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Muslims and English education in colonial Bengal: Calcutta Madrasa and Hooghly Mohsin College in a historical perspective

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on February 27th, 2013 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment


R. Kochhar (2011) Muslims and English education in colonial Bengal: Calcutta Madrasa and Hooghly Mohsin College in a historical perspective. In: Hooghly College  175,  pp. 17-39. (ed: S. K. Mukhopadhyay ( Hooghly: Hooghly Mohsin College) 

Muslims and English education in colonial Bengal:

Calcutta Madrasa and Hooghly Mohsin College in a historical perspective

Rajesh Kochhar

It was the British East India Company’s good fortune that its transformation from a trading outfit into a ruling organization began in Bengal where it enjoyed distinct advantages. Bengal was the most distant  province of the Mughal Empire where even at the best of times the imperial  control had been minimal . The Muslim nobility here was Persian-speaking and decoupled from the Muslim rank and file which spoke Bengali. Since the British were displacing Muslim rule, the Hindu majority was favourably inclined towards them. In Western India for example the Company would face the odium of dethroning a Peshva Brahmin government. In South and Western India, the Company would be dealing with the actual tillers, but the Permanent Settlement of land revenue effected in 1793 meant that in Bengal the Government needed to deal only with the (absentee) zamindars. While elsewhere the new rulers would have to come to terms with pre-existing elites which had their own notions of prestige and self-importance, in Bengal the old landed aristocracy was extinguished and the British had the convenience of dealing with a new Hindu social class which they themselves had created and which owed its wealth, social status and even its community leadership position to its association with the Europeans.[1] This new landed class was keen to be seen as a patron of new learning. The Muslim community leadership, in contrast, proud of its ancestry and unfamiliar with the new money as it was, remained rooted in the past. 

Although the Bengal province came under British control with the military defeat of the Nawab of Murshidabad at Plassey in 1757, the British set up their administration only in 1772-1773, beginning with a judicial system. This initiative produced far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. Muslim criminal law was to be applied to both Hindus and Muslims, although subsequently it was increasingly eroded through various regulations. In civil cases “regarding inheritance, marriage, caste and other religious usages or institutions”, it was decided that “the laws of the Koran” shall be  invariably adhered to in the case of Muslims and “those of the Shaster” for Hindus.  The fact that the Hindus were no longer subject to the Muslim law and that the Hindu and Muslim laws were now declared to be  “co-existing and co-equal”  was a significant concession to the Hindus because legally the Company was acting on behalf of the theocratic Mughal Empire. No wonder then that the move was objected to by the Nawab’s Muslim officials.[2] Under the new system, each district was provided with a Diwani Adalat (civil court) and a Fauzdari Adalat (criminal court). These courts in turn were placed under the control of two principal courts, called Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat. The former was located in Calcutta from day one. The Nizamat Adalat was first constituted in Murshidabad. It alternated between Murshidabad and Calcutta till 1790  when it was transferred to Calcutta for good.[3] The district civil court was presided over by the district collector who was assisted by native judges and other court officials, while the district criminal court comprised a qazi, a mufti, two maulavis, four deputy qazis, clerks and orderlies. The Sadar Diwani Adalat was presided over by the governor himself while the Sadar Nizamat Adalat was under a daroga who was assisted by a chief qazi, a chief mufti and three maulavis. Independently of the Company adalat system, a Supreme Court was established in Calcutta in 1774   according to the provisions of the 1773 Regulating Act. This Court consisted of four judges appointed by the Crown.[4] Similar Supreme Courts were subsequently established in Madras (1800) and Bombay (1823).[5] The English judges set out to administer justice to the natives without knowing either the language or the law. Since the Hindu and Muslim laws were “locked in” Sanskrit and Arabic, Europeans had to master these languages to be able to go to the primary sources, understand the laws they were interpreting and enforcing, and keep a check on the advice offered by their assistants. Since a Hindu law code did not exist, it was decided to assemble one as soon as the Sadar Diwani Adalat opened on 18 May 1773. The judicial requirement brought home the fact that Sanskrit though largely defunct was not dead. 

De-Brahminization of Sanskrit, institutionalization of its study beginning with the 1784 establishment of the Asiatick Society Calcutta, and inspection of ancient Indian texts  as civilizational rather than religious documents produced  a profound all-round global impact. Sanskrit was as much a discovery for Europeans as it was for the Indians. The early discovery of Indo-European linguistic commonality, then interpreted in purely racial terms, enabled the British to claim legitimacy for their rule over India and “conciliate the affections” of upper-caste Hindus (to the exclusion of not only Muslims but lower castes also). The thesis went like this. Both the Europeans and the upper-caste Hindus belonged to the Aryan race, while the Muslims were the other. The British rule set up by defeating the Muslims was therefore a restoration. The Hindus had had their period of glory in the ancient past when the Europeans were still barbarians; now it was the turn of their European brethren to rule. Implicit in this thesis was the assumption that the Muslims forfeited their ethnic identity by virtue of being Muslim. The basic premise of the thesis could not have withstood closer scrutiny. All evidence to the contrary was ignored or misrepresented. Most Indian Muslims, including some upper-class ones, were local converts. The celebrated Muslim general, commonly known as Saladin, who fought against the European Christian crusaders, was a Kurd and thus an Aryan. This fact was never  mentioned. 

In his historic 1786 address to the Asiatick Society, Jones stated that “the Old Persian might be added to the same [Indo-European] family”,  but added a qualifier, “if this were the place for discussing any question concerning the antiquities of Persia”. Old Persian was defunct; its connectivity to Sanskrit was not very important. But Pushto was a living Indo-Iranian language. It was declared to have Chaldean affinity by Jones in 1790. A 100 years later, the error was lightly dismissed as “unfortunate but excusable”.[6] It was only in 1860 that the “the Aryan Affinity of the Pushto” was clearly shown , by the Rev. Isidore Loewenthal.   One wonders what course Indo-Europeanism would have taken if it were known at the outset that the Muslim Pakhtuns (Pathans), residing in the contiguous areas of Afghanistan and India, were also Aryan. Orientalism, as discussed by Edward Said in his seminal work, would be confrontational and unilateral in what is now known as the Middle East.[7] But in India, from where it all began, Orientalism was seductive, persuasive and interactive. In India, Orientalism took the form of Indo – Europeanism.

The first regular non – military employment for the Indians under the new regime was in and around the courts.  The Company jobs paid well and carried prestige. “The Moolavie and Pundit sit with the Judge on the Bench, and give their opinion  as to the Mahomedan or the Hindoo law in particular case; and the consequence is , that a great many are aspirants to these high offices, of each there are but one of each sect in a district”.[8] Primarily to meet the judicial manpower needs, an Arabic Madrasa was established at Calcutta in 1780. As the country’s criminal law evolved away from the Muslim, and Persian lost its place as court and official language status in 1837, the Madrasa lost whatever little utility value it earlier had. As if to counterbalance the Madrasa, a Sanskrit College was set up in Benares in 1791. Administratively, Calcutta Madrasa and Benares College were treated as sister institutions. Their early histories ran parallel. Early mismanagement under purely native charge was followed by European oversight, European control, and finally European management. Benares in turn became the model for a Sanskrit Colleges at Poona (1821). Another Sanskrit College was opened in Calcutta, in 1824. 

In the meantime there took place an event of great cultural and political significance. Much to the satisfaction of the colonial rulers, the influential Hindus of Calcutta established Hindoo College Calcutta (school section to begin with) in January 1817, at their own initiative and with their own funds and under their own management to begin with, but with approval, encouragement and support from the colonialists. By this time the Mahrattas were on the verge of their final defeat and the British grip on India had become unassailable so that Earl of Moira (1754-1826), later created Marquis of Hastings, Governor General during  1813-1822, could declare with aplomb that “the Government of India did not consider it necessary to keep the Natives in a state of ignorance, in order to retain its own power”.[9] This aplomb was for local consumption. Behind it lay the pressure from the Court of Directors to spend money on native education as per the Government directive contained in the 1813 Charter. 

In 1824, Hindoo  College accepted Government control in return for a substantial Government aid. Hindoo College charged a monthly fee of five rupees which was higher than the salary many young men received in Calcutta. The Government, through the Calcutta School Society, gave an annual grant to sponsor the education of first twenty and then thirty poor but bright students. It was these students, derisively called Boreahs, who rather than the rich students brought luster to the College.[10] The College ( as distinct from the school section)  was taken over by the Government in 1854 and renamed Presidency College. It is remarkable that for thirty long years, the Government should support an institution meant exclusively for the benefit of a particular community. The Hindu dominance in the College continued even after its take-over. 

