Politics and Social Consciousness in Bankim Literature in the context of Lokrahasya: A Post-Colonial Reading of a ‘Colonial’ Text

Date01 June 2020
Published date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
07INP918066_ncx.indd Article
Politics and Social Consciousness in
Studies in Indian Politics
8(1) 85–97, 2020
Bankim Literature in the context of
© 2020 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Lokrahasya: A Post-Colonial
Reprints and permissions:
Reading of a ‘Colonial’ Text
DOI: 10.1177/2321023020918066
Arpita Mukherji1
The very title of the article suggests a journey back in not only time but politico-socio-cultural situa-
tion as well. The ‘Text’ taken for consideration is a piece of colonial literature in terms of the period
of its creation; the ideas within it, however, can be seen from a ‘postcolonial’ perspective, in a period
which is again ‘post-colonial’. The author Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay continuously juxtaposes the
‘colonialist’ and the ‘colonized’ in a series of metaphors, comparing one with the other. In the context,
at one level creates a critique of colonialism; at a deeper level he shows how the processes of colonial-
ism have been appropriated by the ‘colonized’ through both acceptance of, and, resistance to colonial-
ism. Subversion of the ‘superior’ by the ‘inferior’ is a recurrent theme. Finally, his project was cultural
regeneration of a colonized society—his own—by imbibing the best elements of both the Orient and
the Occident.
Bankimchandra, Bengal, colonialism, colonizer, colonized, colonization, conscience, native, postcolonial,
The literary contribution of novelist and essayist Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay is acclaimed by one
and all. Couched in his elegant prose are the most inventive political and social satires and polemics that
present to the reader his unique way of interpreting history. Through this article, an attempt is made to
understand the socio-political thought process of the educated Bengali of nineteenth-century Bengal. In
order to fulfil that objective, I have tried to make an analysis of certain articles collected under the title
Lokrahasya by Bankimchandra.
Bankimchandra was born during the first half of the nineteenth century, a period when the ideas of
Bengali renaissance were on their nascent stage. The main thrust was emancipation from the superstitions
and prejudices of the medieval period, and acquisition of a new scientific-rational outlook in the western
mould. By the second half of the nineteenth century, when Bankim was already an established writer,
1 Department of Political Science, Victoria Institution (College), Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
Corresponding author:
Arpita Mukherji, CB 190, Sector 1, Salt Lake City, Kolkata 700064, West Bengal, India.
E-mail: mukherji.arpita@gmail.com


