|Post Centenary Golden Jubilee Celebrations|
|Address by His Excellency, the President of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam|
|Post Centenary Golden Jubilee Closing Ceremony|
Address by the Vice-Chancellor
Hon'ble Chancellor of the University of Calcutta and Governor of West Bengal, Shri Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Dr. Pratap Chandra Chunder, Professor Sukhadeo Thorat, Professor Suranjan Das, Professor Tapan Kumar Mukherjee, Dr. Samir Kumar Bandyopadhyay, Distinguished Guests, Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Vice-Chancellors from other Universities, Members of the Senate and the Syndicate, Respected Teachers, Dear Students, Members of the Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a matter of the greatest pleasure for me to extend a very hearty welcome to all of you to the closing ceremony of the Post Centenary Golden Jubilee Celebration of the University of Calcutta. We are extremely grateful to our respected Chancellor, Shri Gopalkrishna Gandhi, for kindly consenting to preside over this function. We extend to him a most cordial welcome. We are fortunate in having Dr. Pratap Chandra Chunder, former Education Minister of India, with us today. Dr. Chunder is not only one of the seniormost alumni of the University but also a very distinguished scholar and author, besides being a legal luminary. We extend to him a very hearty welcome. We extend a very warm welcome to Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat, the Hon'ble Chairman of the University Grants Commission of India and a distinguished economist. We are very happy with the fact that Professor Thorat's maiden visit to our University has coincided with the historic occasion that is being celebrated today.
We are indebted to the former Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Vice-Chancellors of the University of Calcutta for their kind presence among us today. We seek their blessings and good wishes on this auspicious occasion. We are also grateful to Vice-Chancellors of other universities for their kind presence. I wish to mention that the University of Mumbai and the University of Madras are also currently celebrating their 150th years. On behalf of the University of Calcutta we extend our sincere greetings to these two sister universities. We have with us today Prof. S. Ramachandran, Vice-Chancellor, University of Madras, Prof. A. D. Sawant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Mumbai and the Registrar, University of Mumbai. We extend to them a most cordial welcome.
Friends, since this is a historic occasion, I seek your kind permission to make few historical remarks. I promise to be economical with time.
Although the establishment of the University of Calcutta in 1857 was essentially a response to the demands of the time, the idea did not immediately find favour among all sections of the then rulers of the country. In fact, the Court of Directors of the East India Company, guided as it was by other priorities, did not consider it possible "to sanction the institution of a University in Calcutta". However, when Sir Charles Wood joined as the President of the Board of Control of the Company the proposal gathered momentum. The Education Despatch of 19 July, 1854, popularly known as Wood's Despatch, really cleared the path for setting up of universities. The University Act, Act No. II of 1857, was passed by the Legislative Council and received the Governor- General's assent on 24 January 1857. The Act emphasised that the University was to be an imperial university. The Government's intention was to create a University which would cater to the needs of the nobility and upper classes of India. This was stated explicitly by Lord Canning, the first Chancellor of the University and the then Viceroy of India. The British had their own reasons for trying to rally the upper classes behind them. The experience of the revolt of 1857 taught them to appreciate the need for an educated upper class which would act as a bridge between themselves and the people of India at large. "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". The same logic and the same sentiment were voiced year after year by successive Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors.
Since the initiative was taken by the British rulers of India, it is not in the least surprising that the early promoters of the University would by and large come from the British ruling class and that they would provide the ideology and inspiration and work out the pattern the University was to be moulded in. But what indeed deserves emphasis is that from the very beginning there were quite a number of Indians who not only welcomed the new system but worked for its success side by side with their Western colleagues. There was the venerable Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar; there was Prosunno Coomar Tagore, and there was Ramgopal Ghose, a great educationist and member of the Council of Education. All of them were Fellows of the University. At a later stage, the University drew into its fold of promoters, men like Rajendralal Mitra, Krishnamohan Banerjee, Pearychand Mitra, W.C. Bonnerjee, Mahendralal Sarkar and Jatindramohan Tagore, names that inspired hopes and confidence and were held in the highest esteem in contemporary Bengal.
From the very beginning the University not only aspired to the highest academic standards but actually achieved them. When the University was only ten years old, no less a person than Henry Maine, the then Vice-Chancellor, said a few very pertinent words in this connection :
"I am sorry I have to repeat the things so many times, but it is not true that the knowledge which is diffused under the influence of this University is slight or superficial..... We are entiled to be judged by the performances of those who aim at our highest distinctions, and of those performances it is no exaggeration, but simple truth, to say they are rapidly approaching the highest European standards".
As is well known today, the establishment of the University of Calcutta proved to be a tool of history initiating a process quite independent of the original intention of the British and ultimately directly contradictory to it. We shall again quote Henry Maine, the fourth Vice-Chancellor of the University, who was astute enough to note this as early as in 1866. He said, "The fact is that the founders of the University of Calcutta thought to create an aristocratic institution; and, in spite of themselves, they have created a popular institution". He was not wide off the mark. Far from being regarded as an exotic plant imported from the West, the University began to attract an increasingly large number of candidates, eager to get their degrees issued by it. The Hunter Commission drew pointed attention to the altered social basis of the university students in India, The Commission found that "a very considerable majority belong to the middle classes." These trends were firmly established by the time Sir Gooroodas Banerjee became the first Indian Vice-Chancellor in 1890.
