Posts Tagged ‘Government College Lahore’

Government College University Lahore: Book Review

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on October 22nd, 2017 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

This is an enlarged version of the Book Review published in TheTribune(Spectrum) 22 October 2017


Khalid Aftab (2017) Against All Odds: Institute Building in the Real World (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications)



Rajesh Kochhar

Panjab University Chandigarh

[email protected]


The author, Prof. Khalid Aftab, served as the Principal of Government College Lahore (GCL) from 1993 till 2002. Thanks to his sustained efforts, the College was made into a full-fledged Government College University Lahore (GCUL) in 2002 with him as the first Vice-Chancellor which post he held till 2011. He was thus at the helm of the institution’s affairs for close to two decades.

He has now written a personalized memoir describing how discipline was enforced against all odds, and academic standards raised. It is interesting to note that political leadership and bureaucracy who had happily been meddling in the college affairs finally became a party to efforts to try to restore it to its former glory. It of course helped that many influential people were old students of the College. The only other college in the sub-continent which has been comparable to GCL is Presidency College Kolkata which became a university in 2010. A comparative study of these two institutions would be instructive indeed.

Introduction of English education into the erstwhile Sikh kingdom was an immediate consequence of its annexation by the British in 1849. The colonial education policy in Punjab however was markedly different from that in Bengal. In Bengal and Bombay, the colonialists had the convenience of dealing with a mercantile class which they themselves had created and which was very enthusiastic about English. In contrast in Punjab the British had to come to terms with the rajas, zamindars, and raeeses who did not place high premium on western education.

Government College Lahore was formally established on 1 January 1864. Its first regular Principal was not hand-picked bureaucratically, but selected on the basis of an open newspaper advertisement in England. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, who arrived in November that year, was an oriental scholar and at the time a lecturer in Arabic and Muslim Law at King’s College London.


Throughout the colonial period, GCL remained a bastion of  liberal English education. The two Punjabi science Nobel laureates, Har Gobind Khorana and Abdul Salam were former students, who were and are called Ravians after the College Magazine which in turn took its name from the river. Other prominent names among the old Ravians include  Faiz Ahmad Faiz (poet), Khushwant Singh (writer) and Dev Anand (actor).


At GCL as well as elsewhere English education scene was dominated by Hindus. I have carried out an actual head count of teaching staff at GCL during 1944-45. Of the 46  faculty members (excluding the Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit departments), only 11 or 24% were Muslim. With the migration of non-Muslims to India in 1947, GCL (as well as other educational institutions in Pakistan Punjab) was drastically depleted, with reverse Muslim migration from India having a very small compensatory effect.


Because of the post-colonial socio-political changes it became impossible for the College to maintain its earlier elitist culture. ‘[T]he events that unfolded on the campus in the 1980s were worse than at any time in the past’. Throughout the sub-continent, college and university hostels almost invariably situated in the heart of the city  hold great attraction for anti-social elements whether they are enrolled as students or not. True to form, politically-backed lumpen elements increasingly gained ascendancy in GCL thanks to the appeasement policy adopted by the College administration. Rival student factions took control of the hostels and converted the College campus into a battleground.


In November 1993, Dr Khalid Aftab, then the head of economics department, was called by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for a meeting. It is not every day that a prime minister officially meets a college professor. We do not know anything about the background to the meeting but it turned out to be a watershed in the history of the college.


The meeting was held in the Governor’s house under whose administrative control the College lay.  To the College’s good luck, both the Prime Minister and Governor were old Ravians . Given the lawlessness that prevailed in the college, it is understandable that the Inspector General of Police was asked to be present. The Mayor of Lahore who was a close political associate of the Prime Minister also attended. When the Prime Minister asked Dr Aftab  to take charge of the College and stem the rot, the Principal-designate boldly pointed towards the Mayor and aid that his son was an important gang leader of the College. Very astutely, Nawaz Sharif changed the topic by drawing attention to the high quality of the prawns being served as snack, but surely the pre-prawn message was not lost on the Mayor.


