BRITISH INDIA (PAKISTAN) – POLITICS & RELIGION / WOMEN’S RIGHTS
/ PAN-INDIAN NATIONALISM / ARYA SAMAJ MOVEMENT
During the fourth quarter of the 19th century there developed in India’s major cities a series of powerful intellectual-political-religious movements that were largely responsible for shaping the modern identity of India and paving the way for its eventual independence from Great Britain. Driven by classes of young, highly educated and often affluent Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, these movements sought to revive traditional religions and cultural identities while reconciling then to the modern, industrial world. While these organizations often fueled sectarianism, they were aslo responsible for forging a Pan-Indian identity, that underpinned the movement for Indian self-determination (‘home rule’), which, in time, became the independence movement.
Arya Samaj (Hindi: ‘Noble Society’) was one of the most consequential and controversial of all the new religious-social movements in India. Founded in northwestern India, in 1877, by the Guajarati ascetic Daynaand Saraswati (1824-83), it supported a monotheistic revivalist interpretation of Hinduism that believed in the supremacy of the ancient Vedic texts. Unlike most strands of Hinduism, it supported proselytization, targeting the Sikh community. This eventually caused a backlash that fueled Sikh revivalism and, in good part, led to the downfall of Hinduism in the Punjab between 1901 to 1941.
In the early 1880s, the epicentre of Arya Samaj was in Lahore, one of the subcontinent’s greatest cities and a forum of intellectual debate and cross-cultural exchange. The soul of the movement was composed of a small coterie of young students who advanced a shockingly progressive agenda. Key figures included Lala Lajpat Rai (1865 – 1928), Lala Hans Raj (1860 – 1938) and Pandit Guru Datta Vidyarthi (1864 – 1890).
Lala Lajpat Rai deserves special mention, as he would later become famous as the ‘Punjab da Sher’ (‘Lion of Punjab’), one of the preeminent leaders of the Indian Independence movement. The son of a language teacher, as a young law student in Lahore, his extraordinary intellect and maturity that lay well beyond his years was recognized by important people. An ardent adherent of the Arya Samaj movement, at the age of only 17, he became one of its leading intellectual architects, as well as a forceful voice for progressive issues in a variety of fields. He gained national fame as the leader of the radical wing of Congress and as one of the ‘Lal Bal Pal’ (Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Bipin Chandra Pal) Triumvirate that forcefully opposed the Raj in the wake of the Partition of Bengal (1905). His tours of Britain and the United States during the WWI period made him an international celebrity.
A brave and charismatic man, he inspired millions of Indians to join the independence movement and stick with it through thick and thin. Tragically, he died on November 17, 1928, from injuries sustained after leading a peaceful protest in Lahore against the Simon Commission, a British body that was to make recommendations on the future of India, but which did not include even a single Indian member. At the protest, he was the victim of a coordinated attack personally orchestrated by the Lahore Police Commissioner, and even while gravely injured stood up to address his supporters, exclaiming “I declare that the blows struck at me today will be the last nails in the coffin of British rule in India”.
Returning to the vision held by the young Arya Samaj leaders in Lahore in the 1880s, it was arrestingly bold, but also complex, and in some respects contradictory. While they used (at times Chauvinistic) vitriol to promote its revivalist version of Hinduism, they were also in favour of respectful inter-religious dialogue and the notion of single pan-Indian identity. They were ardently in favour of Indian self-determination, at times using politically dangerous, bordering on seditious, language critical of the British Raj, calling out what they saw as the overreach of the colonial regime, as well as the operations of Christian missionaries who they felt (not without reason) to be an aggressive threat to indigenous Indian culture. However, at the same time they could be complementary of those British officials who perused a moderate policy towards Indians, while they counted many Britons, both in India and in England, as supporters. While they sought spiritual nourishment in ancient Hindu tradition, they progressively adapted these concepts to the modern world. Notably, they embraced modern science, the education and rights of women, and opposed the Caste System. Arya Samaj was highly influential in the major centres of northern India, and was one of the building blocks of the Indian independence movement and Hindu identity in the 20th and 21st centuries.
