Guwahati Gyan | How GU was Established Despite the Negative Cunningham Report?

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Guwahati Gyan | How GU was Established Despite the Negative Cunningham Report?

Barasha Das | January 10, 2021 16:11 hrs

Gauhati University, established on 26th January, 1948, "was indeed a dream come true for the people of Assam.” The masses agitated alongside the Assamese intelligentsia for an institute of higher education in the province turning it into a people's movement and donations for setting it up was provided even by the most indigent farmers.  

The first public demand for a separate university was made by Satyanath Bora at the annual session of the Assam Association at Sivasagar in 1917. Serious agitation for a separate university, however, started only in 1928 when Daiba Chandra Talukdar moved a resolution to that effect in the general body meeting of the Assam Ekata Sabha held at the Curzon Hall of Cotton College.


On 30th April, 1935, at an all-party meet at the Curzon Hall organized by the Assam Association and Sangrakhini Sabha, a University Committee was formed with Gopinath Bardoloi as its secretary that spearheaded the agitation with renewed vigour. 22nd May, 1935, was observed as University Day all over the province with mammoth meetings and huge processions.


In 1936, the British government appointed JR Cunningham, a retired Director of Public Instruction, to report on the state of education in Assam and to specifically state whether a separate university for Assam was 'essential' and 'feasible'.


However, the report submitted by Cunningham was criticized by the Assamese intelligentsia as the recommendations were directly against the dissemination of higher education to the masses. It stated, "As it (higher education) spreads the terms education, unemployment and discontent are tending to approximate, a condition which is a menace to peace and good government." The Cunningham Report almost shattered the dreams of the Assamese


This recommendation came in the backdrop of the British Government struggling with the problem of rising unemployed educated Indians who had joined the growing nationalism. 


The report further read, “There are at the time of writing ...the number of Assam students is now about 2500 (in higher education). What proportions of these numbers can be employed in a manner suitable to their expectations... I shall be surprised if it resulted in the discovery that the supply did not at least treble the demand. Can this be allowed to continue indefinitely unchecked or opposed only by words or formula.”


Instead of recommending the setting up of a university, Cunningham wrote, “...higher education has been made too cheap... there can be no doubts that the rates could be raised to a level at which they would have a serious and lasting effect on the enrolment. What would be the result? Such of the throng as come directly from the land, would then stay on the land and considerable numbers of the poorest Bhadralok and the near Bhadralok would pass out of focus, being thrown into the background, with the waste of the tol and the madrassa, where they would be less vocal and could be easily diverted...In India, as it is today, nothing could seem more hopeful than an attempt to lead the Bhadralok by mere persuasion to the plough.”


Earlier, however, Roberts, a former DPI had stated in his Annual Report of 1931, “It is said Assam cannot afford to have a University of its own, it cannot afford not to have one.” This feeling now reverberated throughout Assam, and the agitation for a university continued.


In October 1944, a huge convention presided over by Benudhar Rajkhowa was held at the Kali Prasad Memorial Hall at Sivasagar. A Trust Board was formed comprising Gopinath Bardoloi, Sarat Chandra Goswami, Syed Md. Sadulla, Sayadur Rahman, KK Handiqui, Heramba Prasad Barua and Sailendra Prasad Barua. A publicity wing in Calcutta was headed by Madhav Chandra Bezbaroa and a fund collection drive was restarted. Donation coupons ranging from Re 1 to Rs. 1 lakh were issued. The response of the public was enormous. This was a rare example of a university being established with donations, small and large, collected from the people of the region.


Credits: Banhi (Vol 24, Issue 5), Gauhati University

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