1930 - 1950

Towards Swaraj: Presidency During the Independence Movement of India

Presidency University, Kolkata

This exhibition presents how Presidency College (now Presidency University) was affected by the Independence movement and the role it played in the process of nation-building.

British Accession to Power
The East India Company started trading in India from 1613. Over the next one hundred years, the Company expanded its commercial activities across the subcontinent by eradicating other European mercantile powers. After the Battle of Plassey (1757), it started acquiring territories by using brutal force. By the mid-nineteenth century, the entire subcontinent came under its control. The British, who regarded themselves to be racially superior, considered their rule to be a ‘civilising mission’ and used innumerable mechanisms, that technologically worked to modify the cultural fabric of the Indian society, to consolidate it. In 1858, following a massive revolt in large parts of central and northern India, the administration of India was taken over by the British Crown. The British empire in India is understood to be one of the most oppressive and powerful empires of the world. Not only did it systematically exploit India's natural resources but also made its people culturally impoverished.
Emergence of Nationalism
The spread of western liberal thought and education, due to the establishment of institutions like Presidency College (initially Hindu College), led to the growth of anti-colonial nationalism in the late nineteenth century. The song ‘Bande Mataram’, written by Bankimchandra Chatterjee, an alumnus of Presidency College (now Presidency University), in 1870s, played a crucial role in creating patriotic feelings among the people. Formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 gave an organised shape to the growing public resentment. The initial strategy of practicing moderate politics was abandoned after the First World War as it became clear that the British were not keen on granting home rule. With the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi, a new dynamism was unleashed into the Independence movement. Under his leadership, the people of India rose in unprecedented numbers above all kinds of social cleavages and prejudices to challenge the British Raj.
The Clarion Call: Purna Swaraj
The Non-Cooperation-Khilafat movement (1920-22) saw the first staging of non-violent mass-agitation. In 1930, Gandhi once again mobilised the Indians to carry out large-scale protests against the colonial government with the demand of ‘purna swaraj’ or complete independence. The Civil Disobedience movement (1930-34) was the most decisive phase in the long fight for freedom since it united the people of all sections of society from every part of the country. This experience of collective struggle strengthened the idea of nationhood among the masses. This period also witnessed a sudden upsurge of revolutionary activities. In 1942, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India movement. The country saw an unparalleled participation of men and women in this final struggle for freedom. These movements, in which Presidencians like Surendranath Banerjee, Chittaranjan Das, Jatindramohan Sengupta, Saratchandra Bose, Subhaschandra Bose and Dr. Rajendra Prasad played important roles, paved the way for freedom. India won independence on 15th August, 1947. Three years later, it became a republic on 26 January 1959, as the nation's constitution came into effect.

Letters regarding 'Modern Review'
1927-30

Letters exchanged between the Director of Public Instruction of Bengal (DPI) and the principals of different government colleges of Bengal regarding the anti-British tone of 'Modern Review', a monthly English magazine of the nationalist intelligentsia of that period, edited by Ramananda Chatterjee (1865-1943).

The demand for ‘complete independence’ was first made by Netaji Subhaschandra Bose at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress (1928).

Circular, 30th June 1930
At the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress (1928), Subhaschandra Bose, an alumnus of Presidency College (now Presidency University) and the most prominent nationalist leader after Gandhi, moved a resolution demanding ‘complete independence’ instead of ‘dominion status’. The resolution was defeated. Later, he even issued a manifesto calling for complete independence. Ultimately, at the Lahore session (1929), Mahatma Gandhi declared that ‘purna swaraj’ or complete independence as the political goal of Congress, thus setting the stage for the Civil Disobedience movement. On 12 March 1930, Mahatma Gandhi started the Civil Disobedience movement by violating government’s salt monopoly. In the wake of this movement, Mr. K. Nazimuddin, the then Minister-in-charge of the Education Department of the Government of Bengal issued a circular regarding the conduct of all the government servants in relation to the Civil Disobedience Movement. Copies of that circular were sent to Presidency College since it was a government college.
Confidential Circular, 21st July 1930
A few months later, the Hon'ble Minister ordered the Principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University), to ask the teachers to exercise utmost personal influence on the students (especially those who stay in hostels) in order to ensure that they return to their classes. This is the letter, titled 'Confidential Circular to Staff', in which the Offg. Principal informed the teachers about that order.
Undated Leaflet, 1930
The Civil Disobedience movement also witnessed a sudden upsurge of revolutionary activities. Attempts were made to infuse radical ideas among the students of Presidency College. Leaflets of the Chittagong branch of the Indian Republic Army were found in Presidency College (now Presidency University).
Letter, 23rd April 1930
Handwritten letter from the Headmaster of Hare School to J. R. Barrow, the then Principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University), forwarding him the papers (most probably inflammatory leaflets) that were intercepted from the campus of his school.
Letters, 1930
Letters exchanged between the Secretary to the Government of Bengal and the Director of Public Instruction of Bengal (DPI) about the prolonged disturbances created and strikes called by the students of government schools and colleges during the Civil Disobedience movement.
Letter, 25th August 1930
Letter from the Principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University) to A. D. Gordon, the then Deputy Commissioner of Police, Northern Division, instructing him to withdraw police from the campus as a strategy to bring an end to political activities like picketing and thereby restore normalcy in the college.