In early official communications, the term native meant Hindu. While the word Hindoo was spelt uniformly as such, a wide variety of spellings (Mussulman with Mussulmen as plural and Mussul-woman as feminine; Mahometan, etc.) were employed to denote Muslims, clearly showing that they were not part of the discourse. The British introduced Indians ( read upper caste Hindus) to English language and literature; western law; the printed book and the printed press; modern medicine; and above all the glory of ancient India. The British were very keen to improve the natives. In two generations’ time ( by the 1870s) the natives were sufficiently improved  to be able to look the Empire in the eye. One would have thought that the British would be happy with the success of their mission, but they were not. Since the Bengalis knew Shakespeare as well as if not better than the British themselves, and since they could quote the English law back to the lawmakers, they wanted a greater role in the running of their own country. Indians could demand  that as Aryan brethren , it was the duty of the Europeans to hold Indians by hand  and raise them in the scale of nations. Indo-Europeanism thus turned out to be a double-edged sword.[11]  Rankled by  the “quasi-disloyal discontent” displayed by the new Hindu middle class, the British now decided to pay attention to the exclusive “education of India’s young rulers and nobles”. At the same time, as a counter to Hindu aggressiveness, serious efforts were now  initiated to bring the Muslims into the educational mainstream. 

There was an economic reason also for the large-scale Hindu discontent. Permanent settlement had destroyed old zamindars and created new ones, almost all Hindus. After the 1820s, agricultural prices rose steadily. Since the land revenue to be paid to the government remained constant, an increasing surplus was left in the hands of the landlord. In course of time, big landlords sold zamindari rights of small parcels , called patnis. Purchasers of these lands, patnidars, in turn sold still smaller rights and so on. The result was that in many estates there were eight or many more intermediate tenures between the proprietor and the actual tiller. “Bengali barrister, lawyer, official, litterateur, trader, while following diligently his calling in the city, contrives to acquire his bit of land”. By the 1870 however increase in population decreased individual income from land to such a small amount that dependence on education as means of survival increased.[12]  This is the time when the community leadership passed from the hands of the landed class to the new professional class.

While the social leadership among the Hindus came into the hands of those who had been under- privileged a generation or two previously, the Muslim community leaders were all pedigreed, who flaunted their Central Asian or Arab heritage. An example is Nawab Abdul Latif Khan Bahadur (see below). In 1863, Latif took the initiative in forming “the first Muslim literary–cum-political organization in Bengal”, namely the Mahomedan Literary Society of Calcutta. Its  leadership was placed in the hands  of the descendents of the “sons of Tipu Sultan and the Oudh princes”. In contrast Hindu organizations of the time all involved individuals who were a creation of the British period itself. It is significant that throughout India prominent Muslims held far junior positions in the government hierarchy than Hindus.

While modern education provided opportunities for bright Hindu boys from under-privileged classes to come up in life, traditional caste solidarity worked towards uplifting the caste as a whole. If an individual did even modestly well, he considered himself duty bound to help his caste men with shelter, advice and benefit of his social and professional network. At times, such  help was extended to people outside  the caste also. On the other hand, class did not produce any sense of obligation the way caste did, so that  distinction bestowed on a Muslim on the basis  of his class was seen by him as a personal honour and confirmation of his traditional status. For Muslims from privileged backgrounds, English education was a feather in the cap. For Hindus with no background, English education was the cap.

The Calcutta Madrasa and the Benares Sanskrit College were funded from land revenue; and  the Poona College from the Peshva-time Dakshina Fund. This little factoid brings home the fact that at the time education in itself was but a small part of the institutional agenda. The Calcutta Sanskrit College was the first government institution funded entirely out of educational grant. The various “Oriental” colleges came to serve distinct purposes.  Benares College emerged, in the words of Max Muller, as an “exchange mart of English and Indian learning”[13], Poona College became a teaching centre the scope of which went beyond  Sanskrit, while Sanskrit College Calcutta came to be placed “precisely on the same footing as any ordinary Government college”, except that its  focus was  on Sanskrit[14].  In contrast, Calcutta Madrasa remained a dead end. Since there were no counterparts of the Hindu College in the case of Muslims, the Government desperately tried to develop  the Madrasas as a nucleus for introducing Muslims to English education but without success. In case of Sanskrit Colleges however, English was directed specifically at their students and not the Hindu community as a whole. Calcutta Madrasa should be seen in conjunction with Mohsin College at Hooghly which, though a government college set up in 1836, was funded through  a Muslim charity and  had as its nucleus a still earlier Madrasa. We shall take the opportunity provided by the 175th anniversary of the Hooghly Mohsin College to discuss the histories of these two institutions at some length, because such an exercise does not seem to have been carried out so far. 

Calcutta Madrasa (1780) 

Calcutta Madrasa (spelt variously as Mudrissa, Madrissa, Mudrussa, etc., in official reports) was established in October 1780 on the personal initiative of  the Governor-General Warren Hastings  “at the request of several Mahomedans of distinction”. The reasons for setting up the Madrasa were recalled by Hastings in January 1785 shortly before his departure from India. He noted that most revenue jobs were held by the Hindus “who from their education and habits of diligence and frugality possess great advantages over the Mahomedans, in conducting affairs of finance and accounts”[15]. There were openings for Muslims in the administration of criminal courts and in police, but this required that the candidates “be possessed of a considerable degree of erudition in the Persian and Arabic Language and in the complicated system of Laws founded on the tenets of their religion”. The “once respectable, but now decayed and impoverished Mahomedan families”, were in no position to educate their sons “by a long and laborious course of study”. Hence the government initiative in setting up the Madrasa with an annual budget of as much as Rs 30000 for  “the instruction of young students in Mahomedan Law and in such other Sciences as are taught in the Mahomedan schools”.

The costly gesture failed to endear the new rulers to the Muslims. At no stage ever was there any communication or good will between the Englishmen on the one hand and the Madrasa Maulvis on the other. It is as if the respectable Muslims saw the well-endowed Madrasa as a minor compense for their over-all loss of power, prosperity and prestige, and treated it as a refuge from the present. Forty students were paid a substantial amount of five to seven rupees per month to join the Madrasa. They were in addition assured appointment to vacancies in the criminal courts on successful completion of the studies as certified by the head preceptor. The institution was built around an individual, Maulvi Majiduddin, of the famed Faranghi Mahal school of Lucknow, who was highly spoken of to the Governor-General by Muslims of “credit and learning”.  In 1785, the over-all control and administration of revenue were placed in the hands of an amin , superior or guardian, Muhammad Muiz-ud-Din. He was removed from office in 1788 following complaints of “great misconduct and mismanagement”; the post itself was abolished and charge handed over to Majiduddin . Things did not improve, however. An enquiry conducted in 1791 found the Madrasa to be “in a wretched state of filth and disorder”. Students came to the institution only to collect the pay. It was reported that during a Muslim festival, a number of students committed a daring burglary in the house of one of the principal inhabitants of the city. Some of the students were found to be “persons of most depraved character”. Majiduddin   was now removed from service and Mohammad Israil [sic, should it be Ismail?] appointed in his place. A game of musical chairs among the Maulvis was not going to make any material difference, but the time for direct intervention had not yet come. 

A rather ineffectual administrative oversight was introduced in 1791 when a three-member committee comprising government officials was constituted to “exercise proper vigilance on the conduct of the Preceptor”[16]. As if in compensation for the intrusion, a khuteeb or reader of the Quran and a muezzin or crier were officially appointed, so “that the students may daily perform such acts of religious worship as are prescribed by the rules of the Mahomedan faith”. The Madrasa was thus imparted “a more decidedly Mahomedan character than it had ever worn since its foundation”. The Madrasa comprised five classes where students received a monthly stipend of six to fifteen rupees depending on their seniority. It was decided that no student could remain enrolled for more than seven years. The committee members “were without the means and the leisure to obtain the information necessary to enable them to exercise an efficient control over the proceedings”[17]. In 1812 the committee recommended European superintendence, but the Governor-General did not agree. However when the suggestion was again made in 1818 as “a measure of indispensable necessity”, it was accepted.  A  European secretary,  Captain Francis  Irvine, was appointed in 1819 with residence in the Madrasa campus itself. Irvine was active in other educational activities as well This brought to an end the era of “uncontrolled management of Mahomedan Professors” during which the College’s “ample resources” were “dissipated among the superior and subordinate drones of the Establishment”[18]. A telling comment on the affairs of the Madrasa comes from the fact that from its inception till 1820, the institution “ laboured under a remarkable poverty of books; its stock consisting of only twelve volumes, of which number not four were of standard celebrity or general utility”[19]. 

