who started the Young Bengal Movement?
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio started the Young Bengal Movement in 1826 in Calcutta.
Who were the prominent members of the Young Bengal Movement?
• Krishna Mohan Banerjee.
• Sib Chandra Deb.
• Hara Chandra Ghosh.
• Tarachand Chakraborti.
• Ramtanu Lahiri.
• Ramgopal Ghosh.
• Rasik Krishna Mallick.
• Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee.
• Peary Chand Mitra.
• Radhanath Sikdar.
What was the aim of the Young Bengal Movement?
The Young Bengal Movement aimed to promote radical ideas through teachings and organising debates and discussions on Literature, History, Philosophy and Science.