Jan 28, 2023
Jan 28, 2023
Mr. Prakash Karat’s paper titled “The Role of the English-Educated in Indian Politics”  has the following comment about Raja Rammohun Roy (22 May 1772- 27 September 1833) – that he writes while analyzing “the class background and social attitudes of the early advocates of English”:
“Raja Ram Mohan Roy, known as the ‘Father of Modern India’ for his enlightened attitude on matters of social reform, defended the British indigo planters. Indigo planters were the most vicious and cruel exploiters of all British planters and their behavior aroused great indignation not only among Indians but also among some of the British civil servants. When there was a demand for an inquiry into their conduct, Ram Mohan Roy wrote: “As to the indigo planters, I beg to observe that I have travelled through several districts in Bengal and Bihar and I found the natives residing in the neighborhood of indigo plantations better clothed and better conditioned than those who lived at a distance from such a station...There may be some partial injury done by indigo planters, but on the whole, they have performed more good to the generality of the natives of this country than any other class of Europeans...”
The points that Karat makes are:
i. Karat writes that Raja Rammohun Roy “wrote” the quoted utterance – “When there was a demand for an inquiry into their (the indigo planters) conduct …”
ii. Karat writes, Rammohun Roy “wrote” that and “defended the British indigo planters.”
Now, this is what I find from “The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy”, Edited by Jogendra Chunder Ghose, Vol. II. Calcutta, 1901, Page-343 (see endnotes for the entire reported speech in context) :
a. Raja Rammohun Roy did not “write” the said utterance; it is “the report of the speech which Ram Mohun Roy is said to have made in supporting the resolution for abolishing the restrictions on the residence of Europeans in India. It is reprinted from the Asiatic Journal Vol. II. New Series, May-August 1830. ED”
b. Raja Rammohun Roy made the (reported) speech “in supporting the resolution for abolishing the restrictions on the residence of Europeans in India” – and NOT – “When there was a demand for an inquiry into their (the indigo planters) conduct…” that Karat writes!
c. Rammohun Roy is reported to have said that about Europeans and NOT about British indigo planters only.
d. Karat writes Rammohun Roy “defended the British indigo planters” but Rammohun Roy did not give the indigo planters any absolute clean chit but was aware of “some partial injury done by indigo planters” and stated that unequivocally.
e. Moreover, Rammohun Roy made that ‘reported speech’ in 1829, when the indigo planters had not yet turned such oppressors, (we do not have adequate historical data to ‘prove’ that ‘all indigo planters’ were oppressors before and in 1829) because as history tells us, it was by an act in 1833, when the planters were granted a free hand in oppression, even the zamindars, money lenders and other influential persons sided with the planters to oppress the peasants. So, Karat is blaming Rammohun Roy for a ‘reported speech’ of 1829, which was 4 years earlier than the beginning of the real oppression in 1833!
f. Rammohun Roy spent his last months in England and died in 1833, that is, he did not live to witness the indigo oppression at its worst phase.
Rammohun Roy’s stand on European settlement was no doubt a controversial issue that earned him some unpopularity and even embittered many Bengalis – but that is a separate issue – a social reformer is never a populist, or a politician; he has his own mind, a far better mind than most politicians of today.
Even accepting for argument’s sake that the report on Rammohun Roy’s speech was verbatim, what we find is that Rammohun Roy made certain observations based on his own observation and experience, and he was actually concerned about the condition of the peasants.
Reading Rammohun’s “Remarks on Settlement in India by Europeans” (July 14th 1832) – that he wrote from London, we find he pointed out both the advantages and disadvantages of European settlement, and concluded: “At all events, no one will, I trust, oppose me when I say, that the settlement in India by Europeans should at least be undertaken experimentally, so that its effects may be ascertained by actual observation on a moderate scale. If the result be such as to satisfy all parties, whether friendly or opposed to it, the measure may then be carried on to a greater extent, till at last it may seem safe and expedient to throw the country open to persons of all classes. On mature consideration, therefore, I think I may safely recommend that educated persons of character and capital should now be per¬mitted and encouraged to settle in India, without any restriction of locality or any liability to banishment, at the discretion of the go-vernment; and the result of this experiment may serve as a guide in any future legislation on this subject.” (Read the entire paper here).