Reforms made by the European secretary and the committee of superintendence were purely administrative in nature; the course of tuition continued as before. Students were admitted into the Madrasa up to the age of 22 years, provided they exhibited “requisite previous qualifications”. They could take up to seven years to complete the five-year course, but must leave on attaining the age of 28. In 1821 public examination was introduced for the first time in the teeth of opposition from within the Madrasa. The opposition was not surprising. The teachers and students “were dependent on the head Moulvi for all they had; the teachers for favour and kind treatment, and the scholars for salaries and promotion. A public exhibition of the attainments of the latter would interfere with his exercise of private nepotism which it was their united interest to uphold”[20]. 

The committee felt powerless in the furtherance of their work in the Madrasa “without the constant presence of an ally in the midst of the Moulvis themselves”. It is noteworthy that those days , as later, if  a Hindu came into the good books of the colonial masters, his stock went up in his own community, but a Muslim seen as getting close to the British immediately invited the hostility of his co-religionists. The committee was fortunate to enlist the support of Hafiz Ahmad Kabir (d. 1849), a khuteeb of twelve years standing, who was appointed assistant to  the European secretary, in 1823 . In the meantime Dr Matthew Lumsden (1777-1835) was appointed  to the secretary’s post in 1822. He was professor of Arabic and Persian at the College of Fort William   and had been a member of the Madrasa committee since 1812.[21] 

At the time, the Madrasa was located in its own building   on the southern side of the present Bow Bazar Street. The building was considered small and dilapidated. More serious objection however was to the location itself. “[T]he area was noted for immoral traffic”[22]  and thus  “afforded to the students great facilities in consequence to dissipation, immorality and idleness”[23]. Accordingly, a new site was identified in Collingah ( later  Wellesley Square), “in the proximity of the great body of Mussalman population”. The foundation stone was laid in 1824, and the Madrasa moved to its new impressive and spacious home in 1827. 

Immediately on its establishment in 1823, General Committee of Public Instruction (GCPI)  initiated steps to  modernize the Madrasa teaching, but without success. As a first step, it was decided to diffuse European science through translations. A European was appointed for the task [24], but apparently the arrangement did not work. The appointment eventually went to a Muslim scholar, one Abdul Rahim, who translated Encyclopaedia Britannica’s articles on geometry and arithmetic into Arabic,   and Hutton’s course on mathematics and  Brydge’s algebra into Persian,  In 1826, an examiner in mathematics, Rev. Thomas Thomason, expressed serious doubts on the efficacy of teaching Western science through the medium of an oriental language. Another examiner, Rev. Dr  W. H.  Mill, Principal of Bishop’s College Calcutta, declared bluntly that “intellect has no sufficient room to expand itself” under oriental learning.[25] In 1827 a medical class was established where anatomy by English authors was taught in Arabic translation. It was however discontinued in 1835 with the establishment of a medical college where modern medicine was taught in English. In 1839, the medical college introduced an Urdu class. The idea was to prepare young men for the army which was becoming bigger by the day for operation in North India. In 1846-47, there were a total of 119 students in the military class of which 109 were Muslim and 10 Hindu. Of the Muslim students, 78 were native of North West Province and only 31 of Bengal.[26] 


In 1826, the Governor-General wrote to GCPI asking it to start English classes in the Madrasa.  Accordingly, an English Department was opened  on 3 April 1829, with the appointment of two European teachers.[27]  The Department, though so called, was in fact an independent English-medium government school, which admitted Madrasa students as well as others. It had to be a separate entity, because it was headed by a European who could not have served under the native head of the Madrasa. Merger of English classes with the oriental institution took place only when the latter acquired a European principal. This pattern was seen at Benares as well as Poona.  An early out-student in the department was the vakeel of the King of Delhi. No details however are available of his progress or the lack of it. It is not possible to follow the progress of the Department from year to year. It is not clear what significance can be attached to the number quoted for the pupil strength. The authorities kept on tinkering with the fee structure.  Lessons were kept free for Madrasa students, who in fact were offered an additional stipend of two to five rupees  if they gained “a certain degree of proficiency” in English without neglecting their Arabic studies. The students however were not tempted. For the out-students, fee was levied or waived and its quantum changed quite often in the fond hope that such  superficial  changes would influence the Muslim attitude towards English education.

Consistent with the general trend, most out-students tended to be Hindus. They were removed from the school in October 1832   and admission restricted to Muslims alone.[28] In 1833, the 77 Arabic-language Madrasa students cost the government  500 rupees a month, while out-students of English paid 103 rupees for the months of May, June and July that year . This statistic was used by Macaulay in his minute of 2 February 1835 as an argument against maintenance of oriental institutions [29]. The two-rupee fee was however dispensed with in 1836. For the Madrasa proper, as indeed  for all  oriental institutions,  the year 1835 was a year of crisis . By an order of the Governor-General , the practice of indiscriminately giving stipend to all students who enrolled was discontinued and a scheme of performance-based scholarships for a limited number of students introduced. In his 2 February 1835 minute Macaulay declared dramatically  : “I would abolish the Mudrussa and the Sanskrit College at Delhi”. On this, the Governor-General Lord William Bentinck simply wrote “I give my entire concurrence to the sentiments expressed in this Minute”. Once the news leaked, as many as 8,312 Muslims, describing themselves as “poor men or in straitened circumstances”, sent a petition to the Governor-General protesting the proposed decision. This display of public outrage compelled the government to retreat a little. Bentinck first issued a resolution on 7 March 1835 stating that “it is not the intention of His Lordship in Council to abolish any College or school of native learning”. It is only then, on 9 March 1835, that His Lordship wrote to the petitioners, that “the Government has no intention to abolish the institution, in the prosperity of which they possess so warm an interest”. Putting on an air of injury, he added “it gives him [Bentinck] additional pain to witness the distrust of the beneficent intentions of the Government towards its Mooslim subjects”[30]. General dissatisfaction with Bentinck’s sweeping decision forced his successor Lord Auckland in 1839 and the Court of Directors in 1841 to express themselves on native education. While no extant oriental institution was closed, the government confirmed  that henceforth “students of all government institutions and of all classes and branches of knowledge” would not receive any stipend as “an inducement to them to continue the course of their studies”. Instead “scholarships, limited in number, given for a limited time, to the best students, may be considered as amongst the best stimulants to emulation and learning”.[31]

There was a basic social divide between the English Department and the Arabic Department. The students in the English Department who paid to be taught  were drawn from “lower orders of Mahomedans”. With the exception of sons of some of the professors of the college and the higher law officers in the courts, the pupils belonged to the class of petty shop-keepers, retailers, vakeels and moonshees[32]. On the other hand, the gratuitously taught students of Arabic belonged to the “learned and highest classes of Mahomedans”.  In 1847-48, a short-lived  Anglo-Arabic Department was established for the benefit of those students who wished to study English in addition to Arabic. Both the Anglo-Arabic and the English departments were declared to be a failure, the later an extended and costly one. 

In the 23 years of its existence from 1829 till 1851, the English department incurred an establishment cost of 1,03,794 rupees and enrolled 1787 students. Very few Madrasa students of English did anything noticeable. The first student of note was Abdul Husain (spelt in the records variously as Obedal Hossain or Obeydool Husain) who joined the English department in 1830 at the age of 14. It was said of him in 1836: ” He professes to have read 11 books of Pope’s Homer, the whole of the Paradise Lost, 115 pages of Blair’s Lectures and Goldsmith’s (abridged) History of England to the reign of Edward the III….He was able to give some account of the above works, but appeared best acquainted with the History of the Trojan War… Upon the whole I think he deserves to be commended for the progress he has made in English scholarship.”[33] In 1838 he was appointed fourth master at a monthly salary of 40 rupees which was doubled three years later[34]. His later career is not known. 

In 1842, a Madrasa student, Enayut Hossain [Inayat Husain] joined the Medical College where he “remarkably distinguished himself” [35]. In 1846-47, out of the 36 stipendiary students in the English class of the Calcutta Medical College, five were Muslims, four of whom “admitted in the past session” came from the Madrasa[36]. These four were the only ones who till then had made a transition from the Madrasa to the Medical College[37]. One, Tumez Khan, won Lord Hardinge’s prize  of books worth 200 rupees. His antecedents however are not known[38]. 

