The Core Vision and Mission – Dedication to Producing Complete Citizens
Hindu College, which was established in 1899, has a distinguished background that ties it intimately to both the country and the city of Delhi. The idea of the College was born out of the movement for Indian independence, which was growing in strength as the nineteenth century drew to a close. The Indian National Congress had been founded a little more than ten years prior, and this year, at the momentous Lucknow session, the first party constitution was drafted. In 1899, Mahatma Gandhi was in South Africa spearheading a campaign against efforts to disenfranchise the Indian community there. Dadabhai Naoroji was two years away from publishing his Poverty and Un-British Rule in India. Bal Gangadhar Tilak had made his now-famous claim that Swaraj should be a birthright.
In the wake of the rising tide of nationalism, a number of notable Delhiites, most notably Lala Shri Krishan Dassji Gurwale, were committed to founding an institute that would impart higher education for the youth. Dedication to the nation, non-elitism, and non-sectarianism were built into the very foundation of Hindu College, and remain the core of its ethos. Lala Krishan Dassji came from a family that treasured stories about how its ancestors forfeited their wealth as payback for aiding the revolutionary army in 1857. Having himself seen the economic hardships of the great famines of 1886 and 1889, he was deeply concerned by economic inequities in access to education, as well as the lack of nationalist commitment in the pedagogies of the many prestigious Indian colleges. His vision for a national college included affordable tuition fee for the underprivileged classes, a curriculum based on a liberal and humanist ethos, and instructors who were committed to their country. On Basant Panchami, Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya inaugurated its initial, small premises in a rented structure in Kinari Bazaar, Chandni Chowk. The College started with just thirteen students. The atmosphere of this long-ago spring day in the centre of Old Delhi, in view of walls that are more than 200 years old, and presided over by a devoted patriot and educator, seems to still float across the Hindu College campus and inspire its future vision.
By the time of the inception of Delhi University in 1922, Hindu College had grown from its modest beginnings. Indeed, the two institutions and many other landmarks of the North Campus have intimate ties since their early years—when the Faculty of Law was proposed in 1923, the governing body of Hindu College offered its hall to conduct lectures. This hall would have been in the College's second home, in Kundenwalan (Ajmeri Gate area), and many stories from this phase in its history bind it even more strongly with the national struggle. By 1902, the number of students reached almost hundred, and could not be accommodated in the Chandni Chowk building. Its founder, Shri Gurwale, persuaded one of Delhi's most illustrious citizens to donate a site for its expansion—Rai Bahadur Sultan Singh. His Kashmere Gate residence hosted leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, and Sarojini Naidu as well as meetings of the Congress Working Committee. His generosity links Hindu College to other institutions for educational and social welfare institutions that are landmarks of Delhi, for instance, the Modern School founded by his equally philanthropic son.
In addition to more extensive facilities for teaching, the new site was a part of Delhi's political landscape, and formed yet another link between the history of the College and the cultural past of the city. Before becoming a centre for the Indian national movement under Rai Bahadur Sultan Singh, it had been a part of the property of Colonel Skinner (‘Sikandar Sahib'), the famous East India Company officer, who also built the St. James' Church or Skinner's Church that stands nearby. The College building chanced to stand between a mosque and a church, a beautiful metaphor for its allegiance to a multicultural Indian society. ‘Old Hindu College' as the site is still known today is an indispensable part of heritage walks and histories of Delhi. The College did not stray from its commitment to providing accessible education with strong ideological roots during this stage of its development. Despite severe financial crises, the fees remained low, and the founder Lala Krishan Dassji continued to make regular contributions to the College's maintenance, eventually amounting to Rs. 45,000: a testament to his faith in, and commitment to, the future of the fledgling College. The staff, too, embodied the nationalist spirit of selflessness and collective labour donation by refusing to draw their salaries for the duration of the College's financial difficulties and conducting door-to-door campaigns to collect donations. The academic work of the college and the self-improvement of its students did not falter during these tough times; in fact, the College magazine, ‘Indraprastha', was launched in 1916 as a quarterly.
“I am happy to see that Hindu College has students of all castes and creeds. Men outside who break one another’s heads have gone mad. Students should set an example to other leaders...”
— Mahatma Gandhi, Speech at Hindu College, 2 November 1929
By 1925, the College had regained its financial stability and had consolidated its gains far enough to move to a second building in Kashmere Gate. It now had about 700 students. New structures and amenities, such as a library, a lab, and a small hostel, were now available to accommodate this larger student group. It is noteworthy that Hindu College was and continues to be a socially conscious institution ahead of its time, with admissions open to students of both genders and all faiths.
