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How a mass exodus from Kolkata’s ‘Hindu College’ was stopped 200 years ago!

24 July, 2020 02:46:54
How a mass exodus from Kolkata’s ‘Hindu College’ was stopped 200 years ago!

It all began about 200 years ago. We are all familiar with the glorious past of Hindu College but there are stories and anecdotes revolving around the college which are an integral part of the college’s illustrious past, its history. One such major incident occurred in 1853. Prior to that, in 1826, Hindu College, the elite institution of western education, had shifted to its permanent premises near Gol Dighi. The Young Bengal brigade of Henry Derozio’s followers had already created a stir in the society with their radical thoughts and move to implement social reforms. And then the incident occurred. Hira Bulbul, a well-known Baiji, wished to get her meritorious son admitted to Hindu College and the college granted permission to admit him.  

The decision shook the very foundation of the orthodox aristocratic Hindu society.  On February 11, 1853, a long editorial was published in ‘Sambad’ newspaper where the college was attacked scathingly for letting in the son of a fallen woman hobnob with the upper crust Hindu members of the society. It was seen as a direct attack against the tenets of Hindu religion.  Protest rallies were held, a number of cases were filed at the court of law against the college authorities for sanctifying the blasphemous act against Hindu religion. Professor D.L. Richardson, a revered scholar who taught in the college and was considered an authority on Shakespeare at that time, supported the orthodox Hindus. He even instigated many guardians to strike off their wards’ names from the college. This gave impetus to the movement. 

Tremendous social pressure was exerted on the college as the education secretary wrote a letter to the secretary of Education Council informing him about the mass exodus of Hindu boys from the institution. Initially, the council did not pay heed to the complaint. However, it had to bow down and concede defeat when the consequences seemed to outweigh all other considerations. Hira Bulbul’s son was ordered to leave the college and the authorities sought an apology from the public saying the governing body was not aware of the boy’s antecedent. 

The Education Council not only asked the boy to leave the college but also gave marching orders to Professor D.L. Richardson. The Education Council was being headed by none other than John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune at that time.  He was the president of the council and he could not accept Richardson’s role in instigating the parents and guardians of the students of Hindu College. They did have differences of opinion on many issues and it all culminated with the dispersal of Richardson. The only Bengali representative in the Education Council was Ramgopal Babu. He was attacked severely in newspaper and magazine articles for not raising his voice and protesting against the admission of the courtesan’s son. 

The hostilities increased. Rajendra Dutta of the famous Dutta family of Wellington Square led the protest movement against Hindu College and broke away with a good number of mainstream Hindu elites to establish the Hindu Metropolitan College. The first national college in Calcutta, opened in the palatial house of Gopal Mullick at Sanduriapatty. Hefty donations came from rich aristocrat Hindu families for setting up the new institution. It is said that Rani Rashmoni of Janbazar personally donated Rs 10,000 for the college. D.L. Richardson, who was ordered to resign from Hindu College, joined the Hindu Metropolitan College as its first Principal. 

At one point, the situation at Hindu College became precarious as a large number of students exited the institution to seek admission at Hindu Metropolitan College. To stall this mass exodus of students, Hindu College authorities resorted to a unique method – during college hours, when classes would be held, all the gates to and from the college would be locked securely and guarded so that no student from the rival college or any outsider could enter the premises of Hindu College and instigate its students to leave the institution for good and seek admission in the new college. 

Story Tag:
  • Education, College

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