DU at 100: Ramjas College took a university from the middle-class to the masses | Latest News Delhi

New Delhi: Initially, only three main colleges existed in Delhi – St Stephen’s, founded in the year 1881 and largely catering to the elite; Hindu College, formed in the year 1899 to incorporate the common masses, but one that ended up largely accommodating the rich middle-class until Ramjas college was formed in the year 1917. The college, founded by an eminent jurist at the time, Rai Kedar Nath, was aimed at being the institution at the time which could accommodate the city’s common folk and provide them education, a tradition that has since then continued, with it still being considered as a college of the masses, to this very day.

Rai Kedar Nath began the foundation of what is the Ramjas college in the year 1916, after he started a high school from a small rented house Chandni Chowk’s Kucha Natwan. However, by 1917, he decided to lay down the foundation of a full-fledged college, establishing it in Daryaganj, where at the present day, Ramjas School Number 1 and the Ramjas Foundation’s office currently lies. The foundation to this day runs the Ramjas college, along with 16 Ramjas schools. The college was named by Rai Kedar Nath after his father, Lala Ramjas Mal.

With DU forming in 1922, Ramjas was also brought under its ambit, however, despite being under the government’s control, the Ramjas foundation kept looking at the administrative work of the college. In 1924, the Daryaganj site was used to create an intermediate college, with the original college then shifting to Anand Parbat (known as Kala pahad) at the time. The shift largely occurred as Delhi became the capital of the English East India Company, with a need to shift these prominent colleges from the small, crowded lanes of old Delhi towards the city. While Stephen’s and Hindu college were allotted a place in the city, Ramjas was provided with a plot of land which was relatively on the outskirts, however, Rai Kedar Nath was still grateful that he was being provided land free of cost – one which he could use to build a larger campus.

As college folklore goes, the Anand Parbat campus was intrinsically linked with Mahatma Gandhi and the freedom struggle. It is believed, soon after the college was established there, Mahatma Gandhi was invited by Rai Kedar Nath to see the efforts being made at the college to educate the people of Delhi and while Gandhi was happy with the work being undertaken there, he was unhappy with the name of the area (Kala Pahad), suggesting it to be changed to Anand Parbat, as the college was acting as a light and beacon for not just the area, but for students coming from far-off places too.

“The naming of the area itself is linked to Mahatma Gandhi’s visit and what he believed was Ramjas acting as the shining light for the area,” says Manoj Khanna, the current principal of Ramjas College. “While Gandhi is believed to have laid the foundation stone too, this is no longer traceable, presumably due to factories mushrooming out in the area over the years,” he says.

The location of this campus was also important in many ways, with the Sarai Rohilla railway station barely a kilometer away. It linked the walled city with this campus and the train station also allowed students from far-off places such as Alwar, Rewari, Jhajjar and Pataudi in reaching Delhi and studying at Ramjas.

It is also believed Ramjas students played a key role in the struggle for freedom, which only grew stronger in the years to come. Delhi’s premier education institution at the time, St Stephen’s largely kept itself aloof from the freedom struggle, with this general indifference of the college largely being appreciated by the British government. St Stephen’s was considered a loyal educational institution at the time by Sir Malcolm Hailey, the prime architect of the Delhi University Bill. He expressed similar views for Hindu College when he was the chief commissioner of Delhi. In contrast, Ramjas College, according to police records, was under the scanner due to the active involvement of its students in the freedom struggle.

From the time the Civil disobedience movement began, Ramjas students and teachers were often found to be at the forefront of all agitations that took place in Delhi. As such go, Chandra Shekhar Azad is believed to have hidden in the hostel of the college, disguised as a Sikh student, with Ramjas students successfully helping him evade the British government.

“There are several files in the Delhi University records in which letters from the police department are available in connection with the involvement of its students from the freedom movement,” says Rahul Jain, part of the helpdesk committee at the college.

In an address to Ramjas students in the year 1939, Sir Maurice Gwyer, the then Chief Justice of India and the vice-chancellor of DU, said, “In these times of intellectual and political ferment, the responsibility placed upon teachers of the young is very great. One of the most important things that a university training ought to enable us to acquire is a sense of proportion. I hope too that they will always have in mind two great principles for which a University ought to stand for – self-discipline and freedom of thought. ”

A plaque, commemorating all Ramjas students involved in the Quit India Movement of 1942 is still present at the current campus to this day.