Manifesto of Hindustan Socialistic Republican Army which was established in 1928 at Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi by Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and others.

Manifesto of Hindustan Socialistic Republican Army, 1931
Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA) was established in 1928 at Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi by Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and others. Later, a manifesto, written in Bengali, was issued by HSRA. The manifesto reminded the youth about the martyrdom of Benoy Bose, Badal Gupta, Dinesh Gupta, Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad and the massacre at the Hijli Camp, asked them to take revenge of these deaths and called for their participation in the Independence movement. It also highlighted the aims of the organisation, which were as follows: 1) Down with Imperialism, 2) Life for Life and 3) Blood for Blood. Copies of the manifesto were found pasted on the wall of Hare School building, situated within the campus of Presidency College (now Presidency University). The Assistant Headmaster of the school seized them and forwarded it to the higher authority.
Letters, 1931-32
The British government suspected that the students of Presidency College (now Presidency University) might be secretly associated with revolutionary activities and they might also use the chemicals, stored in the laboratory, to make bombs. Alarmed by this thought, the Director of Public Instruction of Bengal (DPI) asked the Principal of Presidency College to make adequate arrangement for keeping the chemicals in safe custody.
Southern Face, Baker Building, Presidency University
The Baker building was inaugurated by Lord Carmichael, the then Governor of Bengal, on 20 January 1920. During the Independence movement, it used to house most of the science departments.

A note written, most possibly by the Principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University), to all the Heads of the science departments, asking them to intimate him about the steps that has been taken to ensure the safety of the chemicals.

Circular, 6th December 1933

Circular of the Political Department of the Government of Bengal, issued by B. R. Sen, the then Deputy Secretary to the Government of Bengal, ordering a review in the official policy with regard to placing of the government advertisements. This step was taken to stop the Indian newspapers from publishing subversive writings that gave impetus to the revolutionary activities.

Letters regarding the Pamphlets of the Bengal Publicity Board, 1933-35
Letters exchanged between the Principals of Presidency College (now Presidency University), Headmasters of Hindu School and Hare School, and the Directors of Public Instruction of Bengal regarding the circulation of the pamphlets of the Bengal Publicity Board among the students.
Letter, 28th February 1934
Letter from the Director of Public Instructions of Bengal (DPI) to B. M. Sen, the then Principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University), forwarding him a specimen copy of the pro-British English weekly 'The Whip' and requesting him to subscribe it for the common room of the college. The aim of 'The Whip' was to "fight against terrorism and other movements subversive of Government” and “create an atmosphere favourable to the successful working of the new constitution”.
Letters, 1935
Letters exchanged in the wake of the circular issued by the University of Calcutta on 31 January 1935 regarding the steps that should be taken to check the spread of terrorism among the students.

The clarion call of Mahatma Gandhi, "Do or Die" written on a piece of paper. This statement was made by the Father of the Nation while launching the Quit India movement on 8 August 1942.

Amrita Bazar Patrika, Volume - 74, Issue - 219, 8th August 1942, Page - 5 
After the failure of the Cripps Mission, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India movement (also known as the ‘August Revolution’) from a historic meeting at Gowalia Tank in Bombay on 8 August 1942. On this occasion, he delivered his famous ‘Do or Die’ speech wherein he asked his countrymen to either free India or die in the attempt. In next few months, the people demonstrated unparalleled militancy. Parallel governments were set up in different parts of the country. The colonial government implemented all sorts of draconian measures to brutally repress the movement, but the people resisted gallantly and made colossal scarifices. Here is a page of 'Amrita Bazar Patrika' containing news related to the Quit India movement.
Undated Document, 1942
This leaflet was issued during the Quit India movement. It was found among the old documents of Presidency College (now Presidency University). Written in Bengali, it calls the people from all sections of the society to take part in the final struggle for freedom.

