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In Search of Identity

Aparna Basu

By Kenneth W. Jones
Manohar Book Service, 1976, 343, 60.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 1 January-February 1977

Social history as an academic specia­lization is quite recent and in India it is still a largely unexplored field. While in the last few years some critical re-exa­mination has been done of the role of Raja Rammohan Roy as a modernizer, little has been written on the socio-reli­gious reform movements of Western or Northern India. On social movements in the Punjab and more specifically on the Arya Samaj which dominated a half-cen­tury of change in this province, almost all we have is Lala Lajpat Rai's History of the Arya Samaj and a chapter in Char­les Heimsath's Indian Nationalism and Hindu Social Reform. Hence a work like Kenneth Jones's on the growth of Hindu consciousness in 19th century Punjab could have filled some major gaps in our knowledge of Punjab's social history. The central thesis of Jones is that the interaction of British colonial rule and indigenous Indian society created a class of alienated Indians, ‘marginal men’, who found it difficult to accept many of their own traditional customs, values and attitudes. Initially, members of this class were too few and too scattered to start large-scale movements of change. With the establishment of the universities and the emergence of the first generation of college-educated Indians, there arose a number of social and religious move­ments first in Bengal and Maharashtra and later in the Punjab. The English ­educated Indians of these provinces acc­epted a particular ideology, elaborated it, and produced an explanation of their place in history. Apart from easing psy­chological tensions, commitment to a particular ideology channelized their energies into patterns of action. They es­tablished and joined various religious and social organizations, each of which soug­ht to defend its own particular ideology against all who opposed it. This process produced new forms of group conscious­ness. Jones holds that this problem of re­formulation of identity can best be seen in a regional context and hence focuses on the growing consciousness among Punjabi Hindus. He shows how in the 1880's there were in Lahore young men educated in the English language who seized the teachings of Swami Dayanand Saraswati and adapted them to their own needs. They found in the Arya Samaj their lost dignity and sense of self. A movement such as the Arya Samaj cannot however be understood simply in terms of a search for cultural identity. Any meaningful ...

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