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16. November 2010 2 16 /11 /November /2010 00:06

Establishment and the British era

 
Dhaka University Central Students Union building

It is believed that a combination of political, social and economic compulsions persuaded the government of India to establish a university at Dhaka 'as a splendid imperial compensation' to Muslims for the annulment of the partition of Bengal. The first vice-chancellor of the university, Dr. PJ Hartog, a former academic registrar of the University of London for 17 years and a member of the University of Calcutta Commission, described this phenomenon as the 'political origin' of the institution.

The Partition of Bengal in 1905 provided the Muslim majority community of East Bengal and Assam with a sphere of influence of their own and raised new hopes for the development of the region and advancement of its people. But its annulment, barely six years later due to stiff opposition from the powerful Hindu leadership, was viewed by Muslims as 'a grievous wrong'. Muslims were late to realise that their educational backwardness was a root cause of their decline in other fields of life. Hindus had a clear lead of at least 50 years in adopting the system of education introduced by the British, which freed the Indian mind from the 'thraldom of old-world ideas' and initiated a renaissance in Indian life. This put Hindus in advantageous positions in every sphere of influence in Bengal. At least four high-level commissions – the Hunter Commission of 1882, the Nathan Commission of 1912, the Hornell Committee of 1913, and the Calcutta University Commission of 1917 - confirmed this observation.

Viceroy Lord Hardinge was quick to perceive the dissatisfaction of Muslims at the government's decision for annulment and decided to pay an official visit to Dhaka to assuage the aggrieved community. A deputation of high ranking Muslim leaders, including Sir Nawab Khwaja Salimullah, Khan Bahadur Chowdhury Kazimuddin Ahmed Siddiky[1], Nawab Syed Nawab Ali Choudhury and A. K. Fazlul Huq, met him on January 31, 1912 and expressed their fears that the annulment would retard the educational progress of their community. As compensation for the annulment of the Partition, as well as protest against the general antipathy of Calcutta University towards Muslims, the deputation made a vigorous demand for a university at Dhaka. In response, Lord Hardinge acknowledged that education was the true salvation of Muslims and that the government would recommend the constitution of such a university to the Secretary of State. This was confirmed in an official communiqué on February 2, 1912.

 
Sir Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury , one of the proposer of University of Dhaka

Lord Hardinge admitted that since 1906 the provinces of East Bengal and Assam had made great strides forward. That year there were 1,698 collegiate students in East Bengal and Assam, and the expenditure on collegiate education was Rs 154,358. In 1912, with the same number of institutions, the corresponding figures were 2,560 students and Rs 383,619. Educational classes and schemes were formed with reference to local conditions. From 1905 to 1910-11, the number of pupils in public institutions rose from 699,051 to 936,653 and the expenditure from provincial revenues rose from Rs 1,106,510 to Rs 2,205,339 while the local expenditure, direct and indirect, roseEstablishment and the British era

      
Dhaka University Central Students Union building     

    It is believed that a combination of political, social and economic compulsions persuaded the government of India to establish a university at Dhaka 'as a splendid imperial compensation' to    Muslims for the annulment of the partition of Bengal. The first vice-chancellor of the university, Dr. PJ Hartog, a former academic registrar of the University of London for 17 years and a member of the University of Calcutta Commission, described this phenomenon as the 'political origin' of the    institution. 

    The Partition of Bengal in 1905 provided the Muslim majority    community of East Bengal and Assam with a sphere of influence of their own and raised new hopes for the development of the region and advancement    of its people. But its annulment, barely six years later due to stiff opposition from the powerful Hindu leadership, was viewed by Muslims as 'a grievous wrong'. Muslims were late to realise that    their educational backwardness was a root cause of their decline in other fields of life. Hindus had a clear lead of at least 50 years in adopting the system of education introduced by the    British, which freed the Indian mind from the 'thraldom of old-world ideas' and initiated a renaissance in Indian life. This put Hindus in advantageous positions in every sphere of influence in    Bengal. At least four high-level commissions – the Hunter Commission of 1882, the Nathan    Commission of 1912, the Hornell Committee of 1913, and the Calcutta University Commission of 1917 - confirmed this observation. 

    Viceroy Lord Hardinge was quick to perceive the    dissatisfaction of Muslims at the government's decision for annulment and decided to pay an official visit to Dhaka to assuage the aggrieved community. A deputation of high ranking Muslim    leaders, including Sir Nawab Khwaja Salimullah, Khan Bahadur Chowdhury    Kazimuddin Ahmed Siddiky[1], Nawab Syed Nawab Ali    Choudhury and A. K. Fazlul Huq, met him on January 31, 1912 and expressed    their fears that the annulment would retard the educational progress of their community. As compensation for the annulment of the Partition, as well as protest against the general antipathy of    Calcutta University towards Muslims, the deputation made a vigorous demand for a university at Dhaka. In response, Lord Hardinge acknowledged that education was the true salvation of Muslims and    that the government would recommend the constitution of such a university to the Secretary of State. This was confirmed in an official communiqué on February 2, 1912. 

            
Sir Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury , one of the proposer of University of        Dhaka
from Rs
    4,781,833 to Rs 7,305,260.
 

Many Hindu leaders were not happy with the government's intention to set up a university at Dhaka. On February 16, 1912, a delegation headed by advocate Dr Rash Bihari Ghosh, met the viceroy and expressed the apprehension that the establishment of a separate university at Dhaka would promote 'an internal partition of Bengal'. They also contended, as was recorded in the Calcutta University Commission report later, that "Muslims of Eastern Bengal were in large majority cultivators and they would benefit in no way by the foundation of a university". Lord Hardinge assured the delegation that no proposals, which could lead to the internal partition or division of Bengal would meet the support of the government. He also expressed that the new university would be open to all and it would be a teaching and a residential university. At one stage, Lord Hardinge told Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, that he was determined to establish a university at Dhaka in spite of all their opposition.