Undated Leaflet, 1942

This leaflet, written in Bengali, was issued during the Quit India movement. It was found among the old documents of Presidency College (now Presidency University). The leaflet carries the last message of Mahatma Gandhi for his countrymen, before the former's arrest. It ends with his clarion call - Do or Die.

Undated Document, 1942

This leaflet, written in Bengali, was issued during the Quit India movement. It was found among the old documents of Presidency College (now Presidency University). This leaflet, meant to inspire the youth to take part in the final struggle for freedom, carries the pictures of two students who had sacrificed their lives for their motherland.

Undated Document, 1942
This leaflet, written in Bengali, was issued by the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee (B.P.C.C.) during the Quit India movement. It was found among the old documents of Presidency College (now Presidency University). The leaflet is meant to trigger the revolutionary students of Bengal to take part in the final battle for freedom. It also outlines the exact role that they should play.

Direct Action Day (16 August 1946) was an incident of widespread communal violence that was organised by the Muslim League to assert its demand for a separate Muslim homeland.

Amrita Bazar Patrika, Volume - 78, Issue - 227, 17th August 1946, Page - 1 
Here is a page of 'Amrita Bazar Patrika' containing news related to the Direct Action Day.
Eden Hindu Hostel, Presidency University
The Eden Hindu Hostel, where the students of Presidency College (now Presidency University) and other government colleges used to live, was also affected by the burn of the gruesome events that happened as an after effect of the Direct Action Day.
Report written by Prof. P. C. Mahalanobis, 2nd September 1946
In a lengthy report to the Home Secretary of the Government of Bengal, Prof. P. C. Mahalanobis, the then Principal described how the college and the Eden Hindu Hostel was affected by the Direct Action Day and the measures that were taken by the college authority to deal with the situation. This detailed account is a valuable source of information regarding that turbulent period.

Amrita Bazar Patrika, Volume - 79, Issue - 227, 15th August 1947, Page - 1

Here is the first page of 'Amrita Bazar Patrika' of 15 August 1947, the day India got independence

Notice, 30th September, 1947

Both Gandhiji and Netaji were avowed opponents of the Raj. Celebrations of their birthdays in a government institution like Presidency College were unthinkable events during the colonial period. This document, and the one following it, signify the ideological transformation which the prominent government institutions of the country underwent in the years immediately after independence. This is the notice which was issued by the Principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University) in order to declare holiday on account of Mahatma Gandhi's first birth anniversary after Independence.

Notice, 20th January 1948

Notice, issued by Prof. P. C. Mahalanobis, the then Principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University), declaring holiday on account of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's first birth anniversary after Independence.

Notice, 13th August 1948

Notice, issued by the Principal of Presidency College (now Presidency University), regarding the celebration of the first anniversary of Independence.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad
On 26 January 1950, India became a republic as the constitution came into effect. Dr. Rajendra Prasad (1884-1963), who was an alumnus of Presidency College (now Presidency University), assumed the office of the President of Republic of India. He was a Gandhian nationalist leader from Bihar who served as the president of the Constituent assembly of India. This picture was taken in 1955 when he visited his Alma mater during its centenary celebration.
Old Register of Presidency College (now Presidency University)
Register of Presidency College (now Presidency University) which contained the notices issued during the period of December 1934 to February 1952.
Front Facade, Main Building, Presidency University
In the ensuing years, Presidency played a very important role in the making of modern India.
Presidency University
Credits: Story

Sources:
Presidency University Museum
Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Endangered Archives Programme, British Library

Research:
Shiny Roychowdhury, Alumnus, Department of Sociology, Presidency University
Sandipan Mitra, Alumnus, Department of Sociology, Presidency University

Bibliography:
Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar - From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India, Orient Blackswan, 2014 (2009), Hyderabad.
Bose, Sugata - His Majesty's Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle against Empire, Penguin Books, 2011, New Delhi.
Chandra, Bipan et al. - India's Struggle for Independence, 1857 - 1947, Penguin Books, 1989, New Delhi.
Dirks, Nicholas B. - Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, Permanent Black, 2014 (2002), Delhi.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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