One of the great drivers of the Arya Samaj movement was the Arya Press, of Lahore, owned and operated by Lala Salig Ram, which published works advocating its vision, and which were read by the rapidly growing intelligentsia across northern India, which included not only supporters, but those unaffiliated, or, even opposed to the moment. The press’s publications were massively influential as drivers of religious and political debate and fomenting the notion of a modern pan-Indian and Hindu identity. Issued in English, Urdu and Hindi, the titles were also amongst the first such works to be widely read by the growing class of affluent liberal, urban women, who also contributed articles and letters to the publications, and in this sense, they nourished the roots of the Indian women’s rights movement.
The trio led by Lala Lajpat Rai, that also included Lala Hans Raj and Pandit Guru Datta Vidyarthi, was charged by Lala Salig Ram with being the founding editors of two sister journals, the English-language The Regenerator of Aryavarta (1883-4), and the Urdu language Deshopkarak (1883). While the stated purpose of both journals was to promote the Arya Samaj Movement, in reality, they covered a wide array of political and social topics. While the editors encouraged open debate and contrasting opinions, their Hindu revivalist, pro-Indian self-determination and progressive attitude (pro-women’s rights, pro-science and liberal education, anti-Caste System, etc.) is evident throughout. While both the Regenerator and the Deshopkarak had a similar ethic, they each featured unique articles and content.
Focusing upon The Regenerator of Aryavarta, it was a weekly title that commenced production at the beginning of 1883 and was discontinued at some point in late 1884 (at a date we have not been able to determine). It supposedly ceased printing when Lala Lajpat Rai left Lahore to pursue his law career in Rohtak. The journal’s goal was to “to unfetter our countrymen from the superstitions with which they are chained, and then to infuse in their minds those truths which modern investigations had brought to light” (‘New Movement’, issue no. 2).
While the Regentrator’s run was brief, it was highly praised by intellectuals of all sorts across India, and it encouraged debate and the rise of concepts that shaped the foundation of the future Indian identity and Hindu nationalist movements.
Present here is the incredibly rare complete run of all 53 weekly issues of The Regenerator of Aryavarta for the year 1883, the first and only full year of the journal’s operation.
Each issue follows the same general format, and features articles, often submitted by esteemed and sometimes controversial guest authors (including figures such as Srishchandra Basu (1861 – 1918), the famous Bengali educator, author and Indian nationalist); ‘Editorial Notices’, featuring missives that advance Lala Lajpat Rai, Lala Hans Raj and Pandit Guru Datta Vidyarthi’s point of view; as well as news and excepts from other papers and journals; often sharply opinionated letters to the editors; and advertisements. The content is intellectually curious, exciting and incredibly diverse, often straying into ‘edgy’ territory that would raise the ire of the British authorities. Indeed, it is amazing that a trio in their late teens-early 20s could create such a profoundly insightful, engaging and intellectually mature work.
