“Usable Pasts”: Rammohun Roy’s Occidentalism

  • Makarand R. Paranjape
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 2)


Rammohun’s life can be read as an exemplary encounter of the East with the West. As one of the progenitors of Indian modernity, Rammohun helps us construct a genealogy for the present besides helping predict a course for the future. His life also provides us the wherewithal to retrieve a trajectory of rationality from our recent history, helping us to reinforce those aspects of India’s past that are imperative to the construction of a modern state and civil society. Reconstituting recent Indian intellectual history thus, we might add our efforts to the project of svaraj or the decolonization of the Indian mind. Examining Rammohun’s encounter with Christian missionaries and his views on the question of the education of Indians, this chapter argues that his was a kind of “right” response to the power of the west. It is “right” because it shows a way for the powerless to cope with the powerful without loss of dignity or self-respect. Rammohun’s response was “right” also because it was framed in terms neither of denial nor capitulation, neither yielding to the West nor rejecting it. Instead, his was the way of the comprehension of the Other and of responding from one’s strength rather than from insecurity. The way of comprehension consists in using knowledge to counter power. Furthermore, Rammohun’s response foreshadows and points to the Indian consensus of how to deal with the West, a consensus which Mahatma Gandhi was instrumental in consolidating. Rammohun’s life proves that within every colonized people is someone who can embody the strength of its indigenous culture and thus resist the coloniser from an alternate centre, a centre that is not itself already co-opted. It proves, moreover, that whoever dismantles the false logic of colonialism belongs not to one nation or people, but to the human race. The chapter is also about disciplinarity and boundaries, questioning the methodological scienticism of a certain kind of historiography and arguing in favour of the heuristic value of stories as not inferior to that of histories.


English Education East India Company Middle Path Christian Missionary Final Appeal 
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Copyright information

© Makarand R. Paranjape 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Makarand R. Paranjape
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for English Studies School of Language, Literature, and Culture StudiesJawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiIndia

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