The first task before the new Principal was instilling the fear of authority in the minds of students and staff. On his third day in office, the Principal was greeted by exchange of gun fire in a College hostel. The incident was not new but the official response was. The College filed a complaint with the police, expelled the gang leaders, and refused to budge notwithstanding the all-round political pressure and the threats from the expelled students’ families.   Similarly, the wife of a faculty member who served as superintendent of the girls’ hostel rudely told the Principal that since she had been appointed on directions from the Prime Minister’s wife she was not answerable to him. She was dismissed.


In a major development, GCL was given degree-awarding status in 1997. The influential Committee on Education of members of  Punjab Assembly had no objection to the move except that they wanted a bigger share in the Board of Governors of the autonomous College. Being powerful, politicians can be direct in their demands but vested interests employ devious strategies. Under its newly found autonomy, GCL set out to revise the syllabus, and brought out a book in English reading and comprehension for BA students, by ‘a foreign qualified teacher, Suraiya Shafi Mir. Authors of guide books based on old curriculum, the Urdu Bazar  publishers and book sellers, supported by a section of press launched vicious campaign against the new English curriculum. A privilege motion was tabled in the Punjab Assembly alleging that the new curriculum was anti-Islamic. The matter however  was settled in the College’s favour on the personal intervention of the Education Minister, a retired brigadier. At the end, an erstwhile objector, who ‘represented a religious group of Southern Punjab’ asked for a copy of the controversial book for use by his own children!


One of the most illustrious alumni of GCL was Abdus Salam  who was a student during 1942-1946 and then a professor during 1951-54. He went on to jointly win the 1979 Nobel physics prize. Pakistan however was most reluctant to own him because he was an Ahmadiya. An internationally appreciated initiative of Principal Aftab was to get government sanction in 1996 for a chair in Salam’s name.


Islamic Studies was a compulsory course at the undergraduate leve. GCUL’s curriculum on it was criticized in sections of the press and denounced as un-Islamic in the Friday sermon in many mosques. The situation was serious enough for ISI to depute an officer to visit the College for investigation. The new curriculum demanded extensive reading in subjects like philosophy of Islam and a few articles in English. While the students and most of the faculty were happy with the curriculum, a handful of teachers felt unequal to the task. Finally, the rabble-rouser was identified as a teacher in the College doubled as an Imam in a mosque in the walled city. The problem was solved by repatriating erring teachers back to the government education department and hiring younger teachers. It is noteworthy that serving army officers and retired army officers in administrative positions were quite supportive of the Dr Aftab’s modernizing agenda.



In 2002 the Higher Education Commission (HEC) permitted GCUL to hire foreign faculty. The experiment was considered to be a success except in cases where the foreign academics were of Pakistani origin. In the ‘peak years’ there were as many as 53 such professors, but by 2015 their number had fallen to zero.


Dr Aftab took a commendable initiative in collecting memorabilia connected with eminent people. The daughter of the celebrated Urdu writer Noon Meem Rashid presented the University with her father’s smoker’s pipe. She also presented a typewriter which had originally belonged to Saadat Hasan Manto and which he had sold to Rashid for 16 rupees.


Following a top-down approach, HEC announced financial incentives for promoting research among the faculty. Excessive pressures led to instances of plagiarism. An economics teacher had the temerity to lift passages from the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen for his paper in the College journal. He was forced to quit. In another case however the University was rendered helpless. Even though it was proven that  a PhD thesis in chemistry was based on ‘other’s data’, the University was ordered by the High Court to award the degree.