It was at the historic site of Kashmere Gate that the Hindu College student community experienced a great upsurge of social commitment and political consciousness. Many towering personalities such as Pt. Malaviya, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lokmanya Tilak, Annie Besant, Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose, Sarojini Naidu, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were invited to address the students. Their exhortations forged and honed the collective will of the students. Sadly, considering the dangers of fighting British imperialism during this time, especially for students of a nationalist institution already under suspicion, inevitable secrecy shrouds much of its alumni's activities during this period. Recent research into the history of the College has revealed, however, that the great revolutionary Chandrashekhar Azad and some of his associates were helped to lie in hiding at the College hostel, in the Civil Lines area. While it was still young as institutions go, in the 1920s and 1930s, its students were witness to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, the First World War, and the unification of millions in the Non-Cooperation Movement. That such students, whose first steps in higher education were taken in classrooms dedicated to nationalism, would come of age as young patriots the struggle seems inevitable.
The College's commitment to swaraj (self-determination) was not confined to outside the campus. Internally, this commitment became the core of its pedagogy, decision-making structure, and philosophy. It instituted the Parliament of the Republic of Hindu College in 1935, a structure of internal democracy which stands out in its uniqueness in the country. In its historic amphitheatre on the Kashmere Gate grounds, Hindu College did more than only listen to the debates and meditations of renowned intellectuals and activists. Its students organized themselves into a community around a constitutional document framed in the finest traditions of self-governance. Through this structure it prepared citizens for the national Republic that was yet to come, not only in theory but also in its practices of suffrage and parliamentary debate. Indeed, many of the nationalist leaders named above, including Gandhi, Bose, Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, and others visited the College Parliament and encouraged the project. One of the earliest issues of ‘Indraprastha' available in the College archives shows ‘Bharat Mata' framed by the map of India, flanked by two lions with the slogan ‘Vande Mataram' lettered across. This bold display of nationalist imagery demonstrates the College community's fervent and outspoken committment. This issue also reported Mahatma Gandhi's visit to the College and carried the text of his address. Given its exceptional system of participatory democracy, enabling self-actualization and agency, it is no surprise then that Hindu College was the intellectual cradle of many leaders of the freedom movement and revolutionary freedom fighters.
In the last phase of the national movement, the teachers and students of Hindu College responded to Mahatma Gandhi's clarion call of ‘Do or Die' during the Quit India Movement in 1942. Many went to prison for standing up to the colonial state. At this key historical moment, the institution took a resolution to remain closed for several months, thereby being steadfast in its commitment to the cause of nationalism. The rich history of the men and women the College has sent forth into India's service is still being explored, and their collective contribution to India cannot be contested.
It bears remembering that the College as a nationalist institution, and as one dedicated to academic excellence, was not divided in its aims—from the birth of national consciousness, education had always been prioritized above all else, both as a part of colonial strategy and as a means of fighting it. Since English was mandated as the official language of instruction in Indian schools in 1835, the brightest minds in India have been focused on creating an education system that would be both nationalist and modern, producing aware, committed citizens who would also contribute to the global community. Schools and colleges run by the British were rightly seen as inimical to the Indian youth, and every phase of the struggle from the Swadeshi and boycott movements to the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation movements, struck at these factories of imperialism. The establishment and flourishing of Hindu College and its ilk were the necessary, constructive part of this resistance. In a sense, every student the College educated was a blow struck for a truly independent India. It is a testament to the vision of its founders that Hindu College had already been working for more than fifteen years when around 1916, prominent reformers led by Mrs. Annie Besant tried to establish a ‘national system of education' (apart from the government and missionary systems). By the time these efforts culminated in the establishment of Delhi University, many colleges such as Hindu would join it as valuable contributors.
In the age of independent India, Hindu College, one of the most prestigious and oldest institutions of Delhi University, had a student body, faculty, and facilities that had all gradually expanded since its inception. In 1947, it signified its continued commitment to democracy and the adaptability and contemporaneity of its vision, by amending the constitution of its student Parliament in consonance with the Indian Constitution-in-the-making. In 1953, having developed beyond the capacities of its Kashmere Gate premises, the College moved to its present location in the heart of the University's North Campus. Today, its brick-red facade framed by wide lawns and flowerbeds is among the most enduring and iconic images of Delhi as a hub of education. The building is protected as a part of the city's heritage, recognized as having ‘historic significance, historic integrity, and historic context' as explained in the policy guidelines of the CPWD (Central Public Works Department) and the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India). From its inauguration in a dharamshala in Chandni Chowk, through its history in Kashmere Gate which will be remembered as a part of India's awakening to freedom, to its years of service to the ideals of higher learning and good citizenship from the historic North Campus site, Hindu College has been a landmark in both time and space of the National Capital. Nevertheless, its great prestige and its awareness of a treasured and distinct culture are based on turning not to the past but to the future. Its founding vision guides it, and anchors the continuity of its ethos—and part of this founding vision is attention to, and harmony with, the real and present national and global communities.