THE EUROPEAN ACCUSTOMED TO a different state of society, but little acquainted with ours, views the restricted freedom of higher class Hindu females, the comparative seclusion in which they live at1d their untiring wholehearted, self-sacrificing devotion to household duties as little better than a state of drudgery and bondage. Unable to reconcile illiteracy with enlightenment, the European regards them as immersed in darkness. New India at once rings with the cry of the “degraded condition of our womanhood" from end to end. The unregenerate males of old India are reprobated by a hundred tongues and castigated by a thousand pens for perversely keeping their women in a condition of slavery.
That there is room for reform in Hindu society as there is in every other society goes without saying. But the Neo-lndian reformer knows no way of reform except that of Western Civilization. Burning with zeal, he loudly proclaims the gospel of female emancipation on Western lines, and girds up to lift up the benighted females by making them race with the males along the paths of University education and Western Civilization little reflecting upon the goal to which they are likely to lead and to which they are already leading in the West.
But when a Western philosopher (Schopenhauer) declared emphatically, that "in the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads," the Neo-Indian began to see that there might really be something in them and to pay them some sort of lip-homage. Vedantism, the most scientific religion which civilized man has risen to as yet, still is the dominant creed of the enlightened in old India. But New India knew but little of it until it secured the adherence of Max Mueller, Deussen, and other Europeans.
Even now, the great majority of the Neo-lndians, like the great majority of the Westerners, look upon Vedantism and similar products of ancient Hindu culture much as they look upon Museum specimens of palaeontological and archaeological curiosities.
The Caste System is generally regarded by the Westerner as a “monstrous engine of pride, dissension, and shame," and the Neo-Indian, following his lead anathematizes it and exclaims from house-tops.
Sour milk which has for ages been an indispensable article of the dietary of old India was interdicted in Neo-lndian gastronomy until Metchnikoff certified to its manifold virtues.
Deep breathing which has, for untold generations, been a well-recognised means of Hindu self-culture is now attracting the attention of the Neo-lndian, because it has been commended by some Western scientists.
The new school of indigenous painting which has arisen in Bengal could not have made the headway it has were not its cause championed by a few appreciative Europeans.
It should be observed, that new India is no longer characterised by that attitude of aggressive hostility which it assumed towards old India in the early years of English education. It was not enough for the first generation of English-educated youths, at least in Bengal, to show their liberation from Hindu superstition by eating beef and drinking liquor, but some of them went so far as to purposely offend their orthodox neighbours by throwing beef-bones into their houses.
Happily, new India is now generally free from this pugnacious spirit, and there has been considerable abatement of the drink evil among the Neo-Indians. Reciprocal action between new India and old India has been gradually increasing. But in this interaction, New India is decidedly the more articulate, if not the stronger factor.
In New India, what is known as national consciousness is growing. But the new idea of nationality is entirely Western in as much as it rests solely upon politics. It is antagonistic to cosmopolitanism and has led to the perverse Western doctrine of the “State being superior to every moral rule."
The Hindus have always been a nation, but not a nation in the narrow Western sense. Their idea of nationality was broad-based upon religion. They have not been "patriotic" in the Western sense. They did not concern themselves much with the central Government so long as the Government was not oppressive, did not exceed the traditional limits of taxation, and did not interfere with their religious and socio-religious practice. Hindus offered a most determined national opposition to Mahomedan rule during the reign of the bigoted Aurangzeb, who persecuted them, reinforced the Jezia, demolished their temples, forbade them to ride in palanquins without permission, and called upon them to pay heavier duties than the Mahomedans. And the opposition which these measures evoked shook the foundations of the Empire.
Old India did not care much about the central Government, because it enjoyed a measure of real self-government greater even than that of the most democratic governments of the West. It managed its own affairs social, educational, sanitary, industrial, legal, etc.
"India for the Indians,” is the vision of new India. But it is a vision of Westernised India to be realised on Western methods, some of which have brought catastrophic consequences upon patriotic young men of a generous and selfless disposition.
New India views with apathy and indifference the crumbling away of a homely but substantial structure of real democratic self-government, but is almost delirious with ecstatic joy when a few additional seats are vouchsafed on the Legislative Councils.
It would be a travesty of history to say with the Western writers that our civilization is extinct. Anyone who has mixed with our people, especially away from large cities, would agree with me when I say, that they are still to a large extent pervaded by the Hindu ideals of self-abnegation and benevolence, and that there is still much less of animality in them than in the corresponding classes in the West.
The number of criminals, especially of female criminals in proportion to the total population in India is much less than in the highly civilized countries of the West. I was touring in the Central Provinces during the great famine of 1898, and was greatly struck by the patient resignation with which they bore the dire calamity and the benevolent spirit in which they helped one another. There were no riots, no increase in crimes to speak of. There is more poverty here than in the West, and more ignorance judged by the standard of literacy, but there is much less of squalor and brutality, much less of degradation and misery.
Our community still produces men of the Sattvik type, though their number is much smaller than before. They rarely, if ever, appear in newspaper; what they do is done in silence and secrecy.
To be continued
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