Next students of note were the two class fellows Waheedoon Nubee  and Abdul Lateef (also spelt as Luteef , Latif, etc.), both of whom were awarded junior scholarship of eight rupees a month in 1842-43[39]. In the 25 years of English teaching in the Madrasa, 1826-1851,  no student ever passed the senior scholarship examination.  Nubee and Luteef were the only two who could pass  the junior. In 1845, Nubee won a senior Arabic scholarship.[40] In 1846-47, he was appointed second master in the English Department, and next year   given the  charge of the newly established Anglo – Arabic  Department  at the increased salary of 100 rupees.[41]He left the  Madrasa in  June 1848  on obtaining a junior magistracy , making way for  Luteef . In 1848-49, Nubee,  as the deputy magistrate of the Hooghly district , forwarded to the Council of Education a handsome present of books  consisting of Knight’s Cabinet Edition of Shakespeare, and 12 volumes of the Cabinet Portrait Gallery, to be awarded on the basis of the 1848 annual examination to the most distinguished student of the Hooghly College in English Literature. The prize went to Cally Prosonno Chatterjee[42]. 

Abdul Lateef (1828-1893) turned out to be an important Muslim leader of the nineteenth century. He was a descendent of Khalid ibn al-Walid (591-642), a companion of Prophet Muhammad and known as the sword of God. Lateef’s father, Qazi Fakir Muhammad,  was a pleader at the Sadar Court in Calcutta.  On completing his studies at the Madrasa, Lateef  briefly served  as private secretary to the Amir of Sind who was residing in Dum Dum as a political prisoner[43]. Next, in 1846-47, he took appointment as fifth master in the junior department of  Dacca College (1846-47, p.137), which he left in 1848 to return to the Madrasa, only to leave it also in 1849 to take up appointment as a deputy magistrate. His successor who joined in March 1849 was one Mr W. Lawler who being a Eurasian and a Christian had to be transferred out of the institution because of fierce opposition from the students ( see below). “For over twenty five years he [Lateef] remained in the subordinate executive service and …though he held comparatively humble an official position…he was uniformly acknowledged as one of the foremost leaders of Muhammadan society not only in Bengal but throughout India[44].In February 1863 he established  the Muhammadan Literary  Society. He was the member-secretary of a committee appointed by the government  in 1869 to enquire into the condition and management of Calcutta  and Hooghly Madrasas . Bengal’s first influential English-knowing Muslim,  he was given the title of Nawab in 1880, made a Companion of the Order of the  Indian Empire in 1883, and created a Nawab Bahadur in 1887[45]. Abdul Lateef was the government’s poster boy through whom the government tried to reach out to the Muslims at large. He played a role in the affairs of the Madrasa as well as in the establishment of Presidency College. 


The death of  the Madrasa’s native assistant secretary- cum-khuteeb, Hafiz Muhammad Kabir, in 1849 and the resignation, probably orchestrated, of the  European secretary  provided the Council of Education with an opportunity to effect major organizational changes . In a letter dated March 1850 to the government, the Council pointed out that no doubt some European secretaries took their job more seriously than the others, but still the secretary was more of a visitor than the head. He was “ almost entirely dependent upon his native assistant for his knowledge of the internal economy and condition of the institution” with the result that  he knew no more than what it was considered expedient to acquaint him with. One of the Arabic professors and the English librarian “practised in the city of Calcutta as hukeems and were scarcely ever present in the Mudrissa”. This fact had probably “existed for years” and must have been common knowledge in the Madrasa but was only accidentally discovered by the Europeans. 

Similarly, the professors obliged the students by showing them to be present in the institution while they were actually absent and attending to their own private business. To remedy the situation the Council suggested  a number of related measures. Instead of merely a European secretary the Madrasa should have a European principal  with duties and responsibilities similar to those of the principals of other colleges under the Council, with the exception of teaching a class”. ( By way of contrast it may be noted that at the time the European principal of  Benares Sanskrit College  was not only teaching but also writing text books.) The posts of khuteeb and muezzin were recommended to be abolished  with  the belated realization  that “their continuance is inconsistent with the principle adopted by the Government in all other institutions of having no connection with the religion of either the pupils or Professors”. Instead, the appointment of a nazir was recommended. The head preceptor would now stand demoted with the new designation of  head Maulvi. The government accepted the Council’s suggestions including their candidate for the new headship. 

Accordingly Austria-born Dr Aloys Sprenger (1813-1893) took over as principal in November 1850 and continued till 1856. In between he was on leave from 1854 till early 1856, so that effectively his term ended in 1854. He was also simultaneously appointed principal of Hooghly  College (see below.) Sprenger was a well-known Arabic and Persian scholar who knew many languages. He had been the principal of Delhi College during1843-1847. From 1847 till January 1850 he was appointed extra assistant resident in Lucknow, almost as if in anticipation of its annexation, so that he could catalogue some 10000 manuscripts there in various languages. He built up a personal collection of manuscripts which he sold in Berlin for the substantial sum of 20,000 pound sterling[46]. 

Immediately on arrival Sprenger went for the over-kill. Over the years the Madrasa had been permitted to become a public place for the Sunnis. On Fridays and the two Eids, a large number of Muslims assembled in the campus for prayers, with the khuteeb officiating as the Imam. Whenever a prominent Muslim died, the corpse was brought to the Madrasa for the last rites. Sprenger put a stop to such practices. He also enforced discipline among the students as well as professors. These harsh disciplinary measures were naturally resented but still acceptable even if with poor grace. What was not acceptable was the European principal’s tempering with the Arabic curriculum. Sprenger discontinued the teaching of  Mybuzee and Sudra works on philosophy which had been taught since the foundation of the Madrasa and which were “ regarded with attachment and veneration by the whole scholastic body”. As if this was not bad enough, the new text introduced in their place was a modern work on natural philosophy in Urdu. To add insult to injury the new course was to be taught by Mr Lawler, a half-caste and a Christian. This was the trigger for a “a general rebellion within the College walls, with which almost all the respectable Mahomedans of Calcutta displayed a hearty sympathy, and which was sufficiently violent and outrageous to require the intervention of the police”.[47] New admissions to  the Madrasa were suspended in March 1851 and a high-powered committee appointed to go into the affairs of the Madrasa, which submitted its report in 1853.

Recommending the future course of action for the Madrasa was a difficult exercise because a variety of widely different prescriptions were suggested by the experts.[48] The following decisions were executed in July 1854.

It was conceded that no effort would be made to introduce modern science in the Madrasa. At the same time, it was decided that science in Arabic books would also not be taught, on the ground that it was either full of error and absurdity, or stood as if no progress had been made in the last 2000 years[49]. As it turned out , no change could be introduced in the existing curriculum because of strong  opposition from within the Madrasa. The Council of Education had expressed the hope that an intellectual leader would emerge who would transform the Madrasa the same way as “ the singularly able and enlightened scholar”, that is Isvarchandra Vidyasagar, had transformed the Sanskrit College[50]. Sadly, the hope remained unfulfilled. 

As for English, the government gave up its ambition of teaching it to students of Arabic who were mostly in their late teens or early twenties. The Anglo-Arabic Department along with the English Department was closed. It was now decided to introduce English at a younger age in two distinct combinations, with Persian and with Bengali. An Anglo-Persian Department was established in the Madrasa   to teach up to the junior English scholarship level, and  simultaneously teach Persian. Urdu and Bengali were also offered. Children would enter at nine or ten  years of age and be able to leave in five or six years.  This arrangement was exclusively for the “children of Mahomedans of the higher order or of many scattered literary families residing throughout the interior”, for whom Persian was a necessary part of intellectual and social apparatus. The Indo-Persian Department “was allowed an establishment superior even to that of the Hindoo School, and the Masters appointed were the best that the Council had at its disposal. Every means was taken to make the Mudrissa  worthy of the confidence of Mussulman gentleman. In deference to their unwillingness to mix with other races, no Christians, Hindoos, or even Mussulmans of low parentage were admitted to the Department.”[51] In 1857 the Anglo-Persian Department of Calcutta Madrasa was  affiliated to the newly established Calcutta University for educating up to the first arts. 

