Hundred Years of the University of Calcutta 1857-1956

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When the University of Calcutta was formally founded on 24 January, 1857, in pursuance of the despatch from the Court of Directors to the Governor-General-in-Council, dated 19 July,1854, everything and everywhere in India appeared to “promise a prosperous course to the new University”. The fierce controversy between “conveying instruction through the medium of
the English language or through that of the Vernaculars” had settled down in favour of the former, but at the same time, saner minds were coming round to “the opinion that the other method
also must not be neglected, indeed, must be used more and more as occasion offered itself”. In so far as Bengal and her north-western neighbours, the Deccan and the South were concerned,there were in evidence signs of increasing political stability and social security. A new class of landed and professional gentry,
indeed, a new middle class, was growing with more and more interests vested in the new social and political order. This class was very eager to take the fullest advantage of the system of education sponsored and initiated by the three universities. In Calcutta, in particular, a number of literary, social and cultural
organisations had been long at work, organisations inspired and actuated by Western thought and Western attitude towards life, so that the ground was ready to receive the plant transhipped
by the despatch of 1854.But the University had not been founded six months when throughout a considerable segment of northern India,large scale mutinous activities broke the peace and shook the security and stability of vast tracts of the land. Since Bengal and Calcutta were far removed from the centres of these disturbances, educational establishments in these areas,including the young and tender plant that was the University of
Calcutta, did not have to suffer the direct effects of insecurity,storm and stress. But the indirect effect was not slow to make itself felt.What William Ritchie, the Vice-Chancellor, said in course of his Convocation Address on 6 March, 1860, is relevant in this connection:
“… Powerful minds in Europe took alarm and mistaking… the causes of the fearful outbreak, … they augured gloomily of the success of the plans of 1854, and thought it would be prudent and expedient to retrace the steps then taken. Lord Ellenborough and Sir George Clerk, statesmen whose opinions are entitled to the greatest respect, in State paper, penned with their usual ability, sounded the tocsin of alarm as to education, and
authoritatively announced that the promised good had not been derived from the system of 1854, while they deprecated the increase thereby caused.”
Fortunately, the cloud of alarm soon dissipated itself. For one thing, the promoters of the University were mostly of the view that giving more and more education of the kind envisaged in the despatch of 1854, was the surest inoculation against political or civil discontent and unrest. “Of all the defences of a State, the surest, the best and the cheapest is the education of its
people,” said Vice-Chancellor Ritchie in his Convocation Address of 6 March, 1860. “Educate your people from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, and a second mutiny of 1857 … will be impossible.” Halliday also drew the same lessons from the political commotion of 1857.

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