The opposition by Hindu intelligentsia was not the only hurdle in implementation of the plan for the new university. Many complex legal and material issues were to be examined. After obtaining the approval of the Secretary of State, in a letter on April 4, 1912, the government of India invited the government of Bengal to submit a complete scheme for the university, along with a financial estimate. Accordingly, in a resolution of May 27, 1912, the government of Bengal appointed a committee of 13 members headed by Mr Robert Nathan, a barrister from London, to draw up a scheme for Dhaka University. The resolution emphasised that 'the university should be a teaching and residential one and not of the federal type' and that 'it should bind together the colleges of the city and should not include any college which is beyond the limits of the town'. The committee acted with speed and with the thoroughness and wisdom of 25 special sub-committees, it submitted its report in autumn of the same year. The report contained plans of the proposed buildings and estimates of capital expenditure amounting to Rs 5.3 million (later raised to Rs 6.7 million by the Public Works and Development agency) and of recurring expenditure amounting to Rs 1.2 million. The report went into considerable details about the mission of the university and its courses of study. The committee recommended that the university should be a state institution with unitary teaching and residential form on the model of modern UK universities such as Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool, and that it should encompass seven colleges including Dacca College and Jagannath College. The entire teaching in science, law, medicine, and engineering at postgraduate level was to be conducted by the university itself. In fact, the Dhaka University model was highly appraised and was later, followed in establishing new universities at Allahabad, Benaras, Hyderabad, Aligarh, Lucknow and Annamalai.

Nazrul's tomb near the Dhaka University campus mosque

The Nathan Committee suggested for the university a spectacular site of about 243 acres (0.98 km2) forming part of the new civil station created at Ramna for the government of Eastern Bengal and Assam. The site housed Curzon Hall, Dacca College, the new government house, the secretariat, the government press, a number of houses for officers, and other minor buildings. In due course, all this land with their buildings and other properties was made over to the university in a permanent lease on a nominal rent of Rs 1,000 a year. After the committee report was published in 1913, public opinion was invited before the university scheme was given its final shape. The Secretary of State approved it in December 1913. Then the First World War intervened creating acute financial stringency for the government. Even a skeletal scheme estimated to cost only Rs 1,125,000 could not be taken up. This caused misgivings in the minds of Muslim leaders. When Nawab Syed Nawab Ali Choudhury raised the issue in the Indian Legislative Council on March 7, 1917, Shankaran Nair, the government spokesman, reaffirmed the government pledge to establish the university at Dhaka, but added that consideration of a bill already drafted would now have to wait for a report from the Calcutta University Commission, to which the Dhaka university scheme had been referred for advice regarding its constitution and management.

The decision to appoint a commission to enquire into the problems and needs of Calcutta University was announced by its chancellor Lord Chelmsford at convocation on January 6, 1917. Accordingly a commission was formed with Dr. ME Sadler as its chairman. The commission justified the setting up of a university at Dhaka, the second largest town of the Presidency. Report of the Sadler Commission also indicated that Dhaka was already in the centre of a great student population as Dhaka division and Tippera district supplied 7,097 out of a total number of 27,290 students in the University of Calcutta. The Commission agreed with most parts of the Nathan Committee scheme and urged that the University of Dhaka should be established without further delay.

The commission made 13 recommendations, which were adopted, with few exceptions, in the Dacca University Act 1920. The Governor General of India appointed Dr. PJ Hartog as the first vice-chancellor for a term of 5 years beginning December 1, 1920. He assumed office on December 10, 1920. The new university immediately faced serious problems in regard to funds for which it was entirely dependent upon inelastic public revenues from the Bengal government, which would not give a single rupee without authorisation from the legislative council. The next difficulty, as reported by the chancellor to the first court meeting, had been in satisfying the expectations of the Mohammedan community. In spite of the best endeavours the university administration was able to secure only a small number of Muslims for the teaching staff. Also, the number of Muslim students, who represented barely 9% of university students in Bengal, was not many in the initial years. The annual recurring expenditure proposed by the Nathan Committee for the university was Rs 1.3 million but Sir Pravash Mitter, education minister of the Bengal government, reduced it to Rs 500,000. A fund of about Rs 5.6 million built up by the government of India for capital expenditure on the university, when transferred to the Bengal government for disbursement, was merged by Mitter with provincial funds. Only Rs 900,000 was released on the plea that 'the Dhaka University was in possession of an extensive area of land and many buildings of the government of Bengal'.

On top of this, the education minister directed the university to retrench and restrict expenditure to stay within the recurring grant of Rs 500,000. The retrenchment was felt most severely in the departments of Islamic Studies, English, Chemistry and Economics. Mr Hartog also referred to the rumour spread by activists of the non-cooperation movement that the tuition fee for an undergraduate student of the university was raised from Rs 8 to Rs 60. This discouraged admission in the opening session in 1921. Hartog, however, reported to the annual court meeting of 1922-23 that he felt proud of the achievements of the university. He put the university on a firm footing in his 5-year tenure of dedicated service in it. The advancement of the young university in the direction of academic excellence diligently marked by Hartog was carried forward by able successors such as Prof Harry Langley, AF Rahman, Dr. RC Majumdar, Dr. Mahmood Hussain and others. Under Vice-Chancellor Hussain, the University consolidated its fundamental focus on academics. It also made national headlines when he extended an invite to then-President of Pakistan Ayub Khan, who declined citing 'security reasons', the first of many subsequent refusals from high-ranking officials to visit East Pakistan.

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