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Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920), besides being a political activist who strove for Indian independence and who was imprisoned for his activities, was also a prominent Hindu thinker. Although he was basically a proponent of Advaita Vedanta[?], he differed from the classical Advaitin view that jnana (knowledge) alone brings release. Tilak added a measure of karma-yoga (the yoga of activity) to this, not as subordinate to jnana-yoga, but as equal and complementary to it. He did not oppose the caste system, but did see the necessity of reforming some of its worst elements.

Tilak also proposed various social reforms, such as a minimum age for marriage, and was especially keen to see a prohibition placed on the sale of alcohol. His thoughts on education and Indian political life have remained highly influential - he was the first Congress leader to suggest that Hindi, written in the devanagari script, should be accepted as the sole national language of India, a policy that was later strongly endorsed by Gandhi. Of course, things have not quite worked out that way, and English, which Tilak wished to remove completely from the Indian mind, remains an important means of communication in that country. But Hindi (and other Indian languages) have clearly made considerable progress since the days of the British Raj, and much of the credit for this must go to Tilak.

As a political activist, Bal Gangadhar Tilak helped garner support for India's independence movement. In his speeches, he declared Swaraj is my birthright, and I will have it! At that time (in the late 1800s), the primary focus of the movement was swaraj, Hindi for self-rule. In 1906, Tilak would ask Jinnah to represent him during Tilak's trial for sedition against the British Empire. It was only later (in the 1910s) that the focus of the movement changed to complete independence.

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