THE BIRTH OF MODERN INDIA
After putting down the Great Revolt, the British became stronger in our country than ever before.There was no one to challenge their rule. Being the masters, they did not consult our people about how the country should be governed. They did many things which, in the eyes of our people, were not good for the country. But we were quite helpless. Little by little, we came to understand what it was to lose freedom.
But many among us also realized that we had become a slave nation because we had a number of faults. We had an evil caste system according to which some people were born high and others were born so low that nothing could improve them. We regarded thousands as untouchables.
The lot of our women were no better. Many of them were married when they were mere children. Very few people in the country were educated. Although the study of English had begun, millions of our people could not go to school because of caste rules and poverty.
Unless these unfortunate things were set right, there was no chance of our becoming strong again. Many great men of the period realized this and spent their lives fighting the worst of the social evils.
The first man who thought in this way became very famous because he brought about great changes in the way of people's thinking. He persuaded Indians to accept the good things of the West. This man was Raja Ram Mohun Roy.
RAJA RAM MOHUN ROY
Ram Mohun Roy was born in an old-fashioned Brahmin family of Bengal. He was married when he was still a child. He could not understand what was happening to hlm, but he did not dare to say anything to his father. In hls community it was the custom for children to be married very young.
Ram Mohun Roy was very clever at school. He learnt Persian, Sanskrit and Arabic. When he was twenty, he began to learn English. He also studied the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bible and the Quran. He felt that they all taught the same truths. He also disliked many customs of his time. He had special reason to hate the cruel custom of Sati. He had a sister whom he loved very much. Unfortunately her husband died. As was customary, she was burnt alive along with her husband's dead body. This dreadful thing happened before Ram Mohun Roy's own eyes. It changed his whole life. At this time, he had a good job under the British. He gave it up, and made up his mind to work for the improvement of his own people. Then came a day when the Government declared Sati to be illegal. This was due to the efforts of Ram Mohun Roy, who never tired of speaking and writing on this subject. He raised his voice against many other evil practices. This made him unpopular, because most people were afraid of change and suspicious of anyone who had had an English education. Many times, Ram Mohun Roy had not a single friend left to support him. But this did not bother him.
One of Ram Mohun Roy’s ambitions was to teach people to pray to God without any complicated rituals, or worship of idols. He started a new sect of Hinduism called the Brahmo Samaj. People from any caste could join the sect. The Brahmo Samaj did not allow any idols or pictures to be worshipped. Its followers were also forbidden to kill animals for sacrifice as is done at the famous temple of Kali in Calcutta.
Ram Mohun Roy was among the first Indians to go to England. The Emperor of Delhi who also gave him the title of Raja sent him. The orthodox Hindus thought they would lose their caste if they went overseas and ate with foreigners. Ram Mohun Roy did not value the opinion of such people, because he had gone to ask for certain rights for his countrymen. Indians were not given good official positions in their own country. He wanted to fight it out with those in power in England. He did not fight with a sword but with words of wisdom. His words made the British see Indians in a different light.
Ram Mohun Roy could never come back to India. When he had finished his work and was planning to return home, he was taken ill and he died in England.
Many able and wise men came after Ram Mohun Roy. One was Dayanand Saraswati. He was born in Kathiawad.
Like Ram Mohun Roy he also felt that God could not live in an idol "over which even mice could run". He too tried to make religion and worship simple. He started the Arya Samaj and many people joined him.
Another great man was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He was born in Bengal. Although he was not learned, he was very wise. Even from his childhood he was pious. As he grew older he felt that he was always in the presence of God. He was a priest in a small temple near Calcutta and led a very simple life. He respected people of all castes and religions equally. Many times he ate with the outcastes. He believed that all religions taught the same truth. Like the ancient rishis of India he taught that 'God is one; learned men name him differently.' Although a Brahmin, he lived like a Muslim and a Christian at different times and fully understood the teaching of those religions. His life was so good and his teaching so noble that he was soon recognized as a saint.
The saintly Ramakrishna had a large number of followers. Among them was a handsome and highly educated young man who became famous as Swami Vivekananda.
Vivekananda wanted his master's teaching to be known widely. He travelled all over India and went to many foreign countries also. He founded the Ramakrishna Mission, so that the Paramahamsa's disciples could work together. Vivekananda's speeches and writings did much to make Indians feel proud of their past. But he was unhappy that such a people had become so poor and ignorant. He wanted India to awake and arise, to be active and to seek knowledge. The greatest religion, he taught, was to serve the poor people. Vivekananda did not live long. He was only thirty-nine years old when he passed away.
When you grow older you will read more about these remarkable men who first began to lead India in the new direction of social freedom. Along with them you must remember the names of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Keshab Chandra Sen and Syed Ahmed Khan.