Studies in Indian Politics 8(1)
these ideas were crystallizing. However, a clear conception regarding the nature, progress and effects of
colonialism were yet to emerge though in the opinion of Alok Ray (2019, p. 21) Rammohan Roy, Akshay
Kumar Datta, the Young Bengal group, Vidyasagar, etc. were all aware that a transformation was
occurring. In such scenario, we see Bankimchandra, rather than becoming a part of social reform
movements of the prevalent types, was expending his energies on issues much more profound. Educated
Bengalis, under colonial situation, were concerned with social reforms for eradication of overt social
maladies, progress of western education, and so on. The predecessors of Bankim like Ramgopal Ghosh,
Peary Chand Mitra, Dakshina Ranjan Mukherjee of Bengal Spectator fame were more interested in
social reform and less in advancing the cause of history-philosophy-literature (Ray, 2019, p. 300). For
Bankim, the primary focus was dissemination of education and knowledge to one and sundry, rather than
participation in social reform movements. One probable reason was that being an official under colonial
administration, it was not possible for him to participate in the latter; the pen was definitely preferable to
him. As will become obvious, Bankim though not immune from it, seems to be far ahead of his times in
his understanding and analysis of colonialism, not merely at political or administrative levels, but at the
realm of ideology, consciousness, orientation, morality and conscience. Through his writings, he wanted
historical and scientific knowledge to reach ‘…sadharon bangali pathok, Bangala bidyalayer uchchotoro
srenir balokera ebong adhunik shikkhita bangali stree…’ [the common Bengali readers, students of
higher classes in Bengali schools and modern educated Bengali women] (Ray, 2019, pp. 301–307).
Through his various works, it becomes evident that Bankim wanted the people of his country to inculcate
knowledge from various fields in order to effect a radical change in their thinking and orientation; only
then they will become better equipped to understand the phenomenon of colonialism and deal with the
same. For him, politico-administrative interaction with a foreign power was inevitably bringing in not
only economic changes but a far more profound transformation in the value-system and inclinations
of the people. This would have a far-reaching effect where the fundamental character of society will
undergo a qualitative transformation, never to revert back to its prevalent stage. Thus, according to
Bankim-researcher Bhabatosh Datta (2016, p. 50), such changes in the cultural realm of society was
more important to Bankimchandra rather than the issues of current social reform programmes—issues like
polygamy, widow-remarriage, and so on were undeniably part of society and would undergo transformation
with societal change.
Datta and Mukherjee (2016, p. 38), furthermore, is of the opinion that for Bankim, the presence of a
few English-educated people cannot accomplish this task—knowledge in the vernacular language will
have to percolate deep and wide in order to bear fruit. For this, his response, like many of his contemporary
indigenous intellectuals, had been the medium of Bengali language and literature. For the educated
Bengali middle class, the path was from religious reforms to political emancipation and building up of,
in the process, a nationalist-patriotic character. The common dilemma of the period was understanding
the distance on the one hand, and reconciliation between the two, on the other, between orient and the
occident, past and present, patriotism and progress under British rule. He was conspicuous in his criticism
of colonialism on the one hand, and understanding of the inculcation of the evils of colonialism by his
countrymen, on the other, as manifest through his repertory of writings in many forms. These include
stand-alone articles, collections like Kamalakanter Daptar, long expositions like Krishnacharitra,
editorials of Bangadarshan, novels to satires filled with wit and irony. However, it should be borne in
mind that ‘satire’ in Bengali prose literature was neither unique to Bankim nor begun by him. Earlier
instances can be found in Kaliprasanna Singha’s ‘Hutom Pyanchar Naksha’ or Tekchand Thakur’s
Alaler Ghorer Dulal’. But Bankim was trying to usher in a different type of literature with a more
refined language suited to the urban culture of Calcutta. His form of satire was substantially influenced
by English literature, most notably ‘Pickwick Papers’ by Charles Dickens and his whole endeavour was

Mukherji 87
to whip up the consciousness of his people regarding politico-cultural subjection under British
colonialism. Datta and Mukherjee (2016, pp. 44–45) was of the opinion that Bankim had taken the
responsibility of creating ‘…notuntoro drishti, notuntoro bhabnake gore deoar. Europeo gyan, bigyan,
darshan, sahityer songe prothom jog ghotche, sei sutre biswa o samaj somporkeo kotoguli bhabnapoth
toiri kore dite hochche’ [newer orientation, newer thinking. People were coming into first contact with
European knowledge, science, philosophy, literature; hence, he also had to create some new ways of
thinking regarding the world and society]. This was said in reference to Bangadarshan but is applicable
in case of his other writings, especially the satirical works.
Lokrahasya is one such collection of satirical works, in which, keeping in mind the stated objective,
I have made a selective analysis of a few articles. Before embarking on the journey to discover the
rahasya’ or mystery of the stated text it is important to keep in mind that to make any critique of the
colonial system, Bankim had to take recourse to satire and banter as he was an official under the colonial
administration. ‘Lokrahasya’ can be taken as a ‘Text’ where I, as reader, am endeavouring to recover the
thoughts of the author and relocate the same to the present society, which is post-colonial as well as
postcolonial. The former indicates the period in time after colonialism as a consequence of political
freedom of the society under consideration, signifying technical transfer of power and government.
Literally, it comes after colonialism after the demise of the former in its ‘colonial’ state. ‘Postcolonial’,
on the other hand, refers to a process of uninterrupted interaction from the colonial period to the post-
independence era. Pradip Basu supports the view that postcolonialism refers to, ‘…the complex
interaction between imperial culture and indigenous cultural practices … the postcolonial condition set
in motion with the inception rather than the conclusion of formal colonial occupation … the...

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