M Saleem Beg
Modern secular education in Kashmir started rather late, in the first decade of 20th century when a humble beginning was made by way of setting up a school in a rented building at Suthoo Barbar Shah, named after the reigning Maharaja Pratap Singh (1885-1925 AD). The school was named Maharaja Pratap Singh Hindu School. Most interestingly this initiative came from a deeply religious movement in Benaras initiated by the well known vedic adherent and scholar, Dr. Annie Besant. Dr. Annie Besant came to India in 1893 to study Vedas where she formed the ‘Theosophical Society of India’ for the revival of Hindu thought and decided to establish institutions for teaching Vedic philosophy. Her desire fructified in the shape of Central Hindu College which she started in Karna Ghanta in Benaras on 7th July 1898.
Dr. Annie Besant made Pt. Suraj Narain Bahadur, A Kashmiri Pandit, a sub judge and an educationist as the secretary of her ‘Theosophical Society of India’. She used to organize regular meetings of this society at the residence of Pt. Suraj Narain Bahadur in Kashmiri Mohalla, where other prominent Kashmiri Pandits of the locality like Prof. Iqbal Krishna Sharga, Pt. Chand Narain Bahadur Pt. Iqbal Narain Gurtu, Pt. Bishan Narain Dar, Pt. Sangam Lal Chak, Pt. Hari Krishna Kaul, Pt. Sri Krishna Tikku etc. would assemble frequently. One of the key concerns in such meetings used to be ‘the education of Kashmiri Pandit boys and social reforms in the community’.
There was no provision for the higher-education in the Kashmir Valley at that time. Kashmiri Pandit boys used to go either to Lucknow or to Allahabad University. In one of the meetings of the Theosophical Society it was proposed to open a college at Srinagar. Consequently Dr. Annie Besant herself with some of her trusted members went to Srinagar to explore the possibilities for establishing a college. As mentioned above, she started with a school that she named as Sir Pratap Singh Hindu School. Exactly in which year this school was started in Sathu Barbar Shah is not known as of now.
She found support from Kashmiri Pandits from Lukhnow both in her endeavor to revive Vedantic studies as well as modern education. It will be of interest to mention here about the upward movement and pursuits of kashmiri pandits who migrated to the centers of power outside Kashmir, mostly Delhi and other larger principalities during the Mughal period. Kashmiri pandits had built a reputation of being conversant in skills of governance that were in high demand duirng the Mughal period. Their knowledge of Persian,adminstrative acumen and diplomacy opened up vast apportunities for them in these places. They were holding important positions in Mughal heirrarchy in Kashmir that gave them a handle with the Mughal Rule and their institutions.During the rule of Aurangzeb(1658-1707 AD) the Peshkar of the Subedar of Kashmir, the highest revenue official, was Chowdhary Mahesh, a pandit of substantial means. It was only natural that many pandits migrated to Delhi and rose to higher positions in Mughal heirarchy. We have now access to the family histroy of some of them coming from the writings of their progeny. These writings reveal that many of the families who came to Delhi settled in Bazar Sitaram in Shahjehanabad during the rule of Shah Alam(1759-1806). Shah Alam was the last wise and strong Mughal king who tried to revive the waning power of Mughals. The British ascendency in Delhi after Shah Alam resulted in chaos and unsettling environment. Among other nobles, these kashmiris also went out of favour for some time. It was during this period that Nawab Wajid Ali Shah(1847-1856) rose to power in Awadh, Lukhnow. He is the last Muslim ruler, an erastwhile Mughal noble, who assumed the title of the ‘King’. Many Bazar Sitaram Kashmiris shifted to Lukhnow where they were given respectable positions in the durbar and the Awadh territories. These pandits settled in what was later called ‘Kashmiri Mohalla’. This mohalla, at the last credible count, comprised more than thousand Kashmiri families. Their eminence and propensity to merge and contribute towards consolidation of Awadh rule earned them favours and positions in the establishment. The story of their presence in Mughal and Awadh nobility is scattered in family writings and period records. Surely in coming days we will hear and know more about their journey during the tumultous times and the twilight of Muslim rule in India.
