Social Scientist. v 15, no. 164 (Jan 1987) p. 26.

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Bengal Renaissance—A Study in Social Contradictions

THE CONCEPT of the Renaissance in Bengal posited in the context of British colonial rule is based on the fundamental premise that the western education and political infrastructure disseminated a sense of rule of law and justice and fostered "an intellectual development of the people on an entirely new line'9.1 And historians of differing ideological persuasions have accepted the concept of renaissance as some kind of awakening of the people especially in the cultural realm. But, as has been elaborately discussed in his article on Indian renaissance by Barun De2, a model based on the European experience is unsuitable in the Indian context.

Unfortunately, Marxist thinking about renaissance in India, more precisely in Bengal has been coloured by the articles of Marx on India and the interpretation of Indian history by Rajani Paime Dutt in his famous book "India To-day". Based on a somewhat muddled interpretation of Marx's writings, the approach of the Indian Marxists to the study of the Bengal renaissance has been somewhat more ambivalent.8

Infact, it has become an axiom that English education "helped more than others in bringing about the great transformation in India in the nineteenth century"4. M.N. Roy, once a radical communist, also expounded the idea that "the English system of education had brought into existence a small set of modern intellectuals who could be looked upon as the forerunners of the national movements of the subsequent epoch"5.

Such an assessment of the Bengal Renaissance could tend to ignore the fact that India was a colonial country, with the consequent social contradictions. This could result in a misleading interpretation.

Contradictions Under Colonialism

The principal contradiction of colonial India was between colonialism and the masses of the people (including the feudal forces). The contradiction between feudalism and the people and other contradictions were temporarily relegated to the secondary position. The internal contradictions often became sharper when the masses of the people rose in revolt, though sporadically, against feudal exploitation allied with colonialism. Numerous peasant revolts during the nineteenth century bear testimony to this fact which the intellectuals perfunctorily dismissed as unimportant. The crude

^Jadavpur University, Calcutta.

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