Posts Tagged ‘Colonial Punjab’

Ruchi Ram Sahni 150th Birth Anniversary Year Celebrations Inaugural Function, Panjab University Chandigarh 5 April 2013: Introductory Remarks

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on April 7th, 2013 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

Co-Convener  Panjab University Ruchi Ram Sahni 150th Birth Anniversary Celebrations  Committee

Distinguished Guests, Friends!

I would like to make a couple of quick points. First, why is Ruchi Ram Sahni not better known? One obvious reason is sharp discontinuity introduced by the Partition.  But I think the real reason is more fundamental. Ruchi Ram was a singularity. He did not fit into an existing pattern. There was no pre-history leading up to him nor were there lasting developments emanating from him.

Lahore stood in sharp contrast to Calcutta and Bombay. In Bengal, a sustained public campaign had prepared bright young men to opt for a career in science. PC Ray was trained in Britain on a government scholarship. Presidency College was equipped with a laboratory that would have ranked with the best in the world in its time. He was able to establish an international reputation for himself as also a school which spread the culture of chemistry throughout the country. For example, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar’s chemistry professor in Lahore was a student of PC Ray. Unlike Ray, Ruchi Ram did not have facilities to train young people and establish a school around himself.

Bombay was not interested in theoretical chemistry. But it greatly valued industrial development.  TK Gajjar who taught in a College was able to get industrial chemistry inducted into the University system. He himself directed a laboratory where he trained chemists to become entrepreneurs. Remarkably, his private lab was recognized by the Bombay University. To Gajjar goes the credit for  the introduction of synthetic dyes into textile industry.

A comparison of the cultures of the colonial Calcutta, Bombay and Lahore would be a very rewarding historical exercise indeed.

Ruchi Ram was a remarkable and multi-faceted personality. He refused to put up with racism and colonial arrogance. As a meteorologist, he, on his own responsibility, predicted a severe cyclone in the Bay of Bengal; explained to the Lahore High Court ( then known as Chief Court) when a Hindu would cease to be one; and did not hesitate to take even street action to save The Tribune from falling into the wrong hands.

But, is Ruchi Ram relevant today? The answer is yes. It is a sad thing to say, but in matters relating to science, we have retrograded to where we were 120 years ago. Ruchi Ram was a firm believer in the generation of wealth through science. He himself set up a profitable workshop for making instruments and a sulphuric acid plant. He also made money by dabbling in real estate. This is probably his only activity that would appeal to his successors today.

Ruchi Ram advocated employment-oriented technical education; strove for science teaching in the mother tongue; and emphasized the importance of practical training in school and college science education. If we look at today’s unhealthy emphasis on the services sector; total neglect of school education under government auspices; and the emergence of CET-driven devalued science teaching, we realize that Ruchi Ram is probably more relevant today that he was in his own time.

Thank you.

Punjab’s pioneering scientist: Professor Ruchi Ram Sahni (1863-1948)

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on April 6th, 2013 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

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

Rajesh Kochhar

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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