Academic administrators often find government auditors unreasonable. The audit team visiting GCUL objected to the purchase of furniture for the library on the ground that government rules forbade it. The argument that that a library would be meaningless without furniture cut no ice with the auditors who went to the extreme of suggesting that the cost be personally recovered from the Vice-Chancellor. He had to appear before the Public Accounts Committee of the Punjab Assembly for explanation. Finally, the matter was laid to rest by obtaining ex-post-facto permission from the Chief Minister. Interestingly, all the trouble could have been avoided if under-the-table payment had been made to the audit team as demanded!


A major contribution of Dr Aftab towards infrastructural development was the acquisition of a 370-acre chunk of land in the nearby Kala Shah Kaku town of Sheikhupura district. Dr Aftab’s friend from College days was now a big businessman and politically very well connected. At his daughter’s wedding, he contrived a meeting of the VC with the President and the Punjab Chief Minister which finally clinched the long pending issue. Here was an instance of high-powered networking being used for institutional purposes rather than personal gain.


No VC of a state-funded university has ever found a way of ensuring that government grants are released in time and the budget deficit is bridged as a matter of course. In 2010-11, GCUL’s total expenditure stood at 695 million rupees while the income was only 612 million rupees leaving a shortfall of 83 million. Over the years the University was able to build a reserve fund of 550 million rupees. Curiously, the administration was asked to keep the fund secret because the government finance department ‘kept sniffing for unspent grants like a hound’. Of course, the reserve fund is no more a secret!


Dr Aftab visited India in 2006 on invitation from India-based Ravians. The highpoint of his eminently successful and emotionally charged tour was his brief visit to his birthplace Muktsar where his grandfather had been a successful medical practitioner. (According to a report in The Tribune, Dr Aftab’s father, Dr Mohammad Khan, was a government veterinary doctor who anticipating the partition had already bought property in what became Pakistan.) The president of the municipal council presented Dr Aftab with a copy of his birth certificate and pointed out that even though Muktsar had produced three chief ministers, only one of its citizens had risen to the high position of a Vice- Chancellor.


Within a few years of 1947 both Pakistan and India renamed their part of Punjab as the Punjab as if theirs was the only one. It would have been better to retain the epithet East and West to underscore the fact that both are portions of a common cultural entity.


Dr Aftab closes his professional biography by quoting Iqbal: ‘The days of this Faqir have come to an end/ Another Seer may come or not.’


Dr Aftab was history’s choice for leading the Government College Lahore  and the Government College University Lahore at a critical juncture. His memoirs thus have an intrinsic value. They would also be of use to anybody interested in the post-1947 history of educational institutions not only in Pakistan but also elsewhere in the sub-continent.  /



English education in the 19th century Punjab

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on October 29th, 2013 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

Reprinted from Kochhar, Rajesh et al (eds) (2013) The Making of Modern Punjab: Education, Science  and Social Change c. 1850-c. 2000, pp. 15-19 ( Chandigarh: Panjab University). 



Punjab was the second last territorial addition to British India. The ground realities here were different and the primary British concern was geopolitics rather than commerce. Education under colonial auspices followed a different route in Punjab than elsewhere. In Bengal, the British had the convenience of dealing with a new social class which had become wealthy through European connection and was favourably inclined towards English language. In contrast, in Punjab the British had to come to terms with the old aristocracy which had no major interest in English. In fact, the enthusiasm which Calcutta and its hinterland as well as the city of Bombay showed for English was not visible anywhere else in the country. In Bengal, the East India Company had been very keen to impart Western education and thought to the Indians through the medium of English. In Punjab however the officials who wanted the oriental languages to be recognized and respected gained ascendancy and successfully enlisted the support of the nobility and the gentry.

In the early years the colonial administration had kept the missionaries and the Christianity enthusiasts in its own ranks on a tight leash lest their evangelical zeal produce a backlash. However, by the mid 19th century such fears had passed. Missionary activity was strictly prohibited in the British India territories till the 1823 Charter gave permission to the British missionaries. The next Charter in 1833 extended the concession to non-British missions. Taking advantage of this, American Presbyterians opened a Mission in Ludhiana, on the outskirts of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom, in 1834. The Lodiana Mission as it was called opened a church in 1837 as well as a school.

