Who was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, man at centre of storm between TMC and BJP

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New Delhi | Published: May 16, 2019 5:31:14 PM

The vandalism of his statue on Tuesday took a political turn with the TMC and the BJP blaming each other for the incident.

ishwar chandra vidyasagar, bjp, congrss, tmc, lok sabha elections, lok sabha elections 2019, mamata banerjeeA blame game began between both parties on Tuesday after a statue of the 19th century reformer installed at Vidyasagar college in Kolkata was vandalised. (Express photo)

A towering figure in West Bengal, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is at the centre of a tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal. A blame game began between both parties on Tuesday after a statue of the 19th century reformer installed at Vidyasagar college in Kolkata was vandalised during a roadshow of BJP president Amit Shah.

The vandalism took a political turn with the TMC and the BJP blaming each other for the incident. Both sides presented videos and pictures as proof to support their allegations. Taking stock of the tense situation, the Election Commission announced a halt on campaigning 24 hours ahead of schedule. The TMC has charged the BJP of attacking West Bengal’s cultural heritage while the BJP has blamed TMC of staging the attack only to gain sympathy ahead of polling in 9 constituencies of West Bengal on May 19.

Who was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar?

One of the pioneering figures of the 19th century, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born on September 26, 1820, to Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay and Bhagavati Devi in Paschim Midnapore district of West Bengal. Ishwar Chandra studies studied Sanskrit grammar, Vedanta philosophy, literature, logic, Hindu law and astronomy, for over 12 years in Calcutta’s Sanskrit College. He earned the title of Vidyasagar at the young age of 21. He also studied English literature as well as philosophy.

Vidyasagar was appointed as principal of Sanskrit College in 1852 at the age of 31. He followed the reformist tradition of Raja Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833). Just like Roy was for the abolition of Sati, he was a supporter of remarriage of widows.

In 1850, he wrote an article in the newspaper against the practice of child marriage who were in the tender age of 10 or even younger. He also pointed out ethical, social and hygiene issues, rejecting the validity of the Dharma Shastras that was in favour of it.

Five years later, in 1855, he wrote his two popular tracts on the Marriage of Hindu Widows. He based this argument on logic and reason, suggesting there was no prohibition on widows remarrying in ‘Smriti’ literature.

His first pamphlets in Bengali on widow remarriage led to a huge stir in Hindu society. Not less than two thousand copies were sold within a week, and a reprint of nearly 3,000 copies was also sold early. At the time, these were huge numbers.

Apart from his campaign for widow remarriage, Vidyasagar also campaigned against polygamy. In 1857, a plea prohibition of polygamy among Kulin Brahmins was presented to the government that had 25,000 signatures, including that of Maharaja of Burdwan. However, the petition had to be postponed due to the mutiny of the sepoy. In 1866, he inspired another petition, with 21,000 signatures. He passed away on July 29, 1891, at the age of 70.

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