Forgotten Legacy of Gopal Ganesh Agarkar

Prabhakar Nanawaty

The name of Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (1856 – 95) is almost synonym to rationalism, secularism and social reformation in true sense, at least among Marathi speaking people.Maharashtrawitnessed a sort of renaissance in 19th century where stalwarts like Jotiba Phule, Dhondo Karve, Agarkar, Lokhitwadi etc tried their best to mould the hibernated society deeply sunk into superstitions, traditions and rituals to accept modern thoughts and materialism. Agarkar was in forefront to bring this to the notice of the then society. Utilitarial   and skeptical writings of 18th and 19th century Western thinkers like JS Mill, Herbrt Spencer, Thomas Huxley etc had a great influence on Agarkar’s thinking. In fact he fought single handedly to bring some sense in the society.

According to Agarkar education, not just formal but also Lokshikshan holds bay in the advancement of life. Throughout his short span of life, till his untimely death at the age of 39 years, he followed the principle to argue, cherish virtuous examples, bring up the youth in the habit of right opinion and right motive, shape the social arrangements so as to stimulate the best part of the character.

It is quite disheartening to note that even after 110 years,  the relevance of Agarkar’s life and teachings are questioned. He was the one person who believed that social good presupposes a living thus changing society. If the society does not keep itself in time with the modern ideas based on rationality and equality, inevitably to people at large, whose minds are not matured enough to accept any new propositions. To convince this aspect to larger section of society, we need to explain the unscientific essence, the irrational conceptual basis of religions in general and Hinduism in particular. The cults and casteism exert almost universal sway over the minds of the  people crippling their creative energy, initiative and truth detecting power. An appropriate ideological attack on them needs to be evolved and their weight among the people needs to be diminished.

We as a responsible member of the society should not merely refute error, expose reaction and propagate scientific views but also fight for elimination of the social environs where error can thrive and superstitious spread and for the creation of a new social environs which will make it easy for the people to imbibe scientific culture. While doing so there will be some conflict with those who benefit by the present chaotic social system. They are in fact ready to finance and encourage the spread of irrational ideas among gullible people who then turn hostile to social reforms. The spread of the scientific culture when it reaches out to the people, can give them a rational focus of change which then would sweep away everything.

It appears that the present society did not bother about this great legacy of social reformation bestowed upon us by Agarkar. We as rationalists or those who are interested in social reformations have greater responsibility to remind the forgotten principles followed by Agarkar and mould this society as dreamt by Agarkar.

We need not go into nuts and bolts of the argument like whether political reformation should precede the social reformation or vice versa. Now is the time to take holistic approach which should include political, social, economical, and environmental issues that are demeaning the society. The reactionary forces in the society are taking the advantages of weakness of right minded people and non availability of leaders to come forward and to take up the challenge. The reformation movement is practically dead and reactionary forces are promoting irrationalism and are able to catch them young whereas the weak and timid rational movement is preaching to the converted in vain. Abstract criticism of religion, existence of God, superstitions or Godmen cult, in general, though some extent is necessary, will remain incomprehensible to laymen.  The rationalists have to expose among people not religion and superstition in general but as applicable in the present Indian society. So the task of the rationalists is not limited to the exposure of the mechanism of particular type superstition or irrationality or the methods adopted to fool the gullible people. They have to strive for the removal of those social conditions which serve as a fertile breeding ground for irrational modes of thought and action. They should recognize superstition as symptom of the disease pervading the social organism. As such while treating this symptom, they should attack the very social conditions which predispose people to develop irrational moods and attitudes and surrender their mind to the propaganda of mysticism and other reactionary ideas.

If one has the patience to go through the biographical events and the struggles faced by Agarkar in his life time, one will certainly feel that Agarkar or personalities like him should have been there in the present time to speak and act fearlessly against the antisocial behavior of the democratic institutions, pseudo intellectuals, elites, and new breed of so called social reformers.