Rammohun’s actual intention is evident from this – he was in favor of European settlement ‘experimentally’ and wanted only “educated persons of character and capital (to) be permitted and encouraged to settle in India.”
As Sumit Sarkar has mentioned, in a letter to Digby (18 January, 1828), Rammohun urged for “political advantage and social comfort,” ruthlessly analyzing the irrationalities of contemporary society  - it is not possible that he himself would be irrational. Besides, during this time, Victor Jacquemont (1829) spoke of Rammohun’s “blind patriotism of youth made him detest the English and all who came with them.” 
Mufakharul Islam has shown that Rammohun was connected with anti-British zaminders and even peasant groups in Rangpur  from early youth.
Ranajit Guha has shown how Rammohun Roy’s Daya (compassion) marked the beginning of Bengal Renaissance. 
On examining Karat’s citation I find it as: “See L Natarajan, Peasant Uprisings in India, Bombay, 1953 for the quotes on Roy and Tagore. This little book is an attempt to analyze the socio-economic forces behind peasant revolts. Dwarakanath Tagore was himself an indigo plantation owner.”
Obviously Karat has not read Raja Rammohun Roy’s works in original.
Let us note Karat’s style too.
To intensify his sarcasm on the ignorance of those who consider Rammohun Roy as an icon of Bengal Renaissance, Karat emphasizes Rammohun Roy’s qualities – “Raja Ram Mohan Roy, known as the ‘Father of Modern India’ for his enlightened attitude on matters of social reform,” and then makes an absolutist comment – “(He) defended the British indigo planters” – based on secondhand evidence, out-of-context quotation, and even falsifying the historical context and historical fact.
As if to heighten the irony, Karat informs us – “Indigo planters were the most vicious and cruel exploiters of all British planters and their behavior aroused great indignation not only among Indians but also among some of the British civil servants” (as if, Karat’s readers, if any, need to be made aware of this!) – that is, ‘see, even Indians and some British civil servants denounced the indigo planters, but you Indians and Bengalis, you still consider Rammohun Roy “the ‘Father of Modern India’ for his enlightened attitude on matters of social reform”?’
Mr. Prakash Karat is a renowned politician, and general secretary of a responsible political party - CPI (M).
Would it be wrong to expect that a public figure like Mr. Prakash Karat should examine the source properly before venturing a comment on a highly honored Bengali and Indian icon of Bengal Renaissance?
Falsifying history was a symptom of Stalin’s Russia, (nowadays, courtesy the democracy of our country, overwhelming majority of Bengalis say that Bengal was no different two years back) – but India/Bengal and Russia are different.
Indians, Bengalis, and I have no doubt that Mr. Prakash Karat perhaps knows that better.
 Prakash Karat. The Role of the English-Educated in Indian Politics. Social Scientist, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Nov., 1972), pp. 25-46
 “The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy”, Edited by Jogendra Chunder Ghose, Vol. II. Calcutta, 1901, Page-343
Speech on Settlement of Europeans in India.
“FROM personal experience, I am impressed with the conviction that the greater our intercourse with European gentlemen, the greater will be our improvement in literary, social, and political affairs; a fact which can be easily proved by comparing the condition of those of my countrymen who have enjoyed this advantage with that of those who unfortunately have not had that opportunity; and a fact which I could, to the best of my belief, declare on solemn oath before any assembly. As to the indigo planters, I beg to observe that I have travelled through several districts in Bengal and Behar, and I found the natives residing in the neighborhood of indigo plantations evidently better clothed and better conditioned than those who lived at a distance from such stations. There may be some partial injury done by the indigo planters; but, on the whole, they have performed more good to the generality of the natives of this country than any other class of Europeans, whether in or out of the service.”
