Hindu College (1817-1855) founded on 20 January 1817 in Calcutta with the primary objective of providing tuition to the 'sons of respectable Hindus, in the English and Indian languages and in the literature and science of Europe and Asia', played a very significant role in the socio-cultural life of Bengal.
Prior to the advent of the British in India, the indigenous primary schools of Bengal taught very little beyond Bangla, simple Arithmetic and Sanskrit and the tols imparted lessons in advanced Sanskrit, grammar and literature, theology, logic and metaphysics. This failed to satisfy the aspirations of enlightened Indians like Raja rammohun roy, who felt that the process would only help to 'load the minds of youths with grammatical niceties and metaphysical distinctions' which had no practical use. The necessity of learning English was also keenly felt by those who had to carry on a constant intercourse with British businessmen. A few schools were set up with the purpose of providing rudimentary education in the English language to native Indians.
The idea of establishing an English school was already there. david hare's plan of English education in India received general approbation and Dewan Baidya Nath Mukherjee was deputed to collect the subscriptions. Sir Edward Hyde East, Chief Justice of the Calcutta Supreme Court was invited to chair the committee and Joseph Baretto became the Treasurer. The committee succeeded in raising Rupees 1,13,179.00, the principal donors being the Maharajah of Burdwan (Tejchand Bahadur) and Gopee Mohun Thakur, each contributing Rupees 10,000.
The Hindu College was originally divided into two sections-a school (pathxala) which imparted instruction in English, Bangla, Grammar and Arithmetic and a college (mahapathxala) teaching Languages, History, Geography, Chronology, Astronomy, Mathematics, Chemistry and other sciences. On the opening day there were 20 pupils on the rolls but within the next three months the number swelled to 69.
The administration of the Hindu College was entrusted to a Committee of Management consisting of hereditary governors, governors for life and annual directors and their deputies. The managers tried to evolve an Education Fund, so as to defray the expenses of tuition, and it was arranged that every subscriber paying Rs 400.00 would be entitled to send a pupil to receive instruction free of cost for two years. The target was to acquire a hundred such pupils by 1818. But in 1818, only 20 -30 pupils sent by David Hare's calcutta school society benefited from this free tuition, and the rest had to pay fees. The system was abolished in 1819.
The most striking feature of the Hindu College was its determined efforts at imparting secular education. Although meant exclusively for respectable classes amongst the Hindus, the Indian managers ceaselessly insisted on the teaching of English literature and European sciences, rather than Hindu theology or metaphysics.
The college prospered as an academic institution but lack of funds remained a serious constraint on its smooth functioning. On the advice of David Hare, the government was approached for financial assistance. In 1824 it was suggested that the post of Secretary of sanskrit college and that of the Secretary of the General Committee of Public Instructions should be amalgamated. The government agreed to construct two separate wings for the new Sanskrit College to accommodate the Hindu College in it and also endow a new chair for Experimental Philosophy at the Hindu College. horace hayman wilson, the Secretary of the General Committee of Public Instruction, however, rejected this proposal as the college's nursed divergent views regarding the mode of teaching. Had this scheme been carried through, the Hindu College would have lost its secular character and would be reduced to an English wing of an oriental seat of learning.
By 1826 the number of students at the college increased considerably, occupying virtually both the wings of the newly constructed government building meant for the Sanskrit College.
The system of tuition fees was reintroduced in 1824. Wilson proposed that scholarships should be instituted to prevent early dropouts. Thanks to the donations of Harihath Ray and Kalishankar Ghosal this proposal could be implemented. The Hindu College started functioning with two main departments, namely senior and junior, each having four classes. The languages taught were English, Bangla or Sanskrit, and Persian. Persian finally took the place of Sanskrit. The Science classes, which were introduced by D Ross in 1824, became immensely popular by 1828. The appointment of Robert Tytler further embellished the Science Department. The college progressed with rapid strides and in 1831 the General Committee noted with satisfaction that the pupils had acquired a good command of the English language and that their familiarity with science fairly equalled that of the pupils in Europe.
There is no doubt that henry derozio, an Anglo-Indian teacher, who was appointed as the Master of English Literature and History in 1828, exercised a magical influence on his pupils, many of whom described themselves as the young bengal Group. The spirit of enquiry that Derozio enkindled lived on for some time to come.
The Hindu College not only recorded a steady rise in the number of pupils but also saw a vast expansion in the curriculum of studies. The institution of a professorship in Law and Political Economy added a new dimension to the college. With the publication of Lord Macaulay's famous Minute of 1835, English Education registered a fillip and in the same year the appointment of Captain David Lester Richardson as professor of English Literature at the Hindu College showed how the official attitude was changing. By 1839, the government had provided further assistance to the Hindu College in the shape of additional appointments. A noteworthy administrative change that took place in 1847 was the creation of a separate post of Principal to head the institution. Gradually the post of Headmaster was abolished and the two sections were brought under a single management. When in 1847, the Professorships of Engineering and Experimental and Natural Philosophy were created on the condition that such lectures would be open to all students irrespective of caste or religion, the Hindu College succeeded in shedding its sectarian limitations.
As the public demand for English education kept on soaring the government felt an increasing necessity of sponsoring colleges where students from all communities, like Jews, Christians and Muslims could study. Since the Hindu College was still an institution meant exclusively for Hindus, the government started reconsidering the question of retaining its status as a non-government, though aided, institution. In a similar spirit the question was also addressed whether the Calcutta College or a new Metropolitan College catering to the needs of all communities and managed by the government would be a viable solution or not. The proposal to convert the Hindu College into a secular institution under governmental management found favour with the government vis-a-vis the prospect of establishing a new college involving increased financial liability. The native managers with the exception of Russomoy Dutt were, however, divided on this issue, but the government overruled their opposition with an uncompromising firmness. The Committee of Management for the Hindu College met for the last time on 11 January 1854. The sanction of the court of directors was communicated in their despatch of 10 September 1854. The Hindu College was closed on 15 April 1855, yielding place to the presidency college, which started functioning on 15 June 1855. [Rachana Chakraborty]