It was clear right from the beginning that there was a clear-cut colonial agenda behind British policy on Indian education. The British wanted to establish, maintain and perpetuate power and what better way of doing this than through the minds of the people.
The idea was that a whole generation of people needed to be brainwashed through education in order to become subservient to the demands of the colonial empire. As British politician Charles Grant states revealingly: “wherever… our principles and language are introduced, our commerce will follow.”
The Presi greens
The beginning of Presidency
In a phase that has been called Orientalist, in the 1780s and 1790s, the British set up a madrasa in then Calcutta and a Sanskrit college in Varanasi. This was done with the view of propagating western values through Indian education. However, these were soon found to be ineffective.
By the beginning of the 19th century, a demand was created such that western education seemed more desirable than Indian subjects. However, during this period, English education was by and large unavailable to the common people in Bengal. As a measure to bring about modern education within reach of more number of people, a group of enlightened Indians and Englishmen, including Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Raja Radhakanta Deb, David Hare, Justice Sir Edward Hyde East and others, helped establish an institute in Kolkata in 1817 called Hindu College (then spelled ‘Hindoo’).
Presidency for me has been a mecca of free thinking. A place to grow,
explore, discover and break free. More than the destination, it is the
journey which brings out the Presidencian in you, the rarest breed in
all the world.
- Soumendra Bhattacharya, student, Economics
Soon after, however, the British agenda for the Anglicisation of Indian education took root. Thomas Macaulay came out with his now infamous Minute on Indian Education in 1835, seeking a creation of a whole new class of people Indian in body and English in mind. Twenty years later, in 1855, British administrators appropriated what was the early native venture in education: Hindu College became Presidency College and became among the first few centres of English education in India.
The hallowed portals of Presidency
The college still remains among the top-most in terms of education. As a recognition of its excellence in standards, it was decided to upgrade it to the status of a full university, and on July 7, 2010, was rechristened Presidency University.
A proud legacy
The Hindu-Presidency College, which aimed from the beginning at a liberal, scientific and secular education, stood on the side of the ‘Anglicists’ in the famous Anglicist-Orientalist debate. This meant that the college stood for modern western education in the English medium. This, however, would not entail a neglect of Indian themes and subjects. This was borne out by the contribution of the students of the college to Bengali language and literature.
The subjects taught at the outset were English, Bengali, Sanskrit, History, Geography, Chronology, Astronomy, Mathematics, Chemistry and some other science subjects. Law, Commerce and Engineering were also taught for some time, but discontinued later. Consequently, the college emerged as the most celebrated institution in India to impart a humanistic and scientific education.
The main building
Galaxy of stars
The pioneering discoveries of Jagadish Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Ray in physics, plant physiology and chemistry, respectively, were made in the laboratories of the college. Teaching of both liberal arts and empirical sciences acquired true excellence in the nineteenth century and the tradition continued even after independence. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Anandaram Barooah, students of the college, enriched Bengali and Assamese literature. SN Bose, MN Saha, PC Mahalanobish, Amal Kumar Raychaudhuri, Shyamal Sengupta, Ashoke Sen made world-class contributions in the field of basic science. Amartya Sen and Sukhamoy Chakraborty made contributions to economic theory in the decades after independence. These names are merely illustrative, for the alumni of the college have distinguished themselves both nationally and internationally in various fields.