A Fragment of History: The Beginnings of Presidency University, Kolkata

It was clear right from the beginning that there was a clear cut colonial agenda behind British policy on Indian education. The British wanted to establish, maintain and perpetuate power and what better way of doing this than through the minds of the people.

The extent of the activities of various missionaries has already been established for this period and they were meant for furthering British interests as well. The idea was that a whole generation of people needed to be brainwashed through education in order to become subservient to the demands of the colonial empire. As British politician Charles Grant states in something that is very revealing: “wherever… our principles and language are introduced, our commerce will follow.”

In a phrase that has been called Orientalist, in the 1780s and 1790s, the British set up a madarasa in then Calcutta and a Sanskrit college in Benares. This was done with the view of propagating western values through Indian education. However, these were soon found to be ineffective.

By the beginning of the 19th century, a demand was created such that western education seemed more desirable to Indian subjects. However, during this period, English education was by and large unavailable to common people in Bengal.

During this of course, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others helped establish the institute which was then called Hindu College in Calcutta. It was set up in 1817.

Soon after, however, the British agenda for the anglicisation of Indian education took root. Thomas Macaulay came out with his now infamous Minute on Indian Education in 1835, seeking a creation of a whole new class of people Indian in body and English in mind.

Twenty years later, in 1855, British administrators appropriated what was the early native venture in education: Hindu College became Presidency College and became among the first few centres of English education.

The college still remains among the top-most in terms of education and in 2010 was rechristened Presidency University.

The above is not to in any way take away from the grandeur and the achievements of this great institute but rather to understand the history behind its formation, where it came from, how it was appropriated and is now reclaimed by India.