For Muslims of the lower classes, a separate Collingah Branch School was opened, which would teach English up to junior scholarship level in conjunction with Bengali , “as more suitable to their condition and prospects”.[52] The fee in the Anglo-Persian Department was one rupee while Collingah  charged two rupees .The fee in Hindoo School was four rupees.[53]  To preclude adverse public comments, the Council of Education itself chose to draw attention to the differential fee structure in the Muslim schools.“The Council are fully aware of the remarkable anomaly of exacting a fee of only one Rupee from the respectable classes and two Rupees from the low classes, an anomaly increased by the fact that the Instructive Staff for the higher School is more numerous and better paid than in the lower School; but they feel that extraordinary measures must be adopted to meet extraordinary difficulties ; and they have recommended these measures from a conviction that nothing else will at present induce Mussulman gentlemen to give their children the advantages of an English education even though accompanied with full instruction in Persian and other Oriental acquirements.”[54] 

The official report for 1852-1855  asserted that  “The Hindu School and the Anglo-Persian Department of the [Calcutta] Mudrissa are exclusive Institutions into which only the higher classes of either community are admissible. The Colootollah and the Colingah Schools are attached respectively to the Hindu School and the Mudrissa , but are open to all nations and creeds.” Expectedly the Hindoo schools were doing very well. The Hindu School proper with a monthly expenditure of 1200 rupees paid its expense from school fees, while its affiliate the Colootollah School with an expenditure of 800 rupees actually brought in a profit of 300 rupees to the government.[55]  These figures show how keen Hindus boys were to get  English education. Since  Collingah School was also dominated by Hindus[56], however, it was decided in  1856 that though non-Muslim students would not be thrown out, fresh admissions would  be given only to Muslim boys[57]. This decision changed the composition of the classroom over time. At the same time the fee was reduced to one rupee to bring it at par with the Madrasa. This reduction led to the increase in the number of Muslim students from 15 to 56.[58] In 1857-58, as per the new order, all pupils in the junior most class were Muslim. But because of the mixed composition of higher classes, of the total of 79 students, as many as 48 were Hindus, 30  were Muslims, and one was native Christian. The senior department of the school had 32 students of which only one was Muslim, the rest Hindu.[59]  In 1861 all but four of the 189 students were Muslim.[60] 

The re-organization of Madrasa had an impact on the Hindoo College also. If the students who passed out from the Anglo-Persian Department wished to study Arabic, they could join the Arabic Department. But what if they or their counterparts from the Branch School wished to study English? Since at the time there was no government college, the Government   decided “to break down the principle of exclusiveness on which the Hindoo College has hitherto been conducted”, and “throw the College open [under the name Presidency College] to all castes, classes, and creeds, notwithstanding the opposition of most of the Native Managers”, which was considered to be “practically feeble, though it is pronounced”.[61] 

Not only did English not do well in Calcutta Madrasa but Arabic also. In 1858, the Lieutenant-Governor of Lower Bengal went to the extent of recommending the abolition of the Arabic department. Although the recommendation was turned down at higher levels, it does say something about the state of affairs. 

To sum up so far, from 1780 till 1820  the Calcutta Madrasa remained under the uncontrolled management of its Maulvis. From 1820 till 1850 a rather ineffectual European oversight was tried. In 1850, the Madrasa was placed under a European principal. From 1829 till  early 1850s,English classes were introduced for Madrasa students, but the experiment failed. Targeting younger boys, the Company opened two Anglo-Persian  schools in 1853, one for the respectable Muslims and the other for lower classes; but the Muslims failed to display any enthusiasm for the language of the new rulers. Thus the changes that the British initiated after deep deliberation to bring Muslim boys of all classes into the English class rooms failed to create the anticipated enthusiasm. The same was the situation in the sister institution of Hooghly College which we shall now discuss.


Hooghly College (1836)

Hooghly College , established by the Government on 1 August 1836   at Chinsurah in Hooghly, owed its existence to the will of a pious, learned, philanthropic Shia Muslim, Haji Mahomed Mohsin (1730/1732-1812).Through a deed signed in 1806, Mohsin  left his vast estates in trust “for the sake of God”. Two trustees or mutwalis were handpicked by him, who in turn were authorized to name their successors. The arrangement  made by the founder continued intact until 1815, when owing to the “mismanagement, jealousies, and dissension” of the then mutwalis, the government intervened , placing them under suspension and appointing Syed Akbar Ali Khan as “ameen or controller of the funds”. In 1818, the two mutwalis were finally dismissed and Akbar Ali appointed  a  mutwali.  In 1836, he too would be dismissed, and  appointment given , in 1837, to Syed Karamat Ali of Jaunpore, “the companion of Lieut. Conolly’s travel”, on a salary of  Rs 500 a month. 

Mohsin’s will particularly mentioned the “repair of  the Imambara and cemetery.[62] At the time, there was already a Madrasa attached to the Imambara which had a teacher and a moonshee as staff but no students. Once the trust came under the government supervision in 1818, it transformed the exclusive Imambara Madrasa into  pluralistic Imambara schools by the addition of English and Bengali sections. In 1826, about 83 young men and boys were attending the school of whom 16 were reading Arabic, seven Persian, and 60 English.[63] In the meantime in 1821 the largest part of the trust property, the Syedpore estate in Jessore district, was sold off by the government in parcels for more than  six lakh rupees, and the amount invested in government securities. In 1835, all litigation challenging the Government’s takeover of the trust came to an end, making the Governor-General the sole trustee. At the time the trust had about nine lakh rupees in securities and some land holding as well, yielding a total annual income of about 50,000 rupees[64]. 

The Government now set up  a Mahomed Mohsin Education Endowment Fund  and interpreting the benefactor’s will rather creatively  decided to use it for the “purposes of education”, mostly English education, for all sections of society. The Imambara schools  were now “extinguished” to make way for “College of Mahommed Muhsin” so named “in compliment to the benevolent founder”. [65] Some years later the name was however  discarded  in favour of  Hooghly College thus  hiding  the institution’s Muslim connection. The first principal, Dr Thomas Alexander Wise, giving evidence before the House of Lords’  Select Committee on 30 June 1853, wrongly gave the impression that education was explicitly mentioned by Mohsin as one of the “benevolent purposes” for which his bequest should be utilized.[66] The word education does not figure in Mohsin’s will. It was the Imambara clause in the will that was used to extinguish the original Imambara school and eventually set up a government college which included an Arabic Department.It is   ironical that for 36 long years, funds from a Muslim charity were used for running a college the main beneficiary of which were the Hindus. It was only in 1872 that  it was decided to support only the Madrasas from the Mohsin endowment. By now, Muslim community was articulate enough to voice its objections. The present name Hooghly Mohsin College was given only in 1937, when the Madrasa was shifted to a different building. The Principal at the time, Kuruvilla Zachariah, author of the College history, described the move as “exactly a hundred years overdue”[67] , conveniently forgetting that the College owed its very existence to the Madrasa. 

The establishment of the well-endowed government Hooghly College gave a great fillip to English education in the district. Not only did the College conduct classes, it also supervised auxiliary schools. These schools were of two types: branch schools which were under the College’s direct supervision, and probationary schools which were merely overseen by the College. In 1834, the popular judge and magistrate D. Carmichael Smyth (d. 1841) took initiative in reviving the erstwhile  school run by the Chinsurah missionaries  with grant from the government .The government gave a piece of land, (part of the old Dutch  Fort land) and funds for the construction of the building.[68]  The landlords of Hooghly district, led by Joykissen Mukherjee (1808-1888), raised subscription to  set up a paid school , known as Zamindars’ School or Subscription School.[69] In 1837 it was handed over to the Hooghly College, which  reopened  it in December 1837   as  its Branch School .This School was open to all except that in case the number of candidates  exceeded the available seats, preference was to be given to the original subscribers’ nominees. The school had a headmaster, two assistants, two pundits and two Maulvis, and enrolled 227 boys within a month.[70]  In 1843, the Zamindari Fund was used as a corpus to give two scholarships on the basis of results of junior scholarship examination.[71] Integrating backwards, the  Hooghly College  opened   an Infant School  of its own in Hooghly  in 1839 which admitted boys  three to eight years in age. The School lasted till 1851.[72] 

A branch school was established in 1839 in the deep interior at Seetapore, 20 miles west of Serampore. The school had an interesting pre-history. In 1772, governor Cartier issued a sanad in favour of the Maulvis Amsuddin and Masihaddin, which gave them  for ever a daily allowance of four and a half rupees for the maintenance  of a masjid and a madrasa. Amsuddin had been occasionally employed in translating Arabic letters into Persian and vice versa in the Persian translator’s office. In 1780, Warren Hastings increased the daily grant to five rupees amounting to a monthly amount of 152 sicca rupees.[73] In 1812, the grant was divided into three parts, one part each for the family of the grantee, masjid, and madrasa. Acting high-handedly, the government decided in 1837 that only one fourth of the grant should be left to the mutwali for the expenses of the masjid, and the remaining three fourths should go to the madrasa , “ which might become a preparatory school to the Hooghly College”. The school was opened in 1839 under the control of GCPI. Boys were admitted up to the age of 12 years, with some of them paying for their education. Since there was no house available for the school, Baboo Moteelall Kheteria granted the use of one of his own houses free of charge till the school’s own building came up. The mutwali challenged the legality  of the GCPI’s decision to take away the Madrasa from him . His appeal was upheld by the Government of India. Accordingly after the first year, the school was supported by the government, but the impression wrongly  persisted that the  school was bound by the testamentary bequest. The remoteness of the location  and repeated attacks of illness suffered by the headmaster made the school dysfunctional. Belatedly it was realized that the school was a government- funded one and could be shifted or closed.[74] It was finally decided to shut it down in December 1849. The Madrasa however continued to exist as a branch school of Hooghly College.[75] In addition, there were two probationary schools. A school established in Tribeni by two young men was brought under the supervision of the College in 1839.Similarly a private school in Umerpore was placed under the College. It came to an end in 1844 when  on the death of its proprietor Kalikinkar Palit, the government refused to take it over. These efforts, some half-hearted, do show the spread of English education in the Bengal mofussil. In contrast, in Western India, enthusiasm for English education remained confined to Bombay for along time. 

