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Bhadralok: Wikis

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Bhadralok (Bengali: ভদ্রলোক bhôdrolok, literally "well-mannered person") is a Bengali term used to denote the new class of 'gentlefolk' who arose during colonial times (approximately 1757 to 1947) in Bengal. It is still used to indicate members of the middle class.

Contents

Caste makeup

Most, though not all, members of the bhadralok class are upper caste, mainly Brahmins, Baidyas and Kayasthas. There is no precise translation of bhadralok in English, since it maps economic and class privilege on to caste ascendancy. However, many bhadraloks in the nineteenth century came from debased Brahmin stock (such as Rabindranath Tagore) or middle level merchant castes (such as Rani Rashmoni).

Colonial factors

The two biggest factors that led to the rise of the bhadralok were the huge fortunes many merchant houses made from aiding the English East India Company's trade up the Ganga valley, and Western-style education (at the hands of the colonial rulers and of missionaries). The steep rise in real estate prices in Calcutta also led some petty landlords in the area to become wealthy overnight. The first identifiable bhadralok figure is undoubtedly Ram Mohan Roy, who bridged the gap between the Persianised nobility of the Sultanate era in Bengal and the new, Western-educated, nouveau riche comprador class.

The Bengal Renaissance

The Bengal Renaissance was largely carried out and participated in by bhadralok. In addition, the rise of the Brahmo Samaj and various other samajes (a category halfway between 'society' and 'community') was also largely a bhadralok phenomenon. To be a bhadralok was to embrace some Western-derived values (though not always the same ones in each case), to have a modicum of education, and a sense of entitlement to (and consequently grievance against) favours or employment from the colonial government. While the bhadralok were influenced by the West (in terms of their morals, dress, and eating habits) they were also the people who reacted most strongly against the West, and the most scathing critiques as well as the most spirited defences of Westernisation were made by bhadralok writers.

Trivia

Although Bhadralok is still in vogue, a similar term, 'babu' (gentleman), has become old-fashioned and now often refers in slightly derogatory terms to government bureaucrats or to social upstarts.

References

  • Subho Basu and Sikata Banerjee, 'The Quest for Manhood: Masculine Hinduism and Nation in Bengal in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
  • Banglapedia article on bhadralok
  • Indira Choudhuri, The Fragile Hero and Virile History: Gender and the Politics of Culture, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998).
  • Tithi Bhattacharya, The Sentinels of Culture: Class, Education and the Colonial Intellectual in Bengal, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

See also

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