Significantly the first ever English school in Lahore was a missionary school. As if in anticipation of the Punjab events, the American Presbyterian Rev. Charles William Forman (1821-1894) who had arrived in India in 1847 moved to Lahore in 1849. Many British military officers felt that since they had conquered Punjab, their own missionaries should work here. Accordingly the Anglican Church Missionary Society arrived in Punjab  in 1852 and since the Americans were already ensconced in Lahore chose to make Umritsur [Amritsar] their centre. Both the sets of missionaries worked together harmoniously, receiving handsome help and assistance from high Government functionaries at official and personal levels.

In December 1849 Forman opened an  English school  in Lahore with three students who were taught under a tree. In 1853, the school  settled in a palace known as Rang Mahal which lent its name to the School. Both Lahore and Amritsar displayed remarkable anxiety for learning English. Many Punjabi ‘noblemen and gentlemen’ made private arrangements for teaching English to their sons, and ‘many natives of Bengal who possess a smattering of English find employment as teachers’. The government opened a school in Amritsar in 1849-50 ( because Lahore already had the Mission School), with  English, Hindi, Persian, Arabic and Gurmukhi departments. Within a year, the school came to have a daily attendance of about 150.  About one fourth of the students enrolled for English. ‘The Seikh students of Goormukhee’ were about one fifth of the total. Among the Sikhs, ‘the prevailing caste’ was Jat; among the Hindus Khatris and Brahmins. There was similarly a flourishing English school in Rawalpindi, ‘supported with the sanction of the citizens by a surplus town duty proceeds’. Both the Amritsar and the Rawalpindi schools were handed over to the missionaries.

From 1849 till 1853, Punjab was governed by a Board of Administration, with education placed under the charge of the Judicial Commissioner. This is how [Sir] Robert Montgomery (1809-1887) who held office as Lieutenant Governor 1859-1865)  came to introduce the new education system. In February 1853, the system of governance was changed with the appointment of a Chief Commissioner, and education assigned (in September 1854) to the Financial Commissioner, Donald Friell McLeod (1810-1872) who subsequently (1865-1870) served as the Lieutenant Governor. In January 1856 a Department of Public Instruction was established with William Delafield Arnold (1829-1859) as its first Director. After his death the appointment went to Abraham Richard Fuller (1828-1867) who held office from 1860 till death. These early names are important because there were medals and scholarships instituted in their name.

A cess of one per cent of the land tax was attached to the education department for meeting government expenditure on education and for giving grant-in-aid to approved schools. The Government focused its attention on village schools while English education at district level was left to the Mission schools.  By 1857, the Anglican Mission was running schools in Amritsar, Peshawar, Kangra, Kotgarh, and Ferozepur Cantonment, while the Presbyterians had schools in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Jullundur, Ludhiana, Sialkot, Ambala City and Ambala Cantonment. Most of these were aided by the Government. Satisfied that the schools were providing ‘a sound secular education’, the Government gave them aid. It ‘takes no cognizance of and certainly offers no opposition to’ their teaching the Christian religion.

One of the very first administrative decisions taken by the British in Punjab concerned language. In the Sikh kingdom period, Persian had been the language of the court and of public business.  Between 1851 and 1854, Persian was officially replaced not with Punjabi but with Urdu in Persian script.  With the 1857 decline of Delhi and Lucknow, Lahore emerged as the main centre of Urdu literary activities. In Punjab, missionary and government educational efforts came to complement each other. The government focused on vernacular education at village level and the missionaries on the English. For the missionaries, English education was not an end in itself but as a means towards effecting conversions. When some students were baptized, there was a severe backlash and students were withdrawn. Hindus were not too enamoured of Urdu which they identified with Muslims rather than the province. This is how the government’s initiative for secular English education emerged, and Hindus took steps to introduce English for their children in combination with Hindi and Sanskrit rather than Urdu. The identification of  language ( Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi) with religious communities ( Muslim, Sikh, Hindu) would produce far-reaching consequences in colonial Punjab and later in Indian Punjab.

