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Prof. A.P. Mathur
M.A., PhD, F.I.H.S., F.R.A.S. (London)
Former Vice-Chancellor, Agra University, Agra, India


The Impact of the West

Western influence on India began with the landing at Calicut in 1498 of Vasco da Gama. The Portuguese were followed by the British, the French, the Dutch and the Danes. All of them subjected the country to their respective influences. Gradually, the English acquired supremacy over the country. Thereafter, farsighted as they were, they devoted their energy to strengthening their foothold in India. They reformed the administration, improved communications, introduced an effective system of law and justice, and opened schools, colleges, universities, and offered the gifts of science and technology to India. Indians were dazzled by Western civilization. Their confidence in their own culture began to waver. A few were so enchanted that they adopted western ways and wished to rebuild the structure of Indian life on the foundations of an alien culture. Many Indians along with some Englishmen were convinced that English education would dispel India of socio-religious malpractices.

The english language enthusiasts were supported by Raja Rammohun Roy and his associates. Orthodox Indians pleaded for classical languages, but Macaulay ended the controversy by his broadside against this attitude. In 1835, the great object of the British Government was "the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India and that all funds appropriate for the purposes of education would best be employed on English education alone." In 1844, they decided "to give preference to those who had been educated in western science and English language for the public employment." English education under the new regime tended to turn out men who were Indians in blood and colour but English in taste and intellectual outlook.

In this strange academic milieu, young minds began to swallow queer cultural shibboleths such as that India had no culture worth the name, that her entire past was a foolish quest after false ideals, that if she really wanted to live and progress, She would have to remould herself thoroughly on the lathe of European civilization. Consequently as R.C. Majumdar writes: "It was almost inevitable that the first effect of free thinking on the immature minds of the young men who drank deep into English education would be more destructive than constructive in social and religious matters...... but the evils that followed were much exaggerated." The orthodox people, specially in Bengal, raised much hue and cry against English education and considered it a dangerous instrument to wreck the general framework of Hindu society.

An imitation of the West ensued in almost every walk of life. Many boys educated in the Hindu College, Calcutta and Elphinstone College, Bombay revolted against indigenous customs and deliberately adopted English dress, customs, mannerism and food, thus offending Hindu sentiments. Yet it cannot be denied that English education brought here western thought especially the French concept of the supremacy of reason over faith and of individual conscience over outside authority as well as new ideas of social justice and political rights. The static life governed for centuries by a fixed set of religious beliefs was replaced by a critical attitude towards religion and a spirit of inquiry which resulted in creativity and vitality in every sphere of Indian life. New ways of thinking and criticism, cultivation of science and scientific approach to problems, and transplantation of western political and socio-religious ideas were further strengthened with the contributions of Western thinkers such as Dante and Petrarch, Voltaire and Rousseau, Goethe and Schiller, Locke, Bentham and Hume, Shakespeare and Milton and many others.

The spirit of enquiry then not only applied to socio-religious institutions and beliefs but it also penetrated deep into literature, painting, sculpture and art. The creation of Hindu historiography and recovery of India's glorious past constitute the most spectacular as also the first fundamental contribution of European scholarship to India. Freedom of the press, emancipation of women, a forward-looking attitude, acceptance of change when change was inevitable, were the far-reaching contributions of western impact.

But nothing was more meaningful and significant than the wave of Christianity that tended to sweep away the very existence of religious beliefs and practices of the country. The impact of Christianity was, indeed, a mighty challenge to the conscience and spirit of Indian culture.

The history of Christianity in India has been traced to the arrival in the first century AD of the Syrian Christians on the Malabar coast who settled there as a peaceful community. But the first Christian missionaries were the Roman Catholics of Portugal and Spain who came during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and made Goa their headquarters. Fanatics as they were, they practised intolerance and persecution. English missionaries followed after Clive's success in Bengal. The official attitude of the East India company was that of non-interference with indigenous religion and society. But missionaries did receive help from the officers. In 1792 the first organised mission headed by William Carey was established in Calcutta; but it soon shifted to Serampore and did significant and commendable work Wellesley allowed all freedom to Serampore mission and appointed Carey as Professor of Oriental languages at the Fort William College. Missionaries poured into India and found a favourable atmosphere for their evangelistic work. The Christian scriptures were translated into almost all the regional languages of India, were widely distributed and network of missions had been established by the time of William Bentinck. They opened numerous schools for both boys and girls as well as boarding schools and orphanages. They even attempted medical work and did not neglect the lepers.

The main object of these missionaries was conversion, especially through their educational and medical institutions. They used no physical force, but adopted the most subtle weapons - propogandaand financial assistance. The increasing spread of the Gospel and criticism of Indian way of life sometimes provoked local opposition and often the zealots had to seek governmental protection. Offended as the Indians were, they came forward to meet the challenge thrown out by Christianity. Adorned with the light of rational thinking and the glamour of the spirit of inquiry, they turned towards their own glorious past and sought a definite reply to the Christian dogma. Farquhar overestimates the impact of Christianity on India when he holds that the seeds of the socio-religious movements of the nineteenth century were sown by Christian teachings and the Protestant missions' activities brought about an awakening in India. Infact education and not Christianity was a potent force to stimulate modern reform movements which made Indians cast off their conservatism and excrescenes inconsistent with the spirit of Hinduism.

Dawn of a New Era

A careful observer would not miss the fact that an inner urge and a call of conscience prompted these reform movements and led to enormous creativity in all walks of Indian life. The spiritual foundations of the Hindu society proved too strong for the hypnotic spell of foreign civilization. Soon, renascent India began to search and evolve the vital elements of its cultural existence leading to political independence. Renaissance in India was a remodeling of India's cultural modes under the impact of a new spirit which, though not opposed to the old, was discreet in its adherence to the past and was equally responsive to the new stimuli. It meant the reorientation of the old to suit the new. This reawakening of the spirit manifested itself in socio-religious reform movements of the nineteenth century. India welcomed, accepted and assimilated the ideas, principles and purposes from Europe which were necessary for her transformation into a modern society; but "modern India continued to be essentially Indian, certain of her own individuality, drawing a spiritual inspiration and sustenance from her own past." K. M. Panikkar rightly remarks that what had happened in India was a revolution. But this revolution did not cut India off its moorings.

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