Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

@
Profile pic

Motilal Seal, the man who made schools for Hindu boys and girls

Story image

This dates back to the time when the missionaries were active in Bengal in the education sector and was also spreading Christianity. Babus of Kolkata held several meetings to find a suitable solution under the leadership of Radhakanta Deb, the head of the Kayastha community to stop the inroads of missionaries. They wanted to come up with a school which would protect the Hindu culture and rituals unlike the Christian schools. But opening an educational institution would need huge amount of money. The Babus of Kolkata all kept quiet when it came to donating money until the deed came into the hands of Motilal Seal. He gave away a grant of 1 lakh rupees. Most of the other babus did away with their responsibilities just by donating hundred or thousand rupees at the most.

Motilal Seal or Mutty Lall Seal was born in Kolkata in 1742. He lost his father at the age of five. Motilal’s mother always wanted him to work in Fort William. But he could not ignore the business ideas in his head. His father was involved in textile business. Motilal started off with business but before he could save up money, he got married at the age of seventeen with the daughter of Mohancharan Das. This marriage became the turning point of his life. His father-in-law became his mentor. Motilal accompanied Mohancharan Das in his pilgrimage to North and West India which opened many avenues for him.

He managed to get an average job at Fort William but he kept his father-in-law’s advice in mind. Motilal started business with the British and supplied daily requirements to the British army. Gradually, his intimacy with the British developed and he became the Inspector of the Customs Department. Motilal started off with business of bottle and caps which he used to supply to Hudson, who was an exporter of beer. Motilal also helped in the indigo business of the British. The British soon hired him as the ‘Baniya’. Even a loss of 30 lakhs, could not affect his high spirits. He used to export indigo, sweet, silk, salt to England and imported cotton cloths and iron. His business flourished to such an extent that he ended up buying an entire cargo ship. 

Motilal Seal was often called ‘Rothschild of Kolkata’. He acted as a catalyst in establishing the oriental bima or insurance company. But he was one of those rare businessmen who never resorted to dishonest means to gain profits. He also contributed a lot for the welfare of the society, like opening an ashram for beggars which still exists.

The Calcutta Medical College stands on a land which originally belonged to Motilal Seal. He gave away the land to the British. The native people would be treated in the ward that was named after him. He also donated a lakh for the female ward. In 1842, the journey of Motilal Seal College began in 1842. He also opened a school because he did not want Hindu students who were against missionary principles to lag behind in the world of academics. But the education curriculum of the school was modern. Father Francis Xavier’s educational institute used to look after this school. But they were strictly instructed not to influence students in the name of religion. But the clergymen refused to listen to the instruction. The responsibility was later passed on to Krishnamohan Banerjee. The fund for the college used to come from Motilal Seal Trust. He was also associated with many other charitable endeavours and offered financial support to many Hindu schools and colleges.

Motilal Seal was orthodox but like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, he believed in the welfare of women. He extended his support to Raja Ram Mohan Roy for the abolition of Sati. He was also against child marriage and supported widow remarriage. He had also publicly announced that he would offer 1 thousand rupees to the Bengali boys who would want to marry a widow. Seal passed away in 1854, May 20. Two years later, the law of widow remarriage came into practice. We often cross Motilal Seal Street, lying in the heart of Kolkata, but how many of us still remember his unfathomable contribution for the well-being of the society?