|Gopal Ganesh Agarkar
was born in 1856 at Tembhu in the Satara district
of Maharashtra and died at Poona, the cradle and
orbit of his lifes mission, in 1895, at
the premature age of 39. He belonged to a Chitpavan
Brahmin family which had fallen from feudal estate
to stark poverty at the time of Agarkars
birth. The generosity of two liberal-minded Rao
Bahadurs in Government service and some relatives
enabled him to matriculate in 1875 and to pass
his B. A. and M. A. examinations in 1878 and 1880
from the Deccan College, Poona, where he became
a Fellow for about a year.
At 22, a remarkably advanced age for those times,
he married in 1878 Ambutia alias Yashodabai who
seems to have preferred the retiring and subdued
life of a traditional Hindu wife- a contract to
her husband, the fire-eating social reformer and
As revealed in a letter to his mother when he
was emerging from the portals of his College,
Agarkar vowed himself to a mission of poverty
and social service for the rest of his life. Far
reaching adjustments of social values and attitudes
were unavoidable. Agarkar, Tilak and their friends
hit on education as the only available means for
Laughed at by the worldly-wise as Don Quixotes
but blessed by the large-hearted Ranade, Chiplunkar,
Tilak, Namjoshi and Apte launched into existence
the New English School on 1 January 1880 with
35 students on the rolls who increased to 336
by the year end. Agarkar joined them later after
the expiry of his Deccan College Fellowship. On
Sunday, 2 January 1881 appeared the English weekly,
the Mahratta, two days later the famous Marathi
weekly, the Kessari. As Agarkar was to explain
it later, they saw in journalism a potent power
to influence the administration, to educate the
masses and to encourage growth of useful literature.
On 24 October 1884 was formed the Deccan Education
Society and in 2 January 1885 was inaugurated
the Fergusson College which was hailed by Sir
James Fergusson himself as a social fact-unquestionably
of great political importance. Apte, Tilak,
Kelkar, Gole and Agarkar were among the professors.
In October 1887 Agarkar severed his connection
with the Kesari as its editor when the contradiction
between what he and Tilak wrote on subjects like
child-marriage and age of consent became too glaring.
He then started in 1888 his own weekly, the Sudharak,
the Marathi columns of which were written by himself
and the English by G. K. Gokhale. In 1890 Tilak
himself resigned from the Deccan Education Society.
Agarkar became Principal of the Fergusson College
in 1892 and held that office till his death in1895.
Agarkar denounced caste and untouchability as
the evil source of unnatural and degrading restrictions
on the individual. He pleaded with success for
the throwing open of the public water fountain
in Poona to all castes. It is remarkable that
while he deprecated the amazing proliferation
in Hindu society of every form of conceivable
inequality, he was not quite happy with even the
flexible class structure of the West based on
income and wealth. He battled to raise the age
of marriage for boys to 20-22 years and for girls
to 15-16 years.
|He supported widow-re-marriage
and identified himself publicly with such marriage.
He deplored the fallen status of women in Hindu
society and never tired of exposing even the smallest
disability of which they were victims.
Agarkar argued valiantly in favour of Western
education as the agency of social progress and
equality of opportunity. He pleaded for compulsory
education for all between the ages of 6 and 14
declared in favour of co-education. The education
of girls was to include all domestic arts which
might replace history, science and geography.
The conditions of widows could be well ameliorated
by teaching them some useful occupation. Agarkar,
however, was not blind to some of the queer aberration
which were sporadically visible among the newly
education in those days and which their censors
ascribed to Western education.
On the political front, Agarkar started with the
postulate that no nation was good enough trouble
over another for ever and that one day India was
bound to be ruled by Indians. He declared that
Indians lost their liberty because of the lack
of certain vital qualities and the road to imbibe
them lay along both social and political reform,
with more emphasis on the former. Unity of Hindus
and Muslims was a pre-requisite of political liberation,
and Agarkar criticised the administrations
policy of divide and rule.
Agarkar, however, was appreciative of the good
qualities of British rule, based on justice, equality
and rule of law, and advocated the constitutional
approach as the only means to reach self-rule.
As freedom of speech, action and belief was assured
under British rule, there was no insuperable obstacle
to harmonisation of different sects. He urged
the appointment of Indians to higher posts and
argued for holding the Civil Service Examination
in India. He exhorted his countrymen to agitate
for setting up representative assemblies at all
levels from local self-government to government
at the centre.
The economic condition of India caused Agarkar
deep concern. He pointed out the vast disparity
in per capita income or expenditure between India
and other countries like U.K. The very low salt
consumption of India conveyed its own tale. He
found the remedy in gradual industrialisation.
It was not sound economic situation when 86 per
cent of the population was dependent on agriculture.
Agarkar welcomed machinery and wanted at least
10 students to be deputed annually on scholarships
to foreign countries to acquire technical skill
and knowledge. At the same time, he gave an important
place to small-scale industries which he took
pains to specify. Agarkar spoke of the drain,
heavy administrative expenditure, budget deficits,
and drew profusely on John Bright and Chamberlain
in support of his case.
The problems of Agarkar and Tilak are the best
key to an estimate of their personalities. Both
were simple and austere in their private lives
and dedicated servants of the country. Tilak always
presents his case in an unemotional, lawyer-like
and disputatious manner. If he gives way to emotion,
it is almost always anger. Agarkars writings
are suffused with emotion, imaginativeness and
almost poetic tenderness.