The Tribune Chandigarh ( Science & Technology) 5 April 2013
Punjab’s pioneering scientist
Professor Ruchi Ram Sahni is an important figure in the scientific, educational, cultural and political history of colonial Punjab. His contribution to the development of scientific temper is path-breaking
Co-convenor Panjab University Ruchi Ram Sahni 150th Birth Anniversary Celebrations Committee.
PROFESSOR Ruchi Ram Sahni (1863-1948), whose 150th birth anniversary falls today, was the first person from Punjab to make his career in science. He was the first Indian officer in the India Meteorological Department (1885-1887) and the first Indian professor of science (physics and chemistry) in Government College, Lahore (1887-1918). He was India’s first nuclear scientist who spent about a year during 1914-1915 as a guest researcher in Ernst Rutherford’s world-famous laboratory in Manchester and published two well-regarded research papers on radioactivity in 1915 and 1917.
A man of many parts, Professor Sahni was, in addition, a science populariser, public speaker, writer, social and religious reformer, successful entrepreneur and commentator on educational and other issues. He made a concerted effort to propagate science through Urdu and Punjabi and integrate it into everyday life and economy. Having been a student who came up in life through scholarships and help from well-meaning people, he took his mentoring role very seriously. A bright young man whom Professor Sahni mentored was Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, later the director of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He was greatly interested in encouraging future students to hone their public speaking skills. Wasim Sajjad, who served as the President of Pakistan (July-November 1993), proudly mentions in his online bio-data that he was the winner, in the early 1960s, of Ruchi Ram Sahni Declamation Prize awarded by Panjab University Lahore.
Professor Sahni was born barely 14 years after the annexation of the Punjab kingdom by the British and lived to see India become independent. His life span thus covers an important part of Punjab’s and India’s history. Professor Sahni was a friend of, and advisor to, the wealthy philanthropist Dyal Singh Majithia (1848-1898), with the reformist Bengal-born Brahmo Samaj serving as a unifying bond. When Dyal Singh College was established in 1910, Professor Sahni became its Trustee in accordance with the provisions of the benefactor’s will. If post-Dyal Singh The Tribune did not fall into wrong hands, it was in no small measure due to the marshalling of brain and brawn resources by Professor Sahni. His formal association with the nationalist newspaper had to wait for his retirement from government service; he served on its Trust from 1918 till his death in 1948.
After retirement, Professor Sahni became active in public life. In 1909 he was awarded the title Rai Sahib which he publicly renounced in 1920 in support of the Khilafat movement at the request of one of the Ali brothers, Shaukat Ali. Professor Sahni, however, did not quite support Mahatma Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation. In 1923, he entered the Punjab Legislative Council as a member of the Swaraj Party.
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