Published: 14th August 2018
Independence Day: 18 Indian colleges that played a part in the struggle for freedom
These universities and colleges in pre-Independence India were hotbeds for political student activity and an uprising that rocked the British colonials and eventually led to India's unshackling
On the 72nd Independence Day, we decided to do a throwback to some of the great uprisings that happened inside colleges and universities in pre-Independence India. Check it out!
Ramjas College, New Delhi
One of India's greatest freedom fighters, Chandra Shekhar Azad, was closely associated with Ramjas as he was hiding in their hostel for many months. Azad had been evading the British government, but thanks to the hostellers, he was disguised as a Sikh student from Pakistan and was kept in hiding. He had no problems planning escape routes because of this. Also, during the Second World War, the college ceded its campus at Anand Parbat to the Allied Forces and it was around this time that the Independence movement was gaining a lot of momentum. A group of Ramjas students were even arrested for their involvement in the struggle. The names of these students have since been inscribed on a plaque in the college.
Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
The institution was one of the very few colleges that were set up after Mahatma Gandhi's declaration of the Non-cooperation Movement. It was the first ever nationalist college to be established by Indians as a mark of protest against the British rule. This was followed by colleges like Gujarat Vidyapith, Bihar Vidyapeeth, Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Kashi Vidyapith and the Bengal National University. Jamia Millia Islamia was founded in the year 1920 by 18 Muslim intellectuals and eminent leaders who played a crucial role in the Non-cooperation Movement. Being the close aide of Gandhiji and a tireless supporter for the freedom movement, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, the first Vice-Chancellor of the college, travelled extensively across India to collect funds for the institution as they had no government support. In the wake of the Simon Commission’s boycott by the Congress in 1927, many of the college founders were jailed. However, as a mark of solidarity, several students took to the street to voice their concern.
Queen Mary's College, Tamil Nadu
The college is one of the earliest known women's colleges in the city of Chennai and was also a place where some of the first women freedom fighters originated. According to a piece by Anna Varki in Madras Musings, as a student, she remembers that the principal had made a huge ‘V’ sign on their front lawn. But the pro-Quit India Movement students went and dug up the sign and scattered it. The members of the movement frequently cut classes and would be seen standing in front of the Egmore Chief Presidency Magistrate's court yelling slogans like Inquilab Zindabad. The arrested students would be taken to the penitentiary which was situated on Marina Beach Road and their friends would visit them there. From here, they were taken to other jails.
Vidyasagar College, West Bengal
The establishment of Vidyasagar College was a landmark moment in the political history of India. It was founded in the year 1872 by Pundit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the torchbearer of the Indian Renaissance. It was the first ever private college to be established in India, that too at a time when India was slowly slipping towards the totalitarian rule of the British Raj. The establishment of the college was seen as the first ever step taken by the Indians to free themselves from the clutches of the British rule. The sole motive behind establishing the college was to provide affordable higher education to scores of underprivileged students and to promote patriotic zeal among youngsters. Due to its favourable political climate and larger political dream, the college played a crucial role in shaping young minds to fight for the freedom struggle. Swami Vivekananda, Prafulla Chandra Ray and Jatindra Nath Das are some of the famous alumni of this college who contributed towards the Indian freedom struggle.
Presidency College, West Bengal
The Hindoo College, established in 1817, was transformed into the Presidency College of Bengal in 1855. The Hindoo College was the earliest institution of higher learning, in the modern sense, in Asia. The Presidency College introduced Western education in the historical sense of the term and was originally anon-government-runn college meant for the sons of the Hindu community alone. How did the college play a significant role in the Indian freedom struggle? The spread of Western liberal thought and education, due to the establishment of institutions like Presidency College, led to the growth of anti-colonial nationalism in the late nineteenth century. The Non-Cooperation-Khilafat Movement and Mahatma Gandhi's Purna Swaraj Movement, in which Presidencians like Surendranath Banerjee, Chittaranjan Das, Jatindra Mohan Sengupta, Sarat Chandra Bose, Subhas Chandra Bose and Dr Rajendra Prasad played important roles, paved the way for freedom.
Madras Christian College, Tamil Nadu
KPS Menon, a student of MCC at the time of Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to the college in August 1920, recollects: “The meeting was held in the open courtyard of the college. The quadrangle was a sea of faces; every doorway, every window, in the surrounding buildings was occupied. Students hung even on the branches of trees to listen to his speech.” This converted many students to his creed. Also, Alexander Boyd, the then principal, wouldn't allow the police to enter the campus to arrest the students. During the Quit India Movement, MCC even used to give shelter and admission for students who were expelled from other institutions without a transfer certificate. The management stood by the students, according to the book Life and Legacy of Madras Christian College by Dr Joshua Kalapati and Dr Ambrose Jeyasekaran.
Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu
Students of Annamalai University convened a meeting on August 9, 1942, and passed a resolution which condemned the arrest of Congress leaders. The professors prevented students from holding demonstrations and the Vice-Chancellor circulated a notice warning the students that if they oppose the notice, their names would be removed from the college. But the students did not obey his order and absented themselves saying that all names could very well be removed. They collected membership fees of four annas and used it for boycotting classes, organising meetings and hartals and hoisting national flags. The uncompromising attitude of the students and their attempt to prolong the strike, forced the authorities to close the university for forty days, according to shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in.
Bethune College, West Bengal
Established as a college in 1879, Bethune College is the oldest known women's college in Asia and the first women's college to be set up in India. Bethune was founded as a secular Native Female School (for the secular education of girls) in 1849 by John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune and it played a significant role in our fight for Independence. Bina Das (1911–1986) was an Indian revolutionary and nationalist from Bengal, who was a student of Bethune College. Bina was a member of Chhatri Sangha, a semi-revolutionary organisation for women in Kolkata during the freedom struggle. On February 6, 1932, she attempted to assassinate the then Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson, in the Convocation Hall of the University of Calcutta. The college has also produced icons of women empowerment, which is included in the long list of its successful ex-students. Pritilata Waddedar, an alumnus of Bethune was the first female martyr of India's freedom struggle.
Hindu College, Delhi
Hindu College was founded in 1899 by the Late Shri Krishan Dassji Gurwale. From inception, the college has been deeply connected to the national movement for independence; some Governing Body members and trustees were directly involved in the Swadeshi and Boycott movements. Board member Amir Chand, associated with Lala Har Dayal and Rash Behari Bose, was hanged by the colonial government in 1915. In 1940, students and teachers joined the Quit India Movement. Students, in particular, participated in unlawful picketing, processions and other forms of civil resistance. The college was a centre for political debate during the freedom struggle and several students and teachers of the college even went to prison following their participation in the movement. The college also organised ‘double shifts’ in 1947 to help partition refugees in Delhi, according to hinducollege.ac.in.
St Stephen’s College, Delhi
Students and staff members of St Stephen’s actively participated in protests during the Indian Independence Movement. Along with Ramjas College, St Stephen’s too played an active role during the Non-cooperation Movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement. Revolutionaries like Amir Chand, Asaf Ali, Awadh Bihari, Brij Krishna Chandiwala and Sameenuddin Khan were associated with this college. In fact, not many people know this, but after Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa in 1915, he stayed with Sushil Kumar Rudra, who was the principal of the college. Charles Freer Andrews, an English teacher in the college went to South Africa in 1914 to persuade Gandhi to come to India and lead the freedom movement. Andrews was in great demand for his work as a conciliator and fighter against social injustice, all over India.
Maharaja’s College, Kerala
On October 9, 1927, Mahatma Gandhi sailed on a boat to Kochi where he visited one of the oldest educational institutions in Kerala, Maharaja’s College. The institute’s records remember that the Mahatma delivered a short speech on the importance of non-violence and the freedom struggle. Last year, the college held various events to celebrate the 90th anniversary of his visit. In 1942, during the thick of the freedom struggle, the students of Maharaja’s College woke up to the calls of political resistance and marched to the Principal’s office, demanding freedom. Many students were arrested on the spot. This display of rebellion, which was unheard of at the time, created wide-reaching ripples across the college and in the lives of the students. Established in 1875, the college has always been a hotbed for political activity and resistance.
Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith, UP
Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith was established in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh in 1921. It was founded by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupt and Bhagwan Das during the Non-cooperation Movement of the freedom struggle. Kashi Vidyapith has a long history that weaves in and out of the country’s freedom struggle. When Gandhi called for swaraj and self-reliance, the institute followed in his footsteps. Kashi Vidyapith was the first modern university founded by Indians in British India. The university was managed and run exclusively by Indian nationalists and educationalists. Along with a few other institutes such as Jamia Millia Islamia and Gujarat Vidyapith, it was completely outside the control of the colonial government. Its fervent nationalism and defiance of the British establishment brought many young Indians from across the country flocking to its classrooms. Many prominent Indian industrialists and politicians provided financial support to the university. Its faculty included prominent nationalists and scholars such as Acharya Narendra Dev, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Sampurnanand. At a time when Indian nationalists encouraged Indians to boycott colonial institutions, Kashi Vidyapith found itself at its prime.
Maharaja’s College, Karnataka
Maharaja’s College, Mysuru was set up by Krishnaraja Wadiyar III in 1833. But after the death of the Maharaja, it was handed over to the Government of Mysuru in 1868. According to Nanjaraj Urs, an 83-year-old historian at the college, “The wave, mood and rage to see India free got a lot of encouragement from educational institutions. Although there were no protests held against the British government, teachers included at least one lesson in the books to promote nationalism and every single day , lectured on the wrongdoings of the British East India Company.” Recalling the freedom struggle in 1946, he explained that the University’s students like Venkata Krishnaiah and G R Joshyar used to organise meetings on the playground. Slogans like ‘Arcot boycott’ and ‘Thambuchetty chatta katti’ were rife in the air. “Stones were being pelted at government offices. The district collector came to disperse the crowd, but these young boys dared the British to fire. The police fired and a student, Ramaswamy, died. That’s why it’s now called Ramaswamy Circle.” He further added, “It had eminent teachers like Kuvempu, K Hanumantha Rao, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and writer R K Narayan are alumni of this college.”
