Tribute to Ram Mohan Roy


Buddha taught the middle way, and Socrates told us to know “how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible.” Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the embodiment of this golden middle way or golden mean.

When the Eastern extremes equated orthodoxy, prejudices, and superstitions with their identity and the Western extremes took liquor and licentiousness for liberty, Ram Mohan Roy followed the golden middle way. He was against blind clinging to India’s own past or aping of the West.

Ram Mohan, who first took India to the road to modernity, was born on 22 May, 1772. He said that India should acquire all that was best in the East and the West. He had great respect for the traditional philosophic systems of the East and believed that the Western culture alone would regenerate Indian society.

He rightly said that the caste system was doubly evil as it created inequality and deprived divided people of patriotic feeling. Interestingly, he disappointed his many missionary friends who had hoped that his rational critique of Hinduism would ferry him to embrace Christianity. But they did not realise his golden mean.

He wrote the ‘Precepts of Jesus’, in which he praised the moral and philosophic message of the New Testament but criticised its miracle stories. This earned him the hostility of the missionaries. He had to face hostility from all orthodox quarters for his rational outlook. In fact, he had to fight with his relatives, rich zamindars, powerful missionaries, high officials, and foreign authorities all along. But he never gave up his crusade for guiding India in her darkest hour.

The orthodox condemned him and organised a social boycott against him. There is no wonder in it as Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh were killed in the 21st century for running with the torch which was lit by Ram Mohan.

This great social reformer and the maker of modern India had a lifelong crusade for women’s right to inheritance and property and against sati, polygamy, and casteism. The anti-colonial movement and the movement for social emancipation in India were like two intersecting circles whose common ground was liberation. There was hardly any aspect of nation-building that was left untouched by him.

He was the first propagator of modern education. But he fought for an education policy that followed the middle way. While he demanded English education, he did his best to make Bengali the intellectual vehicle in Bengal. Such was his balanced approach. He was a pioneer of Indian journalism and the initiator of public agitation on political questions in the country.

He condemned the oppressive practices of Bengal zamindars that had made the life of the peasants miserable, and demanded that the rents paid by the actual cultivators of land should permanently be fixed, so that they too could enjoy the fruits of the permanent settlement of 1793.

At the same time, he also demanded the abolition of the Company’s trading rights and export duties on Indian goods. He raised his voice for the separation of the executive and the judiciary, trial by jury, and judicial equality between Indians and Europeans.

He founded the Brahmo Samaj. Again, it was a middle way and a synthesis of reason, the Vedas, Upanishads, and the teachings of other religions. It believed in one god and laid emphasis on human dignity, opposed idolatry, and criticised social evils.

He was a firm believer in internationalism. Tagore rightly said, “Ram Mohan was the only person in his time, in the whole world of man, to realise completely the significance of the modern age.”

Sri Aurobindo said that when he was writing ‘Yogic Sadhan’, every time at the beginning, and at the end, the image of Ram Mohan Roy came before him.

Sujit De,