Hooghly College consisted of two main departments: an Arabic Department or Madrasa and an English Department. Bengali was offered in the former, but was an essential part of the latter.  In September 1836  the English Department was divided into an upper and lower school. The junior section  focused on Bengali, treating  English as  a “subordinate subject”, but once the students reached the upper school, they were taught  “higher branches of English literature and science” and asked to practise translation from Bengali into English and vice versa.[76] When the  school was opened, it attracted an unmanageable number of students. Even when the initial novelty had worn off, the numbers were still large.  In December 1836, at the time of the annual examination, there were 1,013 students in the English department, out of which 94% were Hindu, 3% Christian, and 3% Muslim. In the Madrasa, understandably the Muslims were in a majority. Out of a total of 223  students, 62% were Muslim and 36% Hindu.[77] Note that while the  Muslim presence in English classes was negligible, Hindus still had a significant presence in the Persian. In other words, while the Hindus had a near monopoly on English – requiring jobs, they would still be in competition with Muslims for appointments demanding knowledge of Persian. In 1850, while suggesting names to the district magistrate for the posts of daroga,  the principal recommended Muslim candidates “ because they are physically stronger than the Hindoos, and better fitted for the active duties of a Police officer”. The Hindus generally preferred “the quieter occupation of  Writer in a public office, though on a much smaller salary”.[78]  As the founder principal, Dr Thomas Alexander Wise recalled later,  while  “it was very difficult to get the Mahomedans to learn the English language” there was “a greater disposition on the part of the Hindoos to learn English”, because they were “fonder of gain, and other lucrative employments that require an English education”.[79] A Hindu boy wanted to do well in the examination. If understanding Milton required reading Bible, he would read it as a library text, but a Muslim would worry about loss of religion. 

An Anglo- Persian class was started in the Madrasa part of the College in 1837 to encourage Muslim students to learn English. The results were disappointing. In 1839-40, only 18 of the 50 students were Muslim.[80] The Muslim students were older and indifferent, while the Hindu and Christian students were   young and employment-oriented who had joined the Madrasa rather that the English school to avoid paying fee in the latter. To attract more Muslims to the class room, non-Muslims were excluded from the class, and the Hindu teacher was replaced by a Muslim, but the change did not bring in Muslims. In 1842, the number on rolls was   only 16, and average attendance not more than 12. The class was abolished in May 1842.Optimistically, it was revived in 1846  but with no better luck than before.[81] Not surprisingly, Calcutta and Hooghly Madrasas both had similar experience as far as persuading their students to take to English. 

At the end of September 1851, there were  397 students in the Hooghly College (English department) out of which as many as 98% were Hindu, 1.5% Muslim , and  0.5% native Christian. The Branch School had a strength of 164, out of which  Hindus accounted for 97.5% , while Muslims and Christians stood at 1.2% each. While in the Madrasa, with an enrollment of 163, as many as 89%  were Muslims, the Hindu presence was still 11%, with Christians totally absent.[82] Up to 1851, Hooghly College produced only two Muslim  junior scholars: Moosa Ali and Waris Ali.[83] Waris Ali (also spelt Warris Ali ) was “ the most proficient Mahomedan student of the English Department” and  “ the only Mahomedan  in Bengal who has competed successfully for a Senior Scholarship in a Government College”. He was appointed an officiating teacher of the Anglo-Persian class in October 1853. If the Muslim students were reluctant to learn English, they were utterly contemptuous of Bengali, which they considered to be “ a dialect of no dignity and of little use”.[84] Hooghly College however did emerge as the nursery of Bengali literature. Interestingly, in 1852, all candidates obtained very low marks at the hands of the external examiner, Isvarchandra Vidyasagar. Having “imbibed the notion that that only is a good Bengali style in which there is a considerable infusion of high Sanskrit words”, he was inclined to view with disfavor a colloquial literary style.[85] 

In 1857-58, the College Principal wrote that the students who attended the Anglo-Persian class were generally sons of  manual labourers or small shop-keepers. That the upper-class Muslims in general were “indifferent about giving their children an English Education” could be seen from “the fact that the sons of Moulvies in the Anglo-Persian Department are among the most negligent in their attendance”.[86] In 1857, the Anglo-Persian Department was detached from the Madrasa and merged with the English department to create a collegiate institution, with school and college departments.

The Hindu domination in the class room persisted throughout. In 1865-66, Hooghly Collegiate School had a total of 286 students on its rolls. Out of these 83% were Hindus and 15% Muslim. In the College, the   differential was even larger. Out of 141 students, 94% were Hindus and 4% Muslim. For the non-Muslims, the monthly fee ranged from two-and-half rupees to five rupees, while the Muslim students had to pay only one rupee both in the school and in the college. Quite obviously, fee concession was not sufficient to attract Muslims to English education.[87]

Abdul Lateef, already referred to, who had a hand in the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Department as well as the establishment of Presidency College as a non-denominational institution, announced, with the full backing of the government,  a prize for the best essay in Persian on the long-winded question: “How far would the inculcation of European sciences through the medium of the English language benefit Muhammadan students in the present circumstance of India and what are the most practical means of imparting such instruction”? The all-India competition was announced in the Calcutta Gazette, and the Lieutenant-Governor himself chaired the four-member committee appointed by the Council of Education to read the essays. A very large number of essays were received from all over India. The winner was not from the politically important Bengal Presidency but from Bombay, Syed Abdul Futteh, Arabic and Persian teacher at the Jamsetji Jeejibhoy Parsi Benevolent Institution (est. 1849) in Bombay. Most of the essay writers “ strongly deprecated the adoption of English education, quoting the Koran in support of their arguments and some even denouncing the giver of the prize himself as a traitor to the faith”.[88] 

Arabic teaching at the Hooghly College  was also similarly nothing to boast of. In 1871, the Principal, commenting on the caliber of the four Maulvis on the pay roll of the College, wryly pointed out that since they were all former students of the College, “their knowledge of the Arabic language is not very great”.[89] It is also noteworthy that whatever European scholarship developed in India in Arabic, Persian and Urdu, the Madrasa teachers played no role. This is in contrast to Sanskrit where collaboration even if uneven took place between Europeans and pundits.

The Muslim antipathy to English education was not confined to Bengal alone. It was certainly well pronounced in Delhi also, the centre of Mughal zone of influence.


Delhi College

 The Calcutta Madrasa  remained the solitary government supported institution for Arabic and Persian learning for more than four decades. The next initiative came in the 1820s with the opening of Agra College and Delhi College. By this time the Muslims were inclined to view the British more favourably. However with the 1835 stoppage of stipends for oriental learning the process of Muslim assimilation that had barely begun received a setback. As soon as the GCPI was formed (1823), it sought to reach out to the Muslims in Delhi. The nucleus for activities in Delhi was an old Madrasa, now known to have been established  at the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century by Ghaziuddin I (d.1710), better known as the father of Nizamul Mulk Asaf Jah I, founder of the Hyderabad state. Official documents however date the Madrasa 1792 and name  Asaf Jah’s son Ghaziuddin II as its founder. In 1824 the Madrasa was reported as a private institution with nine students and a solitary teacher. The government started funding it and renamed it Delhi College in 1825.[90]  English classes were introduced in 1828. In 1829  the College received a substantial donation of 1, 70, 000 rupees from  Nawab Etimaduddaula, with the personal name Mir Fazal Ali Khan (d. 1831). Etimaduddaula  was the prime minister  of the King Nasiruddin Haidar of Oudh, for fourteen months ending February 1829,  during which period he was said to have lined his pockets to the tune of  35 lakh rupees.[91] It would be interesting to find out under what circumstances he became a benefactor of Delhi College. His donation was in support of traditional Persian and Arabic studies in the College.[92]  But, as in the case of the Mohsin corpus in Hooghly, the British had no compunction in partially diverting Oudh funds to  set up an English College as a legally  separate entity called Delhi Institution .[93]  Out of the first five  students who enrolled,  two were Kashmiri pundits ( Mohan Lal and Ram Kishan Haksar)  and only one was  a Muslim ( Shahamat Ali).[94] While Kashmiri pundits, Kayasthas and Punjabi Khatris had no difficulty in transferring their services from the Mughal administration to the new, Muslims remained hostile. As Shahamat Ali later recalled , there was tremendous pressure from the Maulavis as well as families on the Muslim youth to remain in Arabic-Persian classes and not join the English.[95] Nazir Ahmad ( 1830-1912), one of the most famous graduates of Delhi College, joined the College  in 1846 along with his elder brother,  each receiving a stipend of Rs 4 per month which gradually increased to Rs 12. These stipends became their poor family’s sustenance for years to come. And yet Nazir’s father, “a poor man but very pious”, bluntly told Nazir that he would rather have him die, or begging in the streets, than learn English.[96] Nazir learnt English later. 