While Rai Kedarnath passed away in the year 1942, his legacy was carried forward by Sardar Gurumukh Nihal Singh, who became the head of the college. Jawahar Lal Nehru was said to be deeply impacted by Singh’s personality as a college principal and later inducted him into politics too, making him the Labor minister of India. After the death of Rai Kedarnath, BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution of India and the first Minister of Law and Justice of India is also said to have acted as the Chairman of Governing Body of Ramjas college – the only DU college to have had this honor.

“While no photographs exist of Dr Ambedkar from his Governing Body meetings, there are minutes of the meeting records, which mention his name and a receiving from his end. He is believed to have played a key role in shaping the college after Rai Kedarnath’s death, ”said Khanna.

With India finally achieving Independence in 1947, thus came the impact of the partition and with refugees coming from various colleges of Lahore to Delhi, it was Gurumukh Nihal Singh who arranged a governing body and later announced the opening of an evening shift of the college with syllabi which was similar to that of Punjab University in Lahore. This example was later followed by Hindu College and the Indraprastha College for Women.

It is also believed that the trend of newspaper delivery boys came soon after, largely beginning from Ramjas college and its students. With refugee colonies for these students being located in far-off places such as Kingsway Camp, Azadpur, Lajpat Nagar, Patel Nagar, Rajendra Nagar and trans-Yamuna areas, it was difficult for students to reach college. There was no public bus service in Delhi at the time and tongas were an expensive mode of transportation.

“To begin with, only 73 male students enrolled themselves in the evening branch and attendance used to be poor. The college recognized the problem and the entire faculty, along with the principal, arranged funds so these refugees could be given bicycles. At the time, newspapers used to be printed and sold in the Daryaganj and Jama Masjid area and so these refugee students, who would ride through the area, began to see it as a source of income, offering to deliver newspapers to other parts of Delhi. as well. This not only gave them a source of income but helped spread the news too, ”explains Debraj Mookerjee, Associate Professor, English, who has been teaching at the college since 1991.

The college eventually shifted to its present building in the year 1951, with Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, inaugurating the current campus on January 17, 1951. January 17 is now celebrated every year as the college’s foundation day now.

On February 12, 1959, the American leader, Martin Luther King Jr. is also believed to have visited Ramjas college, delivering a memorable lecture which is still talked about, to this day. Amongst the other famous visitors to the college include Noble Prize winner, Marie Curie, who is said to have visited twice, in the 1930s.

The college has a rich history, which is equally rich in terms of its well-known alumnus. Chaudhary Brahm Prakash, the first chief minister of Delhi, was a Ramjas student. Former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee also used to live on the college campus for several years. The other prominent alumni include actors Manoj Bajpai, Shekhar Suman and Rahul Roy; former Chief Justice of India, Justice YK Sabharwal, film directors Prakash Jha, and Vikas Bahl and Manish Jha; Indian Ocean singer Himanshu Joshi and Indian cricketer Praveen Kumar.

Ramjas college today is ranked among the top educational institutions in India. The campus caters to over 5,000 students, faculty and admin staff, with separate women’s and men’s hostels that can accommodate over 200 students. The college also has sports facilities for football, volleyball, tennis, basketball, archery, track and field and a state-of-the-art gym.

While academics and sports have seen the college, violence has not been new to the college either. In the 70s and 80s, the college grew an infamous reputation of being a ‘Gunda’ college, with a short period of 15 years seeing a change in 14 principals. This was when Rajendra Prasad took over in 1985, serving the college for 32 years to become its longest-serving principal. “It is important to recognize this period of decline too and these difficult battles often culminate in victory and Ramjas was also able to turn that around and shed that reputation,” said Prasad. College officials say during the time, violence breaking out was not too uncommon, with politics playing a key role as well.

More recently, Ramjas saw clashes break out in February of 2017 when members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) disrupted ‘Cultures of Protest’ – a literature event organized by the English Department of the Ramjas College. ABVP had objected to the participation of JNU’s Umar Khalid, with protests breaking out from both the left and the right both outside and inside the campus on the day of the event. This also saw stone-pelting and chants like ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ rang outside the college. Several students were hurt during these protests, with the Delhi Police also taking action against three of its cops for failing to control the protest.

Incidentally, this was also the year Ramjas celebrated its 100 years.


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