More than a decade after the Presbyterian initiative, Lahore got, in 1860, a Government High School. In the meantime in 1858, Delhi was transferred from the North West Province to Punjab. Two Government Colleges were opened in Punjab in 1864 as affiliates of Calcutta University. While the one at Lahore (established 1 January 1864) went from strength to strength, the one opened in Delhi remained short-lived. It was closed in 1877, and the students and faculty transferred to Lahore. It was only in 1881 that Delhi got a new College, St Stephen’s, which was affiliated to Calcutta University. But as soon as Punjab University was instituted, the affiliation was transferred, Finally, in 1922 the College became an affiliate of  the newly founded Delhi University . There was another unsuccessful attempt at college education. The (Rang Mahal) Mission School opened College classes in 1866, but they were closed in 1869 because of poor response. Lahore Mission College was finally opened in 1886 and renamed Forman Christian College in 1894.


Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner (1840-1899) was selected as the Principal of Government College Lahore on the basis of an open advertisement in London newspapers rather than being handpicked by bureaucrats. He was an able linguist and at the time a lecturer in Arabic and Muslim Law at King’s College London. He arrived in Lahore in November 1864. As early as 21 January 1865, he took  the lead in  establishing a vernacular literary society Anjuman-i-Punjab with the twin objective of  the ‘revival of ancient Oriental learning’ and ‘the diffusion of useful knowledge’ ‘through the medium of the Vernacular’. The Anjuman which counted among its members not only the officials but also influential citizens, was in the forefront in campaigning for the establishment of an Oriental University.


As a prelude to a full-fledged university, Punjab University College Lahore was opened in 1870 and provided with a representative governing body called the Senate which included the chief donors or their representatives. The same year it established two important institutions: Oriental School renamed Oriental College in 1872; and Law School. The University College could conduct examinations, and grant scholarships. It could award certificates but not degrees for which one had to separately write Calcutta University examinations. The University College was entrusted with conducting examinations for the Medical School as well.


It is no coincidence that the nationalist Punjab newspaper The Tribune came up a year before the University did. The paper set up in 1881 became a powerful and successful forum to ensure that the new University was not entirely ‘Oriental’ but also imparted Western education through the medium of English. Although Leitner and his associates did not fully succeed in their stated mission, the fourth University in India which came up on 14 October 1882 differed in many ways from the three preceding Presidency town universities all established in 1857. While the earlier universities was named after towns, it was named after a geographical entity. While the Calcutta, Bombay and Madras Universities at the time were merely examining bodies, the Punjab was in addition a teaching University also. It awarded English-based degrees like the preceding universities, but it also made provision ‘for duly recognizing and honouring proficiency in literature and science in the case of those unacquainted with English [italics in original].  A person who had passed various examinations in Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, etc. could piecemeal write additional examinations and  finally obtain the B.A. degree. Such a degree was jocularly known as ‘B.A. via Bathinda’.  The expression probably rose because Bathinda  was (and is)  a major train junction in the (Indian) Punjab with connection to many small stations so that anyone who managed to reach  Bathinda would eventually reach his destination. Jokes apart, it was significant that the Punjab University bestowed its mainstream degrees through a parallel route.


Table 1 lists some of the landmarks in the 19th century history of English education in Punjab.


