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March 6, 2017

National College and the British Raj


March 6, 2017

The story of educational resistance to the Raj is not complete without the mention of the National College, which was set up in Lahore by Lala Lajpat Rai in 1921.

Lala Lajpat Rai was born on January 28, 1865. He was a lawyer, politician, social reformer, philanthropist, journalist, educationist and writer who contributed to the national struggle for freedom in various capacities. He travelled widely and minutely studied the political and educational systems of different countries.

A prolific writer, he authored a number of books about the social, cultural, political, and educational issues of India. Some of his books include ‘Unhappy India’, ‘The Political Future of India’, and ‘The Problem of National Education in India’. Lajpat Rai realised the importance of print media in disseminating the message of freedom to the public. He published magazines in English and in Urdu. He was a nationalist who inspired a large number of young Indians.

In 1928, Lala Lajpat Rai led a protest against the Simon Commission in Lahore. The crowd, which was chanting slogans against the Simon Commission, was baton-charged on the orders of Superintendent Police James A Scott. Scott ensured that Lala Lajpat Rai was beaten up until he started bleeding and fell down on the ground. Rai was critically injured and breathed his last after remaining in a critical condition for 17 days.

Lala Lajpat Rai played leadership role in the Congress. He was particularly interested in educational issues and wrote a book on national education. In 1920, Gandhi started the Non-Cooperation Movement and urged all Indians to quit government jobs and boycott government educational institutions. In response to this call, a number of national colleges were established in different parts of India. Among them were two radical educational institutions, ie Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and the National College in Lahore. Rai was the moving force behind the National College.

The National College aimed to present an alternative vision of education, quite different from the government-funded and government-managed colleges whose only objective was to prepare graduates for government jobs. The National College aimed to produce students with sociopolitical awareness who would participate in the ongoing struggle to reclaim India’s freedom from British rule. The college offered an alternative place of learning to young Indian students who did not want to join government educational institutions.

The college’s classes started in Bradlaugh Hall on Rattigan Road, Lahore. Bradlaugh Hall, which was inaugurated in 1901, was a hub of the activities of nationalists and radical activists in those times. A number of national leaders – including Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Abul Kalam Azad, Syed Ataullah Shah Bukhari and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan – visited Bradlaugh Hall. The National College was open to different ethnic and religious groups whose members studied together with a common passion for liberation.

The teachers of the National College were themselves political activists. Bhai Parmanand was the chief administrator of the college. He also used to teach European history. Jugal Kishore was appointed as the principal of the college. Besides fulfilling his administrative responsibilities, he would also teach politics. His successor in the principal office was Chhabil Das. Professor Jai Chand Vidyalankar, who was associated with a number of revolutionaries, used to teach ancient history. He was a committed teacher who inspired a number of students. Professor Sondhi used to teach Indian history. Ghulam Hussain, another professor who was later arrested in the Cawnpore case, used to teach socialism.

It produced a number of students who were ready to contribute to the struggle for freedom. The most prominent of them were Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, who later established the Naujawan Bharat Sabha in 1926. They were also the founder members of the Hindustan Socialist Republic Association which was founded in Feroz Shah Kotla, New Delhi in 1928. (Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev were hanged in the Saunders’ murder case). Some other prominent students of the National College included Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Rana Chandra, Banarsi Das, Raghbir Singh and Yashpal.

The curriculum at the National College was different from government colleges and was geared towards inculcating sociopolitical awareness among the students and exposing them to revolutionary movements in different parts of the world. Special emphasis was given to three subjects: politics, history, and economics. These were mandatory subjects for all the students, who were later required to specialise in one of these subjects.

The study of languages constituted an important part of curriculum. One out of three languages – Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu – was considered compulsory for students who were given option of using Urdu or the Gurmukhi script.

There were no fixed textbooks as the teachers would select books and teach the relevant portions to the students. Besides regular classes, special lectures were arranged by eminent scholars to expose the students to contemporary thoughts. One major objective of education at the National College was to inculcate passion for nationalism among students. The teachers would interact informally with students outside the classes and discuss various issues with them. There were also clubs for extra-curricular activities, including drama. The purpose of these activities was to ensure the holistic development of students.

The role of the National College in the freedom movement is pivotal. It acted as a think tank that produced a number of young and motivated students who actively took part in the freedom struggle. The college survived only for a short while and had to be closed down because of a lack of funds in 1926. But in this short span of time, it produced politically charged graduates who dedicated their lives to the cause of liberation.


The writer is an educationist.

Email: [email protected]


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