The Black Hole of Empire: History of a Global Practice of Power

By Partha Chatterjee | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FIVE
Equality of Subjects

RAMMOHAN (1772/1774—1833) was one of the first Indians to make use of the new print medium in order to emerge as a public figure. His first tract— Tuhfat-ul mwwahhiddin—was printed in Murshidabad in 1804, and distributed “in order,” said Rammohan himself at the end of his text, “to avoid any future change in the book by copyists.”1 It needed more than ordinary courage for a young man of thirty, entirely unknown in the world of letters, to announce in the prefatory paragraph written in Arabic of a Persian work that he was setting out to demonstrate that “falsehood is common to all religions without distinction.”2 But this was no Enlightenment tract in the style of a Voltaire, even though Kishorichand Mitra, one of Rammohahs first biographers, claims that a few years later, the latter did publish a Bengali essay under an assumed name in which “the tomfooleries of the Hindu mode of worship are held up to merited ridicule and contempt.”3 In any case, it is certain that Rammohan was still not very familiar with the corpus of modern European philosophical writings when he wrote the Tuhfa. Instead of being a denunciation, the slim book is a rigorous logical examination of what might be called “natural religion,” as contrasted with the doctrines and practices of various established religions and sects.


THE FALSEHOOD OF ALL RELIGIONS

Rammohan made the bold argument that most people come to acquire a faith in religious rituals and doctrines merely by the force of upbringing and habit.

The fact is this, that each individual on account of the constant hearing of the won-
derful and impossible stories of his by-gone religious heroes and hearing the good
results of those assumed creeds of that nation among whom he has been born and
brought up, acquires such a firm belief in religious dogmas that he cannot re-
nounce his adopted faith although most of its doctrines be obviously nonsensical
and absurd…. [Hjence, it is evident that a man having adopted one particular reli-
gion with such firmness, his sound mind after reaching the age of maturity with
acquired knowledge of books, without being inclined to make enquiries into the
truth of the admitted propositions of so many years, is insufficient to discover the
real truth.4

-134-

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