We have seen that the Muslims largely kept away from English education. In contrast, the Government itself paid for English education in Calcutta of bright  but impoverished Hindu boys. The Government additionally deployed a substantial Muslim charity effectively for education of Hindu boys in the mofussil. It is however important to note that in the case of  Hindus, English education remained the exclusive preserve of the upper castes. In 1854,  the European Principal of the Hindoo College admitted a well-known Muslim dancing girl Heera’s son whose  biological father was the Nepalese General Matabar Singh.  The board of managers  of Hindoo College  annulled the admission on the ground that  according to the College bye-laws, it was meant for the tuition of sons of respectable Hindoos. This incident was probably not a factor in the Government take-over of Hindoo College, but was mentioned in that context.[97]  Almost a century later, in 1946, a student belonging to  Rajak ( washerman) caste was admitted to the Hindu Hostel of Hooghly College. The hostel menials however refused to serve him food and the boy had to leave the Hostel and the College.[98] 

After independence, while the catchment area for education among Hindus has expanded drastically to include weaker sections that earlier had remained marginalized, Muslim education has not substantially expanded.


I thank Amiya Kumar Bagchi for his valuable comments. I thank Gail Minault ( History Department, University of Texas at Austin)  and Pradip Narayan Ghosh (Jadavpur University ) for their help. I thank various librarians for their prompt and cheerful help with source material: Christina Birdie ( Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore ), B. B. Das ( Jadavpur University ), Rajeev Mishra ( India International Centre, New Delhi), Liz Moody (Lambeth Palace), Megan O’Connell ( Duke University Special Collection ) and Laura A. Radford (London School of Economics ).

[1] Kochhar 2008a

[2] Banerjee 1984, p.35.

[3] Banerjee 1984, p. 63.

[4] Chhabra 2006, p.191.

[5] Banerjee 1984, p.14.

[6] Hoernle, 1885, p. 174.

[7] Said 1978.

[8] Thomas Alexander Wise before the Select Committee of House of Lords, 30 June 1853;   in Lords 1853, p.223, para 6925.

[9] John Clarke Marshman before the Select Committee of House of Lords, 15 June 1853 ; Lords 1853, p.113, para 6389.

[10] Mittra 1877, p. 148.

[11] see Kochhar 2008a, b.

[12] Seal 1968, pp. 52-55.

[13] House of Commons Papers 1853, Vol. 24, Pt 3, p.617.

[14] Monteath 1867, p.81, para 262.

[15] Sanial 1914, p. 110

[16] Sanial 1914, p.89

[17] Quarterly Oriental Magazine: Review and Register, 1824, Vol. 2, p. lxiii

[18] Lushington 1824, p.136.

[19] Fisher 1832, p.199

[20] Sanial 1914, p.92

[21]  Buckland 1906, p. 255.

[22] Rahman 1977, p.80.

[23] Lushington 1824, p 140.

[24] Fisher 1832, p.217.

[25] Ahmed 2003, p.194.

[26] General  Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1846-47, p.62.

[27] Selections XIV 1854, App.1, p. i. On another page (p. xxviii), 1827 is given as the  time of the start of the class.

[28] Selections XIV 1854, p. ii.

[29] Sharp 1920, p.112.

[30] Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register, 1835, Vol.18, Pt.2, pp. 95-97.

[31] Lord Auckland’s minute dated 24 August 1836  ; Sharp1920, p.147.

[32] Selections XIV1854, p. 2.

[33] Report of the General Committee of Public Instruction of the Presidency of Bengal 1836, p.90.

[34] Selections XIV 1854, App. 1, pp. iii-iv.

[35] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1842-43, p. 66.

[36] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1846-47, p.62n.

[37] Selections XIV 1854, p. iv.

[38] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1846-47, p.89.

[39] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1846-47, p.65.

[40] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1845-46. p.53.

[41] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal,  1847- 48 , p.50.

[42] Annual Report of the Hooghly College for 1847-48, p.22.

[43] Bradley-Birt 1910, p. 117.

[44] Bradley-Birt 1910, p. 118.

[45] Lethbridge 1893, pp. 4-5; Buckland 1906, p.2.

[46] Johnson 1985-86, p. 22.

[47] Report of the Hooghly College, 1857-58, p.11.

[48] see Selections XIV 1854

[49] Selections XIV 1854, pp.13-14.

[50] Selections XIV 1854, p.29.

[51] General Report on  Public Instruction in the Lower Bengal , 1852-55, p. xlvii.

[52] Selections XIV 1854, p.16.

[53] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1852-Jan.1855, p. xlvii.

[54]  General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1852-55, p. xlvii.

[55] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1852-55, p. xlix.

[56] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1852-55, p. xlvii.

[57] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1856-57 , p.258.

[58] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1856-57 , p.258.

[59] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1857-8 , p. 234.

[60] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1861-2, p.223.)

[61] Selections XIV 1854, p.32.

[62] For Mohsin’s biography, see Bradley-Birt 1910, pp.35-59. Mohsin’s will is reproduced in Zachariah 1936, Appendix A, pp. 126-127.

[63] Fisher’s Memoir 1833, pp.285-286.

[64] Toynbee 1888, pp.128-129.

[65] Report of General Committee of Public Instruction, 1836, p.124.

[66] Thomas Alexander Wise  before the Select Committee of House of Lords, 30 June 1853;  Lords 1853, p.221.

[67] Radhamadhab Saha added to Zachariah’s 1936 book, p.129.

[68] Toynbee1888, p.117.

[69] Mukherjee 1975, p. 63.

[70] Zachariah 1936, pp. 19-20.

[71] Zachariah 1936, p. 31.

[72] Zachariah 1936, pp.20-21.

[73] Toynbee 1888, p.119.

[74] Toynbee 1888, pp.119-120; Zachariah1936, p.[56].

[75] Annual Report of College of Hadji Muhammad Mohsin with its subordinate schools, 1849-50, p. 11.

[76] General Report on Public Instruction, 1836, p.126.

[77] Number of students is taken from Zachariah1936 , p. 18; break-up from General Report on Public Instruction, 1836, p.128

[78] Zachariah1936, p. 53.

[79] Thomas Alexander Wise in Lords 1853, pp.222-224.

[80] General Report on Public Instruction ,1839-40, p.45.

[81] Annual Report of College of Hadji Moohummud Mohsin, 1853-54, pp.41-42.

[82] Annual Report of College of Hadji Moohummud Mohsin, 1851-52, pp. 3-4.

[83] Sanial 1914, pp.96-97.

[84] Zachariah1936, p.33..

[85] Zachariah1936, p.53.

[86] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1857-58, p.243.

[87] Monteath 1867, p.83, para 269.

[88] Bradley-Birt 1910, pp 124-125.

[89] Zachariah1936, p.95.

[90] Chagatai 2006, p.106.

[91] Knighton [1990], p.xx.

[92] Fisher2006, p.236.

[93] Chaghatai2006, p.109.

[94] Sender 1986, p. 224.

[95] Sender 1986, p.241.

[96] Oesterheld 2006, p. 303.

[97] Selections XIV, 1854, p, 28, para 114. Heera Bai’s name is mentioned in Sanial 1914, p.100n.

[98] Samanta 2010, p. 139.



(In case of old texts, the year of original publication is given to help place the work in context. Very often the reprint is a facsimile  edition, with the same  pagination as in the original. In case of different pagination, page number is placed in a square bracket Names have often been spelt variously in published sources).

Ahmed, A. F. Salahuddin (2003) Social  Ideas and Social Change in Bengal, 1818-1835, 2nd ed. (Calcutta :Papyrus).

Banerjee, A. C. ( 1984) English Law in India (Delhi: Abhinav Publication). 

Bradley-Birt, F.B. (1910) Eminent Bengalis in the Nineteenth Century ( Reprint, New Delhi: Inter-India Publications). 

