Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. May 3, 1907
Extremism in the “Bengalee”
The Bengalee, excited by the news of a second outrage on the Hindu religion at Ambariya in Mymensingh, came out yesterday with a frankly extremist issue. We only wish that we could look on this as anything more than a fit of passing excitement; but the Bengalee is hot today and cold tomorrow. Nevertheless, what it says is true, and it is well and pointedly expressed: –
“Fifty years ago, such a revolting outrage, committed upon the religious susceptibilities of Hindus, would have resulted in grave complications and Government1 would have left no stone unturned to propitiate the Hindu Chiefs and the Hindu population, and last, though not the least, the Hindu section of the Native Army. Today Government officials openly side, presumably with the approval of the head of the Provincial Administration, with those who break Hindu images, desecrate Hindu temples, plunder the houses and shops of Hindus and ravish Hindu women.
“Is this the sum total of our progress after a century and a half of British rule? Have we, Bengali Hindus, become so craven-hearted, so utterly incapable of self-defence, that the Government no longer thinks it necessary to avoid wounding our tenderest feelings or even to keep up appearances? Verily, a nation gets precisely the kind of treatment it deserves; and it appears that in the opinion of Mr. Hare – so far tacitly endorsed by Lord Minto – a nation of weeping and shrieking women as the Bengalis are regarded by their rulers, deserves only to be trampled underfoot. And recent happenings in the district of Mymensingh show that the Government has taken an exact measure of the Hindus of Bengal. For are they not the embodiment of patience and – propriety? They are too highly educated and reflective, you know, to do anything rashly and the native hue of their resolution is most reasonably and naturally and speedily sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought. They may be quite right from their personal standpoint; but national heroes are not usually made of such stuff nor are national interests promoted by the wearers of soft raiment. The worship of Motherland is the sole privilege of those choice spirits who have the heart to incur sacrifice, the hand to execute the mandate of conscience, and the recklessness to hang propriety and prudence.”
And the Bengalee complains that we do not even lift our little finger to protect our temples, our holy images and even our women from defilement and dishonour. All this is surprising enough in a Moderate organ; if set before anyone without any clue as to its source, it might all be taken as a verbatim extract from the editorial columns of the Bande Mataram.
“Is this the sum total of our progress after a century and a half of British rule?” – asks the Bengalee. This precisely and nothing else than this is the one inevitable result of British rule. Has it taken our contemporary so long to discover that foreign rule, and especially such a rule as that of the British bureaucracy which demands entire subordination and dependence in the subject people, can have no other effect than to emasculate and degrade? Loyalists may enumerate a hundred blessings of British rule – though, when closely looked at, they turn out to be apples of the Dead Sea which turn to dust and cinders when tasted,– none of them can compensate for the one radical and indispensable loss which accompanies them, the loss of our manhood, of our courage, of our self-respect and habit of initiative. When these are gone, merely the shadow of a man is left; and neither the veneer of Western culture, nor enlightenment, nor position, nor British peace, nor railways, nor telegraphs nor anything else that God can give or man bestow can compensate for the loss of the very basis of individual and national strength and character. Social reform? What reform can there be of a society of lay figures who pretend to be men? Industrial progress? What will be the use of riches which may be taken from us at any time by the strong hand? Moral and religious improvement? What truth or value have these phrases to men who see their religion outraged before their eyes and whose wives are never safe from dishonour? Get strength first, get independence and all these things will be added unto you. But persist in your foolish moderation, your unseasonable and unreasonable prudence; and another fifty years will find you more degraded than ever, a nation of Greeks with polished intellects and debased souls, body and soul helplessly at the mercy of alien masters.
The Bengalee in these fiery paragraphs denounces for the moment prudence and moderation as mere weakness and cowardice. It recommends recklessness and asks us to lift our hands in defence of our temples, our holy images and the honour of our women. This is probably no more than a rhetorical outburst to relieve overcharged feelings. But if there is any seriousness at all in our contemporary's wrath, let him seriously consider what his appeal means. We are to rush to the defence of our temples, our holy images, the honour of our women. But who are “we”? Not surely the people of Eastern Bengal and Northern Bengal who, outnumbered, overwhelmed, are struggling against overwhelming odds and, in spite of weak points like Jamalpur, are not acquitting themselves ill. In West Bengal the Hindus are in overwhelming majority; in West Bengal there is a sturdy Hindu lower class; there are thousands of students who throng to Swadeshi meetings and parade at Swadeshi Jatras and festivals. But West Bengal is under the spell of Babu Surendranath and his Moderate colleagues. Will Babu Surendranath give the word? Is he prepared to speed the fiery cross? Shall West Bengal pour into the East and North to help our kinsmen, to protect “our temples, our holy images and our women from defilement and dishonour”? If not, this momentary boldness and manliness is no more than a fire of straw which had better not have been kindled. To quote our contemporary,– “The worship of Motherland is the sole privilege of those choice spirits who have the heart to incur sacrifice, the hand to execute the mandate of conscience and the recklessness to hang propriety and prudence.”
Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 1890–1908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.
1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: and the Government