The Regenerator’s incredibly diverse and fascinating articles include deep philosophical tracts, such as ‘Progress of Man’ and ‘The Universe” (no. 1); ‘A New Movement’ and ‘Science Schools’ (no. 2), ‘The International Import Question’ (no. 3); ‘Reason and Religion’ (no. 4): ‘Our Native States (no. 5); ‘The Progress of Christianity in India’, which is sharply critical of Christian missionaries (no. 8); ‘Jurisdiction of Native Magistrates over Europeans’ (no. 9); ‘The Sun’, with diagrams (no. 10-11); ‘Aryan Science Institution’ and ‘Amendments to the Criminal Code’ (no. 11); ‘Theosophical Society’, being a Sikh revivalist organization that sought to “unite all Indian in one body” (no. 15); ‘Alliance of the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society?’ (no. 16); ‘The National Regeneration Committee of the Indian Society” (no. 17); ‘The Caste System’, standing against the rigid and iniquitous traditional custom (no. 18); ‘Indian Volunteers’ on native solders in the army, and ‘The Indian Society represented in England’ (no. 19); ‘Punjab Local Self Government Bill’ (no. 25); ‘Science Gossip – Ghosts’ (no. 27); controversial court cases, such as the trial of ‘Baba Surendro Nath Banerjee’ (no. 28); ‘Regeneration of Pariahs’ and a ‘National Fund’ to support “constitutional agitation in England” (no. 30); ‘Colonel Ollcott and his Mesmerizing Cures’ (no. 31); ‘Moral and Intellectual Improvement’ (no. 32); ‘Colonel Olcott’s Doctrine of Universal Brotherhood’ (no. 34); ‘Theatrical Companies’, Maharaja Dalip Singh’s anticipated visit to the Punjab, and ‘Marriage’ (no. 35); ‘Agitation of the Anglo-Indians Suicidal’ (no. 36); ‘Punjabi Institute in England’; ‘The Ilbert Bill’ and ;Our Agrarian Classes’ (no. 39), in support of the poor exploited farmers of India; ‘The Social Aspect of India (no. 41); ‘Hell and Heaven’ (no. 44); ‘The Autobiography of Dayanand Sarawati Swami’, the founder of the Arya Samaj Movement, and ‘Mission Schools in Municipalities; (no. 46); ‘Necessity of Properly Educating the Child’ (no. 47); ‘Is Madam Blavatsky an Atheist?’ (no. 49); ‘British India Committee and the Indian Reform Association’ (no. 51); ‘Abolition of Jail Presses’ (no. 53). Some of the editions include supplements written entirely in Hindi.
Focusing in upon the critical role that The Regenerator of Aryavarta and similar publications played in fostering women’s rights in India, the academic Anshu Malhotra writes that these “journals were major vehicles for the transmission of the ideologies of the Arya Samaj and the Singh Sabha movements to women, and their readership was not confined only to those associated with schools.” The articles, which were written by both men and women, were “topical, historical, informative or morally instructive in nature.” Notably, the Arya Samaj movement also encouraged women to be formally educated and to mix socially in co-ed environments, daring concerts for the time.
In issue no. 24 (pp. 3-4) of The Regenerator of Aryavarta, in the article ‘Manu on Women’, the editors quote ancient sacred Hindu texts to justify women’s rights in modern India. They write that:
“It is with no less pity than sorrow that one casts his look on the degraded state of the females of the community in which he lives. Far from being considered the equal or fiend, they are looked upon as his inferior and unworthy to share the toils of manly life. Nature has designed them as only for cooks and as instruments of pleasure. Although there are certain persons who, by the light hey have received from the English education can discriminate between the rights of men and women, there are others who, are blinded by the study of Persian literature, have viewed them as creatures to be kept in subjugation by brute force of oppression. It is not our intention to discuss the question of the emancipation of women now. We shall quote certain slokas from the Manu Simriti, not to adduce them as an argument in favour of our views…but the show the esteem in which women were held by the Aryans…”
A Note on Rarity
The Regenerator of Aryavarta is exceedingly rare, especially as a complete annual run of issues. While there are clearly examples held by institutions in India (although we have not been able to trace these locations), we cannot find any reference to any example for any issues held outside of the Indian Subcontinent, nor can we trace any sales records for any other examples. This is not so surprising, as the survival rate of 19th century Indian periodicals is incredibly low, while the fragile paper on which the Regenerator is printed makes it especially vulnerable to wear and tear.
References: No examples of any issues of the journal traced outside of the Indian Subcontinent; [re: on the journal generally:] Norman Gerald BARRIER and Paul WALLACE, The Punjab Press, 1880-1905 (1970), p. 43; Lala LAJPAT RAI, B.R. NANDA (ed.), The Collected Works of Lala Lajpat Rai, vol. 1 (New Delhi, 2003), esp. pp. 169-170; Anshu MALHOTRA, Gender, Caste, and Religious Identities: Restructuring Class in Colonial Punjab (Oxford University Press, 2001), n.p.; Kamlesh MOHAN, Science and Technology in Colonial India (New York, 2023), n.p.; Julian STRUBE, Global Tantra: Religion, Nationalism and Science in Colonial Modernity (Oxford, 2022), pp. 117-8;