Patna Gained at Dacca’s Cost


Bihar is euphoric over centenary celebrations of the Patna University. After Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, the nineteenth century saw the birth of two more universities—the fourth,  Punjab University at Lahore in 1882 and fifth, Allahabad University in 1887 under the patronage of colonial masters. The University at Patna,  with jurisdiction over Orissa and Nepal, was the sixth established in 1917. Speaking candidly, Dacca’s (Dhaka) loss was Patna’s gain. To put more candidly, Dhaka’s pride was the envy of the savants of Calcutta resulting in Patna grabbing the honour.

The annulment of the partition of Bengal brought an end to the anti-partition agitation coupled with swadeshism between 1905 and 1911 over the creation of the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam with capital at Dhaka. The partition was welcomed by Muslims along with some sections of low castes who were the overwhelming majority in Eastern Bengal. Its annulment, therefore, sorely disillusioned them. To assuage grievances of the majority, Governor-General Lord Hardinge declared in 1911 his policy to establish a university at Dhaka. The brahminical forces bared their fangs furiously to frustrate the scheme of the second university in Bengal and the sixth in India! Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee (29 June 1864 – 25 May 1924) and Sir Surendra Nath Banerjee, both educationists among others, fomented a campaign targeting the proposed temple of learning! The Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University four consecutive two-year terms (1906–1914) and a fifth two-year term (1921–23), Sir Ashutosh was nicknamed ‘the royal Bengal tiger.’ Sir Surendra Nath Banerjee (10 November 1848–6 August 1925), on the other hand, was fondly addressed for his role in anti-partition and swadeshi movement as ‘the uncrowned king of Bengal.’ Rarely in history do saboteurs of the establishment of a university occupy as high a stature as Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee and Sir Surendra Nath Banerjee. They had, by the way, Provash Chandra Mitra, education minister of Bengal as their accompanist in the sinister game. [1] According to one account,

“Many Hindu leaders were not happy with the government’s intention to set up a university at Dhaka. On 16 February 1912, a delegation headed by advocate Dr Rashbehari Ghosh, met the viceroy and expressed the apprehension that the establishment of a separate university at Dhaka would promote ‘an internal partition of Bengal’. They also contended, as was recorded in the Calcutta University Commission report later, that ‘Muslims of Eastern Bengal were in large majority cultivators and they would benefit in no way by the foundation of a university’. Lord Hardinge assured the delegation that no proposals, which could lead to the internal partition or division of Bengal would meet the support of the government. He also expressed that the new university would be open to all and it would be a teaching and a residential university. At one stage, Lord Hardinge told Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, that he was determined to establish a university at Dhaka in spite of all their opposition.” [2]

The Governor-General’s ‘determination’ underlines furious opposition he had encountered from the royal Bengal tiger and the uncrowned king against the establishment of the university at Dhaka. This drives home the essence of what Plato said centuries’ ago: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” The Greek philosopher did not have the misfortune to see men, who, though flashed angelical glow on their faces, were “afraid of the light!” The showers of applause from their cheerleaders tend to conceal the incendiary subversion they inflicted on their targets.  Lest we forget, it is noted, the more equipped and accomplished such men were the damages to their victims were more irreparable and exacerbating. The university at Dhaka ultimately came into existence a decade later in 1921!

A biographer of Gopal Krishna Gokhale recorded why ‘the uncrowned king of Bengal’ in league with others opposed and sabotaged his Compulsory  Primary Education Bill. According to him, “Surendra Nath Banerjea opposed it (Compulsory Education Bill), fearing that it would divert funds for elementary education from higher education.” [3] Banerjee was the founder of Ripon College, Calcutta (which has been renamed after him in post-independent India). Madan Mohan Malvyiya and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, notably, were two of the most prominent supporters of Gokhale’s Bill. The true colours of Rashtrguru, as he was also called by a section of Bengalees, were exposed when we see him jointly with Sir Ashutosh torpedoing the proposal for the foundation of university at Dhaka as it aimed at addressing largely the higher educational needs and aspirations of the Muslims and the overwhelming  untouchable population  of Eastern Bengal. Essentially Banerjee was against any form of education, primary or higher, to benefit the illiterate from the lower and neglected social hinterland. In 1907, the chief secretary, Eastern Bengal & Assam, conveyed the testimony of the Lieutenant Governor to the Government of India to the effect that the “present great keenness for education among the Muhammadans and Namasudras” who “practically” represented  “almost the whole of the peasantry” of the new province. [4]

History bears ample testimony of attitudinal hostility of the upper caste Hindu leadership and gentry against educational aspirations of the low and the Muslims in Bengal. The careful chronicler of the British empire  Hunter traced the fine thread in the nineteenth century. “The upper classes are opposed to the lower orders being taught at all.” If this left any gap or grey area, he filled that up. “The Brahmans and Kayasthas deem education to be strictly their inheritance; and in losing the cooperation of the wealthy classes, the Government unavoidably fails to reach the ordinary cultivator; for however much the latter may be oppressed, he looks to the former to interpret every action of the foreign race which rules them.” [5]

In Bengal, the first ever high English school by the untouchables was established in 1908 at Orakandi in Faridpur of Eastern Bengal under the initiative of crusading Namasudra socio-religious reformer Guru Chand Thakur (1847-1937) with the aid and encouragement of Australian Baptist missionary Dr C S Mead because the high caste landlords and moneylenders tricked the illiterate peasants in everyday matters of rent or debt-payment receipts. But they encountered “stiff opposition from high caste Kayasthas who were afraid that their sharecropper and servants would no longer work for them if they became educated.”  [6]