Central College, Karnataka
Central College in Bengaluru is one of the oldest colleges in the Garden City. Noted freedom fighter H S Doreswamy, who just turned 100, was then a student of the Government Arts and Science College which is opposite Central College. He said, “The teachers from Central College like Gopalaswamy from the Psychology department, M V Krishna Rao and others used to promote nationalism in their lectures. In 1937, a strike was organised at Banappa Park. About 30,000 people gathered to listen to Bombay Mayor Khurshed Nariman who also supported the Gandhian movement. Basappa, an Inspector arrested Nariman and resorted to lathi-charge.” At that time, Doreswamy, his friends and B Seetharamaiah, a lecturer, were injured. “In 1942, the students of Central College led a protest to support the Quit India Movement. The strike continued for three months. Three students, D R Krishnamurty, Ashwath Rao and Babu Siddaramaiah were arrested for three months,” he added. H S Doreswamy, who had started teaching at Gandhinagar High School, was arrested for providing time bombs to freedom fighters. “The British intelligence team had followed a freedom fighter from Tumkur and traced me,” he said.
Fergusson College, Maharashtra
Fergusson College, Pune was founded in 1885 by the Deccan Education Society. The founders of the college are luminaries of the freedom movement such as Bal Gang adhar Tilak, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and Mahadev Namjoshi. Some of the notable alumni include Veer Savarkar, Vitthal Ramji Shinde and S M Joshi. The college was formed as a result of the Indian thinkers’ understanding of a need to modernise Indian education after the revolt of 1857. Many of the alumni organised free speech movements and many of them went on to near-militant stances during the course of the struggle, but it all started at Fergusson. The college has acquired a reputation as a nation-building institution. Over the years, it has grown to become a historical monument and a symbol of the country’s freedom.
Aligarh Muslim University, Uttar Pradesh
Aligarh Muslim University was established by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875. The Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920. The Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union (AMUSU) is the university-wide representative body for students. Mahatma Gandhi was the first one to be given a lifetime membership of the union. Many of the notable alumni of the university took part in the freedom struggle including Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh and Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi. Captain Abbas Ali, who was among the few who joined the Indian National Army in Malaya to liberate India, also studied here. During the freedom struggle, the university also witnessed a number of protests.
Osmania University, Telangana
As Hyderabad was under the Nizam’s rule, things were a little different there. The seventh Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Osman Ali Khan had set up Osmania University (OU) in 1918 and the university, this year, conducted its centenary celebrations. Situated in the Amberpet area, the campus is spread over 1,300 acres. It has 53 departments, over 1,000 colleges affiliated to it and five constituent colleges. But back in 1938, a student movement called Vande Mataram started brewing in OU. Students were asked to sing a eulogy to the Nizams in their prayers and in 1938, they refused to do so and sang Vande Mataram instead. More than 700 students were expelled because of this action, including leaders like P V Narasimha Rao, Arutla Ramachandra Reddy and Devulapalli Venkateswara Rao. Against the dikats of the Nizams, Rao, who went on to become the Prime Minister of the country, used to hoist the national flag and was constantly on the run to evade the Nizam’s police. The University’s students who participated in the struggle were even praised by national leaders like VD Savarkar, Jawaharlal Nehru and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, as detailed in Telangana People’s Struggle and Its Lessons by Puccalapalli Sundarayya and others.
Ravenshaw University, Odisha
On August 10, 1942, when the Quit India Movement was flaring up, students of Ravenshaw College (which is now Ravenshaw University) in Odisha, organised a protest at the main entrance of the institution. Leaders like Bhagirathi Mishra and Upendra Mohanty exhorted the students to take the lead in the movement. This is stated in the book Odishare Swadhinata Andolana (National Movement in Odisha) by Surendranath Patnaik, explains Prof Kailash Chandra Dash. On August 15, about 200 students had set fire to the office room and reduced several official files to ashes. “About 13 women students with Saudamini, the daughter of the Principal P K Parija, joined in. They carried the national flag and led the procession under the leadership of Malati Chaudhury,” says the professor and historian. Teachers were called upon to give up their teaching positions and join the movement, says Nibedita Mohanty in her book Ravenshaw College, Orissa’s Temple of Learning. The principal even expelled a few students from the college and the boarders of the hostels protested against this by observing a mass fast. Even when the college reopened on November 20, 1942, the authorities exacted `10 from each boarder as security for good conduct. The students raised their voice against this and demanded unconditional readmission of the expelled students.