By Sujoy Gupta
Brahmoism is probably the youngest religious creed in the world with an age yet to touch 200 years. No reliable census exists so the headcount is unknown. Having said so, the perception is that in terms of numbers, the populace of adherents can be cogently assumed to comprise a microscopic minority in India.
The history of births of religions is attributed by and large to a prophet’s inspirational pronouncements or to collective preaching of men endowed with prophetic wisdom.
Inspiration is generally moulded by the need to eradicate evil socio-political practices that are dominating the lives of fearfully helpless subjugated citizens of the times.
In the third and fourth decades of the 19th century India was a vassal colony of the powerful British Empire over which the sun didn’t set because its dominions encircled the globe. Indian subjects were called “natives.” Their helplessness stemmed from their total exclusion from the ways of British imperial rulers.
Thankfully, at humankind’s painful period of imperialism, a great intellectual was born in a village in Bengal presidency of British India. His name was Rammohun, surname Roy.
Rammohun’s life has seen many biographies. Bengal was British India’s most prosperous presidency. It is well known that retrograde practices like suttee, child marriage, taboo on girls’ education and rigorous application of ‘casteism’ were usual. This article now shifts focus from Rammohun’s social reforms to the adverse philosophical adversities he overcame.
It is important to realise that these impediments exist all over the world today. The tenets defined and used by Rammohun to peacefully and persuasively fulfil his objectives are known today as Brahmoism.
The most challenging impediments overcome at Rammohun’s initiative were MAJORITARIANISM and AUTHORITARIANISM. India was under strong-armed authority of a majority – not in language, social class, religion, political philosophy or any other parameter barring majority power of a foreign conquistador.
Rammohun wanted to change the rules of governance of his motherland. He created a creed that reflected true essence of nobility. It incited no hatred, no battle, no overthrow of ruling regime, no incendiary “We versus They” clash.
Instead along with moral support of friends and admirers of the creed they had named Brahmoism, Rammohun preached a secular philosophy advising compatriots to owe allegiance only to “Brahma,” the one and only invisible formless eternal creator and destroyer of the universe. Natives were not weaklings. All humans possess in equal measure the power of prayer and all are equal. At one stroke, Brahmoism introduced gender equality, equality of opportunity and utter irrelevance of caste since the one creator created equals.
Rammohun practised his way of thought by writing extremely polite yet firmly argued letters or memoranda to rulers as his weapons. The verdict of history is Rammohun succeeded in defeating both majoritarianism as well as authoritarianism.
In the global scenario of the current age, one example of a figure who overcame these two monstrosities is Nelson Mandela who effectively followed Brahmo tenets in pursuit of freedom from racial discrimination.
A final point: Brahmoism is not a proselytizing religion, which explains the absence of pursuit of increasing the number of believers. Brahmos are spread all over the world. Numbers might be few but its global relevance will remain.
(Sujoy Gupta is a fourth generation Brahmo. A historian by profession, he lives in Kolkata.).