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It is noted that Guru Chand Thakur’s son Sasi Bhusan Thakur and his friend, Bhimadeb Das were sent from their village Orakandi to Calcutta for education. There the former matriculated and the later cleared his entrance examinations (then equivalent to Intermediate standard). Both the young men wanted to study law in Calcutta. In a letter, they informed Dr  Mead that at this stage “our caste was discovered and we were barred from proceeding any further. We returned to Orakandi feeling completely crushed.” [7]

This happened in 1907 at Calcutta in the immediate post-renaissance Bengal. Bengali intellectual class, however, is tireless in feeding us glowing accounts of the renaissance with Calcutta in the focal point. Two Chandal boys were shunted out from pursuing their dreams when their caste was discovered! Calcutta abounded with opportunities for education but only upper castes were welcomed! This was the essence of the over-hyped and overrated renaissance of Bengal.

About this time the Government of India were contemplating with the question of abolition of frees in primary schools. Cross-section of opinions from various walks of life was consulted.  H Savage, the first member of Board of Revenue, Eastern Bengal & Assam made a striking observation in a letter dated January 12, 1907,

“At present in the Dacca Division (at least) there is a system under which the grant-in-aid is in part contingent on the attendance of Muhammadan pupils or pupils of the lower caste Hindus. This system should be maintained and extended. There is a widespread feeling against pupils of these classes among the ordinary gurus—much more widespread than appears on the surface—and unless strict measures be taken under either European or Musalman supervision in each district, boys of the Muslaman and lower Hindu classes will be shouldered out of the Pathshalas and the benefit of the abolition of fees will accrue solely to the high caste Hindus. Probably no amount of inspection will avail to prevent this, unless it be distinctly ruled that the teachers’ pay will, to a certain extent, depend on the number of pupils of these classes who pass a certain examination.”  [8]

Powerful vested interests who represented a handful of upper castes were against educational aspiration of the Bengali minority and untouchables. They used all their acquired scholarship and acumen in suppressing the vast section, though far numerous, considering them potentially dangerous to their own happiness and well-being. The enlightenment of the progressive Bengalees did not necessarily endow them with commensurate catholicity towards their less fortunate countrymen. Actually, their character and action were marked by craftinessdeviousness and trickiness. It is a sheer catastrophe for millions of Indians that they have in drivers seats men who are their enemies of moral and material progress. Lord Macaulay described them rather unflatteringly, “What the horns are to the buffalo, what the paw to the tiger, what the sting to the bee, what beauty, according to the old Greek song, is to woman, deceit is to Bengalee. Large promises, smooth excuses, elaborate tissues of circumstantial falsehood, chicanery, perjury, forgery are the weapons, offensive and defensive, of the people of the Lower Ganges.” [9] Do the people of the Lower Ganges need be identified? The countrymen who have suffered the falsehood, chicanery, perjury and forgery would instantly cheer Macaulay for talking, at least, the plain truth in so many words.

            Sadly India never boasted of a man of the stature of  Lord Richard Temple, a former Lieutenant Governor of Bengal (tenure 1874-1877). In November 1882, while addressing the Board of Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church, New York, he was confronted with the inevitable question whether Britain should give education to Indians or keep them submerged under the deluge of illiteracy and ignorance for the sake of loyalty and obedience to benefit the Empire. His replies were classic: 

“As to the loyalty or disloyalty, England will do her duty without fair. I believe education will produce loyalty. But, be the political consequences what it may, we must be just and fear not, and give India the education in those arts and sciences which have made England herself what she is. Even if certain sort of disloyalty were to be the consequences, we must persevere, for we could not consent to keep the people ignorant in order to keep them loyal.” [10]

Did we ever hear any Indian speak in such noble language and sublimity? Make no mistake our celebrated savants are the bitterest enemies of illiterate India whole of which they tightly want under their boots. They are patriots on public platforms only.

Author – Dr  A K Biswas

The writer is a retired IAS officer & former Vice-Chancellor, B R Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

References –

[1] Biswas, A K, Universalisation of Education: India in a Trap—Bane of Negligence Portends National Disaster, Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 38, September 5, 2009.

[2]  University of Dhaka

[3] Nanda, B R, Gokhale, Oxford University Press, 1977, p. 389.

[4] Letter of H. LeMesueier, chief secretary to the Government of Eastern Bengal & Assam bearing no. 11053C, dated September 30, 1907 Selections From The Records of The Government of India, Home Department, No. CCCCXLV. Home Department Serial no. 33, Papers Regarding The Question of The Abolition of Fees in Primary Schools, Calcutta, Superintendent Government Printing, 1910, p. 255.

[5] Hunter, Statistical Account of Faridpur, London, 1876,  p. 349.

[6] Sarkar, Sumit, Beyond Nationalist Frame, Permanent Black, 2002, Delhi,  p. 236.

[7] Elva Schroeder, Doctor Sahib: The story of Dr Cecil Mead, Even Before Publishing, second edition, 2006, p. 68.

[8] Records of the Government of India, Home Department Serial no. 33—Paper Regarding The Question of the Abolition of Fees in Primary School, Calcutta, Superintendent, Government Printing India, 1910, p. 314.

[9] Lord Macaulay, Thomas Babington,  Critical, Historical & Miscellaneous Essays, Boston, 1860, pp. 19-20.

[10] Biswas, A K, Social & Cultural Vision of India: Facts against Fiction, Pragati Publication, Delhi, 1996,  p. 214.

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