Zoroastrian Heroes: Dadabhai Naoroji

DADABHAI NAOROJI

Dadabhai Naoroji was a great political thinker of his day and ranks among the greatest Indian patriots. He has been written about extensively in that light. However, little is known of him as a person, or of his family life in the well known references cited below, about his public life. The only reference to his family is where we learn that Dadabhai like most other Parsi luminaries of the time came from the clerical (i.e. priestly) class.

It has been said, “…No man is an island unto himself…” Dadabhai Naoroji, a Parsi Zarathosti of Bombay (1825-1917) exemplified one aspect of this saying, in his active embrace of the life around him. In fact in the 92 years of his life, he embraced the life around him, the learning, the activities, the issues, so strongly, that wherever he went, and whatever he did, he made his mark, which eventually, towards the end of his life, earned him the title, “Grand Old Man of India”.

Among the long list of his achievements, there were many “firsts”, which follow in approximate chronological order below:

  • In 1848 (aged only 23years) Dadabhai led a group of young Parsi and Hindu reformers to form the “Students’ Literary and Scientific Society”, with the aim of educating the general population, by providing school facilities and volunteer, partially paid teachers. The Society founded nine schools for girls. Much later, Dadabhai Naoroji’s interest in women’s emancipation was commemorated in a beautifully impressive plaque at the base of his statue at Fort, Bombay, depicting him leading the whole nation, with the girls and women in the foreground, and a legend inscribed, “Mothers Really build Nations”.
  • Dadabhai was the (first) founder-editor in 1851 of the ground breaking newspaper, the Rast Goftar, (the People’s Tribune), furthering Dadabhai’s passionate belief in women’s emancipation, religious reforms and political participation. Through this publication as in his later book “UnBritish Rule in India”, he challenged Britain to stop draining India of its wealth which was flowing from India to Britain.
  • Dadabhai Naoroji was the first Indian Professor – Professor of Mathematics – at Elphinstone College, Bombay, in 1852 (at age 28 years!)
  • With other young graduates, like A. Moos, and Bhau Daji Lad (a young Maharashtrian), Dadabhai founded the Parsi Natak Mandali in 1853, to establish modern theatre in Bombay. Their first play was “Rustam and Sohrab” from the Shahnama.
  • Dadabhai, with the Camas, went to England in 1855, and there started the first Indian firm in London and Liverpool under the Cama family name.
  • With the Camas and other prominent Zarathostis, Dadabhai, founded the first Asian Religious Association in Britain in 1861, which also established the Religious Funds of the Zoroastrians of Europe.
  • Dadabhai was the first Indian to be elected a Member of Parliament for the Liberal Party at Westminster, London in 1892, campaigning vigorously for the rights of the Indians, seeking to reform British rule, and eventually calling for Indian Independence.
  • Dadabhai was an exceptional Parsi who spoke out against the opium trade (unlike others who profited by it), and left the Cama firm for this reason.
  • Dadabhai was a founding member of the Indian National Congress, presiding over its meetings in 1886, 1893 & 1906, and guiding it towards Constitutional ism and away from revolution and violence. He was a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, and worked alongside other moderates like Sir P. Mehta, S. Banerjee, and G. K. Gokhle for Indian Independence.

REFERENCES :

    • Godrej, P., and Punthakey Mistree, F., Zoroastrian Tapestry, Mapin Publishing 2002.
    • Kulke, E., The Parsis in India, Vikas, 1974
    • Mellor, D. C., 1983, The Parliamentary Life of Dadabhai Naoroji, The Great Parsi Patriot, in Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute, No. 52, Bombay 1985.
    • Nanavutty, P., The Parsis, The Delhi Parsi Anjuman, 1980.

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