Returning to Kashmir education ,Dr. Annie Besant then approached Maharaja Pratap Singh, the Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir Riyasat around 1903 AD and requested him to donate a piece of land so that a new building could be constructed for Sir Pratap Singh Hindu School. On her request, Maharaja Pratap Singh donated a big chunk of land in Kothi Bagh area near Amira Kadal and a new building of the college was built from the liberal donations of the Kashmiri Pandits who were close to Dr. Annie Besant at that time. Some of the names of these philanthropists have been mentioned in the write up above. This institution from its new premises near Amira Kadal on Maulana Azad Road formally started functioning as an intermediate college in 1905 and Prof. M.C. Moore, an Irish scholar and a graduate of the Cambridge University, London, was appointed by Dr. Annie Besant as its first Principal. The management of this college was then placed under the control of Central Hindu College Trust, Benaras, which was affiliated with the Allahabad University at that time. Maharaja Pratap Singh laid the foundation of this college on his birthday and to appreciate his kind gesture for donating the land for the college. Dr. Annie Besant in her thanks giving speech said that “Maharaja has given a long awaited boon to Kashmir”
Raja Sir Daya Kishan Kaul, the private secretary of Maharaja Pratap Singh at that time played a key role in giving this project a concrete shape. His father Raja Suraj Kaul, the Revenue member of the Regency Council of the Jammu and Kashmir state gave a hefty donation for the building of this college.
Dr. Annie Besant earned displeasure of British rulers as she was a very strong votary for granting freedom to this country and was actively working for the revival of nationalistic sentiment. The then secretary of states of British India wrote a note on the file observing thus:
“Mrs. Besant’s influence is bound to have political consequences and her religious teaching certainly tends and I believe is deliberately meant to promote the idea of an Indian nation, which is spreading gradually and which in course of time assume a form adverse to the British rule.”
The then Foreign Secretary concurring with this view noted ” it is very desirable that the British Resident in Jammu and Kashmir through the Darbar should have a proper control over such teaching schools in the valley for deciding their policies and programs”. The British authorities then persuaded Maharaja Pratap Singh to take over the management of this college.
‘As a result of all these behind the curtain activities of the British, the management of this college gradually passed into the hands of the Darbar leading ultimately to its complete takeover in July 1912 by the Jammu and Kashmir government’. The college was rechristened as “Sri Pratap College” affiliated with the Punjab University of Lahore. The Board of Trustees of the Central Hindu College, Benaras authorized Dr. Annie Besant to handover the college premises to the government of Jammu and Kashmir on receipt of Rs. 20,000/- in consideration of the cost of the building and furniture etc. erected and supplied by them out of the donations.
After the takeover, Prof. Iqbal Krishna Sharga was appointed on the recommendation of Dr. Annie Besant as the Principal of this college. He retired in 1921 after attaining the age of superannuation. Prof. Shagra made immense contribution in setting high standards of academics given his educational back ground, experience and commitment to imparting modern education to the locals. After that the state government appointed Prof. Lawrence Marcdermat, a British scholar as the Principal of this college. He continued on this postion upto 1931. The college made rapid progress during the tenure of Maulvi Muhamad Ibrahim, who took over as Principal in 1931. During his tenure the science classes at the degree level were started in this college.
In order to further upgrade and improve the higher education in Kashmir, the Maharaja Hari Singh appointed a committee to suggest the steps that should be taken to bring efficiency in the education system in general and the college education in particular. This committee had the privilege to have the members like Dr. Zakir Hussain, the then Principal of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi and Prof. G.D. Sondhi, the Principal of Government College Lahore. On their recommendations the bifurcation of the college into Sri Pratap Intermediate College and Amar Singh Degree College was carried out on 1st September 1942.
The college as also the academic environment in Kashmir underwent a sea change from the times this institution was set up. Maharaja Hari Singh was alive to the changing societal needs of the modern times. He brought in Muhamad Din Taseer, a Cambridge educated progressive poet, an eminent educationist representing the resurgent liberal scholarship emerging in the subcontinent, as Principal of the college. Taseer Sb. was part of the deliberations of the committee and implemented their recommendations earning appreciation of the Mahraja. Taseer Sb was co-brother of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the great Urdu poet, and a political activist. He was later put in charge of Amar Singh College, the only other higher educational institution in Kashmir.
Sri Pratap college acted as the nursery that produced and shaped up generations of young Kashmiris. They laid the foundation of a modern Kashmir exposed to diverse set of ideas leading to expanding the minds and thought. The alumni of the college lead in politics, sciences , arts, education and administration. The contribution made by the College stands out like no other institution. The journey of this college from a orthodox beginning to a vibrant secular institution is part of the process set in motion by the forces of history and demands of the changing times. We at INTACH, Kashmir propose to secure the built heritage of the institution as we feel that its historic built fabric is as precious as the soft power created within these walls and lawns. The present uncertain times are a challenge to this mission and we only hope this will succeed sooner than later.
(The author is associated with INTACH, Kashmir)
M Saleem Beg