The Core Vision and Mission – Dedication to Producing Complete Citizens
Founded in 1899, Hindu College has a storied past that binds it closely to the nation, and to the city of Delhi. The idea of the college was born from the Indian movement for independence, which was growing in strength as the nineteenth century drew to a close. A little more than a decade earlier, the Indian National Congress had been established; in this year, the first party constitution was framed at the historic Lucknow session. In 1899, Mahatma Gandhi was in South Africa, and was succeeding in his early campaign against efforts to disenfranchise the Indian community there. DadabhaiNaoroji was two years from publishing Poverty and Un-British Rule in India. BalGangadharTilak had uttered his now-famous demand for Swaraj as a birth-right.
Against this backdrop of gathering nationalist energies, certain prominent citizens of Delhi, notably LalaShriKrishanDassjiGurwale, were committed to starting an institute which would impart higher education to 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. LalaKrishanDassji came from a family that treasured legends of how its ancestors sacrificed their wealth as penalty for aiding the revolutionary forces 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 ideal of a national college centered on fees low enough to be afforded by the underprivileged classes, and a syllabus and teaching informed by a liberal and humanist ethos and nationalist commitment. The inauguration of its first, small premises in a hired building in Kinari Bazaar, ChandniChowk, was at the hands of Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya on the traditional first day of spring, BasantPanchami. The first body of students numbered only thirteen. The air of this long-ago spring day in the heart of Old Delhi, in sight of walls already two centuries old, and presided over by a dedicated patriot and educationist, seems to still float through the Hindu College campus and inspires its vision of the future.
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 from their early years—when the Faculty of Law was proposed in 1923, the governing body of Hindu College put their hall at the disposal of the University for lectures in law. 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. Around 1902, the student body of the College numbered almost a hundred, and could not be accommodated in the ChandniChowk building. Its founder, ShriGurwale, persuaded one of Delhi’s most illustrious citizens to donate a site for its expansion—RaiBahadur Sultan Singh, whose Kashmere Gate residence hosted meetings of the Congress Working Committee, as well as key leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to MotiLal Nehru and Sarojini Naidu. His generosity links Hindu College to other institutions for educational and social welfare institutions that are landmarks of Delhi, for instance, his equally philanthropic son founded the Modern School.
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 RaiBahadur Sultan Singh, it had been part of the property of Coloner 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. During this phase of its growth, the College did not swerve from its focus on affordable and ideologically rooted education. Despite severe financial crises, the fees remained low, and its founder LalaKrishanDassji made regular donations to its maintenance, which ultimately totaled Rs. 45,000: a personal testament of his faith in, and commitment to, the future of the fledgling college. The staff, too, enacted the nationalist spirit of collective donation of work and self-sacrifice by refusing to draw their salaries for as long as the College was in difficulties, and by carrying out door-to-door campaigns to collect donations. In these times, the academic work of the college and the self-improvement of its students did not flag; indeed the college magazine Indraprastha was started 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 leaderss...”
— 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. This enlarged student body was now served by new buildings and facilities including a library, a laboratory and a small hostel. It is noteworthy that Hindu College was (as it still remains) ahead of the times in its social consciousness, with admissions open to students of both genders and any religious affiliation.
It was in the historic site of Kashmere Gate that the Hindu College student community experienced a great upsurge of social commitment and political consciousness. This is witnessed to by the roll of towering intellectuals who were invited to address them. Pt. Malaviya, the Mahatma, Jawaharlal Nehru, LokmanyaTilak, Annie Besant, RabindraNath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose, Sarojini Naidu, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah are among those whose exhortations forged and honed its collective will. Sadly, given the perils of opposing British imperialism in this period, especially for students of an already-suspect nationalist institute, an 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 had borne witness to the JallianwalaBagh massacre, the First World War, and the unification of millions in the Swadeshi movement. That such students, whose first steps in higher education were taken in classrooms dedicated to nationalism, would come of age as young patriots in the vanguard of the struggle seems inevitable.
The small family of teachers and students did not confine their commitment to swaraj(self-determination) to acting against the British, 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 rather than didactic authority, which till today is unique among institutions of higher learning in Delhi and even in the country. Hindu College did not merely play audience to the debates and meditations of the celebrated thinkers and activists who spoke at its historic amphitheatre in the Kashmere Gate premises. Its students organised 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 through the theory of freedom, but also its practices of suffrage and parliamentary debate. Indeed, many of the national leaders named above, including Gandhi, Bose, MotiLal and JawaharLal Nehru, and others visited the College Parliament and encouraged its project. One of the earliest issues of Indraprastha available in the College archives today shows ‘Bharat Mata’ framed by the map of India, flanked by two lions and with the slogan ‘VandeMataram’ lettered across. This frank display of nationalist imagery stands as a sign of how deeply and openly committed the Collegecommunity was. This issue also reported Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to the College and the text of his address. Given its exceptional system of participatory democracy, enabling self-actualisation and agency, it is no surprise that Hindu College was the intellectual cradle of many leaders of the national struggle and revolutionary freedom fighters.
In the last phase of the national movement, the teachers and students of Hindu College proved their mettle and the real value of their educational and parliamentary system in answer to Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ call in 1942. Many even went to prison for opposition to the imperial state. At this key historical moment, the institution as a whole played a signal role by taking the deeply symbolic resolution to remain closed for several months, rightly subordinating its task of teaching to its dedication to the national cause. 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 gainsaid.
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 been given the highest importance as a part of colonial policy as well as of resistance to it. From the time of the imposition of English in 1835 as the medium of education in Indian schools, the ideal of education that would be nationalist as well as modern, and would fashion conscious and dedicated citizens who were also contributors to the global community, had occupied the best minds of India. Schools and colleges run by the British state 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 Hindu 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 began trying to establish a “national system of education” (standing apart from the government and missionary systems). By the time these efforts fructified into the Delhi University, many colleges like Hindu could join under it as valuable contributors.
As one of the oldest, and already well-known, constituents of the Delhi University, Hindu College arrived in the era of independent India with student body, teaching staff, and facilities that had steadily grown since its birth. In 1947, it signified its continued commitment to internal as well as national 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 enduring and iconic images of Delhi as a centre of education. The building is protected as a part of the city’s heritage, recognised as having “historic significance, historic integrity, and historic context” as explained in policy guidelines of the CPWD (Central Public Works Department) and the ASI (Archaeological Society of India). From its inauguration in a dharamshala in ChandniChowk, 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 the 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 centers the long continuity of its ethos—and part of this founding vision is attention to, and harmony with, the real and present national and global communities.