Humanist, feminist: Why Iswarchandra Vidyasagar matters

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By Moderator May 17, 2019 13:39

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A statue of Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was vandalised in Kolkata on 14th May

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar

Early life

  • Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyaya was born on September 26, 1820, in Birsingha village of Midnapore district in a poor Brahmin family.
  • After his elementary education, Iswarchandra moved to Calcutta, where he studied Sanskrit grammar, literature, Vedanta philosophy, logic, astronomy, and Hindu law
  • Privately, he studied English literature and philosophy.
  • The title ‘Vidyasagar’ (ocean of knowledge) was given to him due to his vast knowledge in several subjects, at age 21.
  • When he was barely 30, Vidyasagar was appointed principal of Calcutta’s Sanskrit College.
  • Poet Michael Madhusudan Dutta while writing about Ishwar Chandra said: “The genius and wisdom of an ancient sage, the energy of an Englishman and the heart of a Bengali mother”.
  • He was also called “Daya’r Sagar”, Ocean of Compassion, who literally wept at the sight of the poor and destitute, and is said to have spent his salary and scholarships on their welfare.
  • He was associated with prestigious journalistic publications like ‘Tattwabodhini Patrika’, ‘Somprakash’, ‘Sarbashubhankari Patrika’ and ‘Hindu Patriot’.

Social reformer

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar most enduring contributions were as an educationist and reformer of traditional upper caste Hindu society. The focus of his reform was women — he spent his life’s energies trying to ensure an end to the practice of child marriage and to initiate widow marriage.

Reforms for women

  • Widow remarriage: Vidyasagar followed in the great reformist tradition of Raja Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833), and argued, on the basis of scriptures and old commentaries, in favour of the remarriage of widows in the same way as Roy did for the abolition of Sati.
  • Child marriage: He launched a powerful attack on the practice of marrying off girls aged 10 or even younger, pointing to social, ethical, and hygiene issues, and rejecting the validity of the Dharma Shastras that advocated it.
  • Against Polygamy: Vidyasagar campaigned against polygamy. In the 1870s, Vidyasagar wrote two brilliant critiques of polygamy, arguing to the government that since polygamy was not sanctioned by the sacred texts, there could be no objection to suppressing it by legislation.

Impact of his reformist zeal

  • The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act: Because of his efforts on July 16, 1856, The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, known as Act XV, was passed.
  • Inspired other reformers: In 1864, Jyotiba Phule succeeded in persuading a Saraswat Brahmin widow to remarry.

Reform in education

  • Modern education system: Vidyasagar is credited with the role of thoroughly remodelling medieval scholastic system prevailing in Sanskrit College and bring about modern insights into the education system. He introduced courses of European History, Philosophy and Science alongside of Vedic scriptures.
  • Women Education: He was an ardent advocate of women education. He opened 35 schools for women throughout Bengal and was successful in enrolling 1300 students. He even initiated Nari Siksha Bhandar, a fund to lend support for the cause. He maintained his support to John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune to establish the first permanent girls’ school in India, the Bethune School, on May 7, 1849.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great scholar, academician and reformer passed away on 29 July, 1891 at the age of 70 years.

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Moderator
By Moderator May 17, 2019 13:39