Buckland, Charles Edward ( 1906 ) Dictionary of Indian Biography ( London: Swan Sonnenschein). 

Chagatai, M. Ikram (2006) “Dr Aloys Sprenger and the Delhi College”. In : Pernau 2006, pp. 105-124. 

Chhabra, G. S. (2006) Advanced Study in the History of Modern India, Vol. 1 (New Delhi: Lotus Press). 

Fisher’s Memoir (1833) “ Memoir, dated February 7, 1827, compiled from the Records of the India Governments at the East India House, in pursuance of a Minute of the Committee of Correspondence, showing the extent to which Aid had been afforded by the local Governments in India towards the establishment of Native Schools in that country; And, A Supplement to the foregoing Memoir dated February 23, 1832, containing a Narrative of the further proceedings of the local Governments in India relative to Native Schools in that country, to the date of the latest records received from India”. Printed in  the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Affairs of the East India Company, February14 to July 27,1832 (I Public) Appendix I, pp. 194-324. Reprinted on 20 August 1853, pp. 395-483. 

Fisher, Michael H. (2006) “Mohan Lal Kashmiri (1812-1877)”. In: Pernau (2006), pp. 232-260. 

Hoernle, A. F. Rudolph (1885) Centenary Review of the Asiatic Society of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 1784-1883, Part 2 ( Reprint, Calcutta: Asiatic Society. 1986). 

Johnson, Donald Clay (1985/1986)  “German influences on the development of research library in nineteenth-century Bengal”. South Asia Library Notes and queries, Issue No. 19-20. 

Knighton, William (1990) Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haidar of Oudh: His Life and Pastimes( reprint New Delhi: Northern Book Centre, 1990). 

Kochhar, Rajesh (2008a)  “Seductive orientalism: English education and modern science in colonial India”. Social Scientist, Vol. 26, pp. 45-63. 

Kochhar, Rajesh (2008b)  “Cultivation of science in the 19th century Bengal”. Indian Journal of Physics, Vol. 82,  pp. 1005-1082). 

Lethbridge, Roper (1893) The Golden Book of India (London: Macmillan). 

Lords (1853) Second Report from the Select Committee of the  House of Lords  on Government of Indian Territories, Session 4 Nov. 1852- 20 Aug. 1853. 

Lushington, Charles (1824) The History, Design, and Present State of the Religious, Benevolent and Charitable Institutions, Founded by the British in Calcutta and Its Vicinity ( Calcutta:  Hindostanee Press) . 

Mittra, Peary Chand (1877) A Biographical Sketch of David Hare (ed. Gauranga Gopal Sengupta) (  Calcutta : Jijnasa,1979). 

Monteath, Alexander M. (1867) “Note on the education in India, 1865-66”. Selections from the Records of the Government of India, Home Department, No.  LIV, Calcutta. 

Oesterheld, Christina (2006) “Deputy Nazir Ahmad and the Delhi College”. In Pernau (2006), pp. 299-324.

Pernau, Margrit (ed.) (2006) The Delhi College ( Delhi: Oxford University Press). 

Rahman, Mojibur (1977) History of Madrasah Education with Special Reference to Calcutta Madrasah and W.B. Madrasah Education Board (Calcutta: Rais Anwar Rahman & Brothers). 

Said, Edward W. (1978) Orientalism (Reprint: Penguin Books, 1995). 

Sanial,  S.  C. (1914) “Calcutta Madrassa”. Bengal Past and Present, Vol. 8, pp.83-111; 225-250. 

Seal, Anil (1968) The Emergence of Indian Nationalism ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). 

Selections XIV (1854) Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, No. XIV. Papers relating to the Establishment of the Presidency College of Bengal ( Calcutta: Bengal Military Asylum Press). 

Sender,  Henry (1986) “Kashmiri Pandits and their changing role in the culture of Delhi”. In : Delhi Through the Ages ( ed. : R. E. Frykenberg)  (Delhi: Oxford University Press), p. 331. 

Sharp, H. (1920) Selections from Education Records, Part I: 1781-1839 (Calcutta: Government Press). 

Toynbee, George (1888) A Sketch of the Hooghly District from 1795 to 1845 (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press).

Samanta, Basanta Kumar (2010) Chapter added to Zachariah (1936), with the whole book titled  Origin and Development of an Institution of Higher Education: A History of Hooghly Mohsin College ( Reprint of K. Zachariah’s History of Hooghly College 1836-1936, with additional chapters covering the period from 1937 to 1990) ( Hooghly: Hooghly Mohsin College). 

Zachariah, K (1936) History of Hooghly Mohsin College 1836-1936 (Reprint, Alipore: Bengal Government Press, 2010).





Natural history in India during 18th and 19th centuries

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on February 26th, 2013 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

Journal of Biosciences,  2013,  Vol.  38,  No. 2, pp. 201-224

European access to India was a multi-dimensional phenomenon. The merchant-rulers were keen to identify commodities that could be profitably exported to Europe, cultivate commercial plants in India that grew outside their possessions, and find substitutes for drugs and simples that were obtained from the Americas. The ever increasing scientific community in Europe was excited about the opportunities that the vast landmass of India offered in natural history studies. On their part, the Christianity enthusiasts in Europe viewed European rule in India as a godsend for propagating the Gospel in the east. These seemingly diverse interests converged at various levels. Christian missionaries as a body were the first educated Europeans in India. Like in philology, they were pioneers in natural history also. They constituted a valuable resource for naturalists in Europe. European interest in their field work brought them scientific recognition as well as the much needed cash. More significantly, they introduced the colonial administrators, especially the medical men, to systematic botany.

One can make a clear distinction between pre-Linnaean and Linnaean phases in European foray into  Indian natural history. Europe was introduced to western Indian drugs and simples by the 1563 work of  the Goa-based Portuguese physician Garcia d’Orta (1501/2–1568) . A century later, during 1678-1693, the Dutch administrator Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein (1636–1691) furnished Europe  with information from south India. In both cases, the initiative originated in the colonies itself (Kochhar 2012). Things changed in the second half of the 18th century. Now, individual European naturalists and institutions wanted not only specimens from India but also bits of tacit knowledge resident in local population. The European India was ready and willing to oblige, but as a collaborator rather than a courier. We shall focus on India-based Europeans who built a scientific reputation for themselves; there were of course others who merely served as suppliers.


For full text see

Important developments in American and Indian natural history during 16-17th centuries

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on February 19th, 2013 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

For details see the following reference. This Table however does not appear in the paper.

Kochhar R 2012 Early natural history: contributions from the Americas and India.  J Biosciences 37 937-947.

DOI 10.1007/s12038-012-9272-9

Period             Person(s)


1511-1530 Pedro Martir de Angleria (1457-1526) Publishes information on some New World drugs
1526, 1535 Oviedo (1478-1557) Describes more than 250 American animal and plants
1533 Padua University appoints a professor of botany
1545 Padua University establishes a botanic garden
1552 Martin de la Cruz / Juan Badiano Prepares/ translates  a digest on Aztec healthcare practices and herbs, known as Codex Barberini, Latin, 241
1555 Laguna (c. 1510- 1559) Mentions some New World drugs in his commentary on Dioscorides’ Materia Medica
1563 Garcia d’Orta (1501/2-1568) Colloquies published in Portuguese from Goa. Includes first ever publication of Camoes’ work
1565-1574 Nicolas Bautista Monardes (c. 1493-1588) Various  editions of  his work on American drugs, including tobacco, in Spanish
1567 Clusius (1526-1609) Latin abridgement of d’Orta
1570-1577 Francisco Hernandez (1515-1587) Royal Spanish Mission to America; influential manuscript, not published in entirety.
1574 Clusius(1526-1609) Translates Monardes into Latin
1578-1580 Bernardino de Sahagun (1499-1590) Influential manuscript Florentine Codex on Aztec natural history etc.
1578 Christobal Acosta (c. 1514-1594) Extends d’Orta’s work in his Tracado
1582 Clusius (1526-1609) Prepares composite natural history combining d’Orta, Monardes and C. Acosta.
1590 Jose de Acosta (1540-1600) Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias  gives valuable information on the flora of Western South America
1628 Johannes Faber (1574-1629) Animalia Mexicana
1630 Johannes de Laet (1581-1649) New edition of Nieuwe Wereldt  incorporates information on American materia medica for sailors/ merchants
1651 Federico Cesi (1585-1634) Cesi and others complete the encyclopedic work Rerum, with Hernandez as the nucleus.
1678 Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede (1636–1691) Hortus Indicus Malabaricus published from Amsterdam
1686-1692 Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede (1636–1691) 12-volume Hortus Malabaricus