Centenary celebrations are not meant to just lay down goals for an institution’s continued march forward, but also to pause and reflect on the past-
May 1 marks the day that the University of Delhi (DU) steps into the 100th year of its existence. From its inception on May 1, 1922, Delhi University has been an exemplar of an academic institution built on a legacy of rich history, plurality, and inclusivity. From a humble beginning with three colleges and 750 students, DU has grown, in eminence and stature, to represent 90 colleges, 16 faculties, 86 academic departments, and approximately 700,000 students today.
Historian Thomas Carlyle once said that history is the essence of innumerable biographies and reviving memories. Seen in this perspective, centenary celebrations are not meant to just lay down goals for their continued march forward, but also to pause and reflect on the past. It is with this sense that two remarkably fortuitous, but obscure, tales from the archives of DU must be shared.
DU may now have about 700,000 students, but in the early 1960s, the stress of having around 25,000 students was intense enough to propel it towards splitting into two separate universities. A Bill was even introduced in Parliament by MC Chagla, the then education minister. He wanted the new university to be named after Jawarharlal Nehru, the then prime minister, but Nehru had strict reservations about naming an institution after a living person. He suggested that it be named Raisina University. The Bill was referred to a select committee in April-May 1964. Nehru’s death in the same year only reinforced the desire to name the proposed university after him as a tribute to his personality and contributions to the nation.
The controversy behind using Nehru’s name
In the deliberations of the committee, however, it later emerged that if Nehru’s name was to be used, it would make better sense to prefix it to an institution that was entirely new and exclusively dedicated to his ideas. It wouldn’t be befitting to add his name to a university that was to be carved out from an existing one, especially one created to ease the financial constraints of an existing university. The stakeholders at DU weren’t supportive of the idea either. And so, an additional campus, DU’s south campus, was set up. The split was averted. A university named after Nehru (present-day Jawaharlal Nehru University) was then established in 1969.
The founding of DU was also spontaneous – unlike the histories of universities in the colonial era that owed their existence to general administrative charters or resolutions such as the Wood’s Despatch, the Indian Universities Act 1904, or the Government of India Resolution 1913.
In 1917, a commission was appointed to look into the needs requirements as well as the structural operative mechanisms of the University of Calcutta. The commission came out with an exhaustive set of recommendations, which suggested the need for the participation of teachers in university governance, cooperation between universities and colleges, less government control, and the appointment of full-time vice-chancellors. It also suggested that the universities in India be organised as unitary residential ones, with territorial limits.
These recommendations were accepted by other universities such as those in erstwhile Allahabad and Punjab, which restructured themselves as unitary residential universities and consequently no longer qualified to examine students from colleges located in Delhi. To redress the grievances of the existing students in Delhi, the idea of a university in Delhi was formed. The bill to establish and incorporate a unitary teaching and residential university in Delhi was passed by the legislative assembly on February 22, 1922, and the Act received the assent of the viceroy on March 5. DU was founded as a unitary teaching residential university, with St Stephens College, Hindu College, and Ramjas College as affiliates.
One only hopes that in its 100th year, the University of Delhi will augment its commitment to its motto: Nishtha Dhriti Satyam (dedication, steadfastness, truth). Its march forward must continue on cutting-edge research to address its immediate and wider spatial and socio-economic settings. The centenary year also happens to be in a year of major changes, because of the National Education Policy. It must, therefore, remain open to the views and suggestions of the stakeholders while ushering in plans for innovation and change.
This article was first published in Hindustan Times as As DU turns 100, retelling stories from the archives.
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Chandrachur Singh, Associate professor of political science, Hindu College, University of Delhi