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Calcutta Madrasa, The


Calcutta Madrasa, The (later Calcutta Aliya Madrasa) was the earliest of the state-managed educational institutions under the British rule in India. Founded by the Governor General warren hastings, in October 1780 with its entire expense borne by him for a year and a half, of course fully reimbursed later, the Bengal Government took it over in April 1782. Originally situated at Baithakkhana near Sealdah in Calcutta, it was shifted to its present site at Wellesley Square in 1827. Its first head preceptor was Mulla Majduddin, an erudite in Islamic learning. Muhammad Ismail replaced him in 1791. Producing persons adequately trained in Persian, Arabic and Muslim Law (Fiqh) for appointment in lower posts in government offices and courts of justices, particularly as interpreter of Muslim law, and conciliating the sullen Muslim aristocracy of Bengal by utilising the prospective employment opportunities for them, seem to have been the main aim behind establishing the Madrasa.

The first direct bureaucratic intervention in the Madrasa's affairs came in 1790 when the collector of 24-Parganas took the charge of the Madrasa amidst widespread allegations of mismanagement and indiscipline of students. After investigation, the head teacher, Majduddin was removed in 1791 and the management of the institution was handed over to a three-member committee with the Chairman of the board of revenue heading it. To gear up the administration of the Madrasa, Capt Ayron, a retired British army officer was appointed in 1819 as the first secretary of the Madrasa management committee, which became defunct in 1842. To rescue the Madrasa from a current of continuing deterioration a European, Dr Aloys Sprenger, was appointed Principal for the first time in 1850. Few other European Principals followed him, the last in the series being AH Harley, who held office during 1910-11.

The Calcutta Madrasa adopted from the very beginning courses of studies in imitation of the model of Darse Nizamiyah of Firingi Mahal, the renowned Arabic school of Lucknow. Till 1853, Persian, with a claim over Arabic, occupied the foremost position in the curriculum of the Madrasa. Bangla language, then despised as the 'language of idolatry', was totally neglected. Arithmetic was taught upto 'double rule of three', and only one book of Euclid was taught. History, Geography and even tafsir and hadith, had no place on the Madrasa's syllabi. Logic and philosophy courses, based on the model of the old Peripatetic School, were taught perfunctorily.

Several reform attempts, beginning with the introduction of elementary English courses in 1826, were not of much consequence. In more than twenty-five years between 1826 and 1851, the Madrasa could produce only two junior English scholars nawab Abdool Luteef and Waheedunnabi. FA level college classes added to the Calcutta Madrasa in 1863, too failed miserably. They were suspended in 1869 and finally abandoned in 1888. Another reform attempt consisting of opening the Anglo-Persian department in 1854 as a separate institute within the Madrasa also failed to create much enthusiasm in the aristocratic section to whom it was restricted by insisting on sharafatnama (certificate of high birth) at the time of admission. The Anglo-Persian department, conforming to high English school standard and teaching through Persian medium, was intended to prepare learners for the Entrance Examination. Formal examination system was introduced in the Madrasa in 1821 in the teeth of fierce opposition from the teachers and the taught in the Madrasa.

Despite indication in the Education Despatch of 1854 for bringing the Calcutta Madrasa under the fold of the proposed calcutta university, the Madrasa was not brought under the purview of the university. The Calcutta Madrasa thus grew up as an isolated stream in the education system of the subcontinent.

It needs to be said that despite all its limitations, the Calcutta Madrasa was practically the lone institution drawing an appreciable number of Muslim students for about a century and even after the establishment of Calcutta University. [BR Khan]