Table 1. English education in Punjab: Some important dates 1827-1910

1825-1857 Government Delhi College.
1834 American Presbyterian Lodiana [Ludhiana] Mission established. A school established in 1837.
1849 Dec. Mission School opened in Lahore by the American Presbyterian missionary Charles William Forman; shifted to the Rang Mahal palace in 1853.
1851 May Government opens a school in Amritsar; subsequently handed over to the American Mission.
1856 Jan. Punjab Education department set up under  Director of  Public Instruction.
1856 Randhir College (school to begin with) established. Intermediate classes introduced in 1896, degree  in 1945.
1857 English Mission schools operational in  Amritsar, Peshawar, Kangra, Kotgarh, and Ferozepur Cantonment; American Mission schools in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Jullundur, Ludhiana,  Ambala City, Ambala Cantonment, and Sialkot. Most were Government-aided.
1858 Feb. The Delhi territory transferred from North West Province  to Punjab
1860 Apr. 15 Government High School Lahore (Lahore District School) opened with I. C. Beddy as head master
1860 Oct. Medical School Lahore (made into College in 1886).
1861 Brahmo Samaj Lahore.
1864 Jan. 1 Government College Lahore established, with  the principal G. W. Leitner taking charge in Nov.
1864-1877 Government College Delhi. Closed on 1 April 1877; faculty and students transferred to Lahore.
1865 Jan. 21 Anjuman-i-Punjab formed by Leitner
1866-1869 Rang Mahal Mission School Lahore runs College classes.
1870 Punjab University College Lahore established under the control of a Senate (Jan. 11). Oriental School (renamed Oriental College in 1872) and Law School established.
1873 Singh Sabha Amritsar formed.
1875 Government Mayo College of Art Lahore.
1875 Mar. 30 Mohindra College Patiala foundation stone laid. Began as school; intermediate classes added in 1880; B.A. in 1887.
1877 Arya Samaj Lahore.
1881 Feb. 2 The Tribune started at Lahore as a weekly.
1882 Feb. 1 St Stephen’s College Delhi established. Affiliated first to Calcutta University, then to Punjab (1882) and finally to Delhi University (1922)
1882 Oct. 14 Punjab University College made into a degree-awarding Punjab University.
1882 Lahore Veterinary School established.
1884 Nov. 8 Punjab Public Library Lahore established
1886 Government College Lahore receives an annual library grant of Rs 200.
1886 Mission College Lahore opened; renamed Forman Christian College in 1894.
1886 Punjab Chief’s Aitchison College foundation stone laid.
1886 Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College Lahore (school department) established (Jun. 1). Intermediate classes introduced in 1889; B.A. in 1894; M.A. in Sanskrit in 1895.
1889 Railway Technical School Lahore for Eurasian boys. [Now part of Government College of Technology Railway Road Lahore.]
1892 Islamia College Lahore
1892 Mar. 5 Khalsa College Amritsar foundation stone laid. School began in 1893; College  classes  in May 1897
1897 Victoria Diamond Jubilee Hindu Technical Institute Lahore established for Hindu and Sikh boys. [Now part of Government College of Technology Railway Road Lahore.]
1910 Dyal Singh College Lahore established.


Professor Ruchi Ram Sahni (1863-1948): A scientific biography

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on June 11th, 2013 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali 140306, Punjab

Send me an e-mail if you wish to receive  the pdf file.

Physics News 2013, Vol.43, No. 1 (Jan.) pp.19-35

Professor Ruchi Ram Sahni (1863-1948) whose 150th birth anniversary falls this year was the first Indian officer in the India Meteorological Department (1885-1887) and the first Indian professor of science (physics and chemistry) in his alma mater the Government College Lahore where he served for 30 long years (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 laboratory in Manchester where he had young Niels Bohr for scientific company. Ruchi Ram published two well regarded papers on radioactivity in 1915 and 1917 in the Philosophical Magazine.

Ruchi Ram 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 Lahore in 1910, Ruchi Ram became its Trustee in accordance with the provisions of the benefactor’s will. His formal association with the nationalist newspaper The Tribune had to wait for his retirement from government service; he served on its Trust from 1918 till his death in 1948. FaceBook maxweb Twitter maxweb linkedin maxweb googleplus maxweb facebook facebook ChandigarhCity.Info facebook facebook