The editor Jogendra Chunder Ghose notes:
“A great public meeting was held at the Town Hall of Calcutta on the 15th of December 1829, for the purpose of petitioning the Parliament to throw open the China and India trade and to remove the restrictions against settlement of Europeans in India. The above is the report of the speech which Ram Mohun Roy is said to have made in supporting the resolution for abolishing the restrictions on the residence of Europeans in India. It is reprinted from the Asiatic Journal Vol. II. New Series, May-August 1830. ED”
 Sumit Sarkar. “Rammohan Roy and the Break with the Past”. A Critique of Colonial India. Papyrus, Calcutta, 2000, p-14
 Ibid. p-20 [J.K.Majumder ed. Indian Speeches and Documents on British Rule (Calcutta, 1937), p.41]
 Mufakharul Islam. Rammohan Royer Ajnatabas. Itihas (Dacca), Bhadra-Agrahayan, 1376
 Ranajit Guha. Daya; Ramamohan Roy o Amader Adhunikata. Talpata, 2010
More by : Indrajit Bandyopadhyay
|Pravat Karat, Pravat Pattanaik and Sitaram Yachury are anti-Bengali Marxist. They were opposed to Jyoti Basu in 1996 when it almost certain that Jyoti Basu would be the Prime Minister; they had chosen an ignorant farmer from Karnataka. Not a single building of the CPIM was named after any Bengali communists, although Bengalis gave their lives more than any other community in India for the Communism.|
Pravat Karat is not alone in his opposition to Ram Mohan Roy.
|@ uttara chakraborty|
I don't get your point. In this article I have shown how Prakash Karat has falsified history - that's all. What other scholars say do not justify Karat's falsification, nor that is my concern here.
your ideas on Rammohun seem to be 'secondhand' because you seem to rely on what scholars' say instead of examining the source-texts yourself.
Still, as you have quoted some scholars, let me say, I don't consider them reliable. See for example my review on Sumit Sarkar's two articles -
a) Sumit Sarkar, Text Manipulation, “Rammohan Roy and the Break with the Past”
b) Sumit Sarkar, Chakri-Centric Kaliyuga -Scholarship & Shri Ramakrishna
read them with open mind and find out how Sumit Sarkar manipulates Source-Text and falsifies history
|Both Tanika Sarkar (Rebels, Wives, Saints,Permanent Black,2009,) and Dipesh Chakraborty( Provincialising Europe,Oxford,2001) have emphasized on the element of 'daya' or compassion evident in Rammohan and Vidyasagar' which was behind their crusading movements against 'Sati' and for introduction of widow remarriage. This presence of 'daya' according to D. Chakraborty was akin to the so important and all pervading Renaissance element of humanism. One cannot deny that both were extra ordinary men. However they were men of contradictions as well. Particularly in Rammohan the dichotomy is most evident. the man who carried out the movement against 'Sati' with so much compassion for women, was some what indifferent to the cause and status of the peasants. Asok Sen has quoted in his article "The Bengal economy and Rammohan Roy" in V.C Joshi edited volume 'Rammohan Roy and the process of Modernization in India', the questions raised to Rammohan and the answers given by him from Bengal Hurkaru, a leading periodical of the time, (June 1832 ) on what should the approach be towards a tenant in case of arrears of rent and found that the answers given by the great reformer emphatically spoke in favour of the landlord.( see Asok Sen, in V.C Joshied Rammohan roy, p119-120) According to Sumit Sarkar, "the founding father of our Renaissance was utterly silent" about the decline of disastrous de-industrialization of this country. |
One could only speak in defence of the so-called stalwarts of the 19th century that they were blinkered by the nearness of their contemporary time.
Distance of time renders a canny of hindsight and flashback even to the most mediocre reader of history. The stalwarts could not see beyond their time--a thousand time pity and did not live to see the plight of the ryots in the hands of the indigo planters, the devastation created by opium cultivation over the rich arable lands and of course the-resultant fateful storm of 1857.
Perhaps Sumit asarkar's statement is historically true--Rammohan's achievements as a modernizer was both limited and extremely ambivalent ( S. Sarkar's article in V.C Joshi, ed Rammohan)
PS --History texts are most often abstract and impersonal in narrating colonial exploitation. One should read Amitav Ghosh's "Sea of Opium" and "River of Smoke" to get real feel of the intensity of colonial oppression and misrule.
|Thanks a lot for exposing Karat as a petty fogging demagogue.|