74 SOCIAL SCIENTIST
a straight reflection of the social position of a class, Sen convincingly demonstrates the contradiction between Vidyasagar's aims and means, between his intentions and the achieved results. The portrait that thus emerges is a tragic one, compelling both admiration and pity.
Sen sees Vidyasagar's life-work as actuated by a passionate urge to apply the light of modern knowledge to dispel the gloom of prejudice, superstition and inhumanity that had accumulated over centuries (pp 139-140). He championed tirelessly the cause of elementary vernacular education since he saw it as the best vehicle for spreading rational and humane knowledge among the people. But while secondary schools and university education were enthusiastically embraced by the Bengali middle class, elementary education neither fired the toiling masses nor received due attention from the baboo elite. The colonial rulers also remained lukewarm (pp 28-40). As for widow-remarriage, perhaps his most famous campaign, it failed to receive the general sanction of ordinary Hindu society. The colonial authorities were also averse to seriously tampering with feudal 'religious' customs (pp 54-60). Thus his reforms failed eventually because neither the colonial regime nor the leading sections of the semi-feudal middle class gave him solid and sustained support, leaving him high and dry with a mere reputation for philanthropy (p 72). The two constraints on development, colonialism and vestigial feudalism, not only drastically undermined production but also sabotaged well-meaning social reform.
Vidyasagar's life was however saved from Quixotic futility by the extraordinary vitality of the man. While his main objectives fiiiled dismally, certain byproducts of his heroic struggle became parts of a fertile legacy. His textbooks laid the basis of all later attempts to introduce and extend vernacular education. The prose he fashioned is the foundation on which modern Bengali prose stands today. His sense of a new conscious individuality, of a life consciously directed by principles derived from Western humanism but adapted to Indian environments, had justly been hailed by Michael Madhusudan Dutt as the markings 'of the first Man among us'. Above all, Sen's account forcefully conveys the impression of an unceasing, if unavailing, endeavour to resolve in practice the contradictions of a colonial ^enlighten-ment5 (pp 24-28; pp 140-142; pp 147-154).
But while our thanks are due to Sen for this historical rehabilitation, our feeling is that it has not demolished the "extremist5 challenge. (It may be mentioned in passing that the so-called