Patriots > Social and Religious Reformers > Agarkar,Gopal Ganesh
Agarkar,Gopal Ganesh (1856-1895)
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 life’s 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 Agarkar’s 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 radical thinker.

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 national resurrection.

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 administration’s 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. Agarkar’s writings are suffused with emotion, imaginativeness and almost poetic tenderness.
Author : S.K.Muranjan