However, for close to half a century after being established, the University was merely an examining and degree-granting body. All the teaching was done in the affiliated colleges. The absence of the legal sanction empowering the University of Calcutta to conduct teaching programmes of its own was proving to be a stumbling block on the path of the spread of education. It was under the Universities Act of 1904 that the Universities of India were empowered to appoint professors and lecturers and to conduct their own teaching programmes. Since then and especially since the time of Sir Asutosh Mookerjee's appointment as Vice-Chancellor, the University of Calcutta gradually came to occupy a front ranking position in postgraduate education and research in almost all the branches of knowledge. The legendary names associated with this glorious history are well known. Today on this auspicious occasion I pay homage to the academic heritage created and nurtured by Acharya Praphullachandra Ray, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, Sir C. V. Raman, Satyendranath Bose, Meghnad Saha, Sisir Kumar Mitra, Gyan Chandra Ghosh, Gyan Chandra Mukherjee, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Sunitikumar Chatterjee, Surendranath Dasgupta, Niharranjan Roy, Hemchandra Roychowdhury and all the other stalwarts. Rabindranath Tagore was a Visiting Professor at the University for some time.
An important feature of the history of the University is that the quest for academic excellence on the part of its teachers has always been a part of a broader social commitment. It was in a sense an expression of patriotism. The University contributed to the freedom struggle directly by producing a band of committed freedom fighters and, patriots. The contributions of Surendra Nath Banerjee, Chittaranjan Das, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and others to the history of the national struggle are by now too well-known to need detailed elaboration. So are the scarifices made for the cause of the freedom movement by the countless young persons who were students of the University. But what I wish to emphasise is that apart from these direct inputs into the freedom struggle the University of Calcutta also contributed to this struggle in no less important a way by providing the intellectual foundations of the educational and social reforms which, in turn, paved the way for the emergence of the Indian nationhood.
Contact with modern social and political thought led to a growing feeling of criticism and revolt against political subjection by an alien power. But equally certainly this feeling cannot be interpreted as a revolt against or opposition to the synthesis of Western and Eastern learning and wisdom that the University represented.
What more proof of the success of the wedding of Western and Eastern learning is called for than the works of Bankimchandra Chatterjee, one of the first two graduates of the University? It is very significant that his well-known novel Ananda Math which contains the song Vande Mataram that was to become, decades later, a source of inspiration for the national movement, was written in 1881 and published in 1882, the year of the Silver Jubilee of the University. The contributions of the University in the field of social equity are also to be remembered on this historic occasion. As was pointed out by the Education Commission of 1964-66 the modern universities in India have very little genealogical or historical connection with India's great ancient and mediaeval seats of learning. While it is open to doubt whether this has been an unmixed blessing, on the plus side is the fact that universities like those of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras did not carry with them the baggages of ancient or mediaeval thinking. Whatever the intellectual achievements of the ancient and mediaeval systems might have been, there is no doubt about the fact that the system was socially unacceptably exclusive. Women and members of the lower castes had no place in the system of education. It has been rightly remarked (by Professor Andre Beteille) that the University of Calcutta brought a fresh perspective in this respect. It took advantage of the fact that not only the subjects that were to be taught in the University were new but also the social setting in which quest for this new knowledge was to be embedded was new. By doing so the University helped the society in overcoming the inertia of ages.
The year 1882, the year of the Silver Jubilee of the University, witnessed the graduation of its first two women candidates, Chandramukhi Basu and Kadambini Ganguli, both of whom were allowed to take their degrees at the Convocation of 1883. This is how the then Vice-Chancellor Reynolds described the significant event:
"The most memorable event, however, of the year, the event which will make the Convocation of today a landmark in the educational history of India, is that of which I have now to speak. I refer...to the two students of the Bethune Female School as graduates in Arts of this University...I congratulate them on their success : I congratulate the University on their incorporation among its graduates ; more than all, I congratulate the women of India, of whom they are the representatives and the pioneers."
This was no mean achievement, considering the fact that at that time women graduates were few and far between even in the advanced countries of the world. 125 years have rolled by since this historic event. How prophetic the words of the then Vice-Chancellor have been !
Friends, the sapling planted on 24 January, 1857 has now become a large banyan tree. The University of Calcutta now has as many as 66 postgraduate departments and 205 affiliated colleges. The process of expansion has gone hand in hand with the process of ensuring and improving quality. The University was accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) with five star rating in 2001. More recently it has earned recognition from the UGC under the UPE (University with Potential for Excellence) Scheme.
We must not, however, sit contended with the laurels that have been earned. Sesquicentenary should be an occasion for rededicating ourselves to the task of attaining and maintaining higher qualitative standards. There is no gainsaying the fact that despite the achievements over the years there are miles to go before we can claim to have reached the standards of the very best institutions of the world. Moreover, the Indian University system currently accommodates only about ten million or one crore students. Considered as a percentage of either the total population of the country or of the college going population, the figure is much too small compared with corresponding figures in the advanced countries. We must, therefore, make every effort to make our educational system more accessible and inclusive. Experiences of other countries show that if universities become socially more inclusive, in the long run they gain academically. Needless to mention, this is true only if proper attention is paid to building the necessary human and physical infrastructure.
I, therefore, conclude by emphasising that the need of the hour is to pursue the twin objective of inclusiveness and academic excellence. We should be fully aware that in the short run there may be difficulties. But if we are honest to ourselves and do not compromise with principles, 'we shall overcome'. With these few words I conclude. Once again I express our deep gratitude to all of you for your kind presence here on this auspicious occasion.
Thank you very much.
January 24, 2007
Asis Kumar Banerjee
University of Calcutta