The Seminar, dedicated to the memory of Prof. Ruchi Ram Sahni (1863 – 1948), will be inaugurated on 24 October 2013 by Shri Hamid Ansari, the Vice-President of India and Chancellor, Panjab University. The Ministry of Telecommunications has already agreed to bring out a stamp on Prof. Sahni and is being requested to formally release it on the same day.
Sahni was born barely 14 years after the annexation of the Punjab Kingdom by the British and lived to see India become independent. His life thus covers an important part of Punjab’s and India’s history. The social and religious ferment caused by the British rule and the political responses to it that emerged in Punjab were not autonomous but influenced by developments elsewhere. Table 1 summarizes major developments in education in the 19th century Punjab region. Note that Government College University, Lahore, will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2014.
Table 1. English education in the 19th century Punjab region: Some important dates
|1829||Delhi English Institution opened; closed in 1857|
|1834||American Presbyterian Lodiana [Ludhiana] Mission established. A school established in 1837.|
|1847||Roorkee Engineering College opened; named after James Thomason in 1854.|
|1849 Dec.||Mission School opened in Lahore by the American Presbyterian missionary Charles William Forman; shifted to the Rang Mahal palace in 1853.|
|1851 May||Government opens a school in Amritsar; subsequently handed over to the American Mission.|
|1856 Jan.||Punjab Education department set up under Director of Public Instruction.|
|1856||Randhir College Kapurthala (school to begin with) established. Intermediate classes introduced in 1896, degree in 1945.|
|1857||English Mission schools operational in Amritsar, Peshawar, Kangra, Kotgarh, and Ferozepur Cantonment; American Mission schools in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Jullundur, Ludhiana, Ambala City, Ambala Cantonment, and Sialkot. Most were Government-aided.|
|1858 Feb.||The Delhi territory transferred from North West Province to Punjab|
|1860 Apr. 15||Government High School Lahore (Lahore District School) opened with I. C. Beddy as head master|
|1860 Oct.||Medical School Lahore (made into College in 1886).|
|1861||Brahmo Samaj Lahore.|
|1864 Jan. 15||Government College Lahore established, with the principal G. W. Leitner taking charge in Nov.|
|1864-1877||Government College Delhi. Closed on 1 April 1877; faculty and students transferred to Lahore.|
|1865 Jan. 21||Anjuman-i-Punjab formed by Leitner|
|1866-1869||Rang Mahal Mission School Lahore runs College classes.|
|1870||Punjab University College Lahore established under the control of a Senate (Jan. 11). Oriental School (renamed Oriental College in 1872) and Law School established.|
|1873||Singh Sabha Amritsar formed.|
|1875||Government Mayo College of Art Lahore.|
|1875 Mar. 30||Mohindra College Patiala foundation stone laid. Began as school; intermediate classes added in 1880; B.A. in 1887.|
|1877||Arya Samaj Lahore.|
|1881 Feb. 2||The Tribune started at Lahore as a weekly.|
|1882 Feb. 1||St Stephen’s College Delhi established. Affiliated first to Calcutta University, then to Punjab (1882) and finally to Delhi University (1922)|
|1882 Oct. 14||Punjab University College made into a degree-awarding Punjab University.|
|1882||Lahore Veterinary School established.|
|1884 Nov. 8||Punjab Public Library Lahore established|
|1886||Government College Lahore receives an annual library grant of Rs 200.|
|1886||Mission College Lahore opened; renamed Forman Christian College in 1894.|
|1886||Punjab Chief’s Aitchison College foundation stone laid.|
|1886||Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College Lahore (school department) established (Jun. 1). Intermediate classes introduced in 1889; B.A. in 1894; M.A. in Sanskrit in 1895.|
|1889||Railway Technical School Lahore for Eurasian boys. [Now part of Government College of Technology Railway Road Lahore.]|
|1892||Islamia College Lahore|
|1892 Mar. 5||Khalsa College Amritsar foundation stone laid. School began in 1893; College classes in May 1897|
|1897||Victoria Diamond Jubilee Hindu Technical Institute Lahore established for Hindu and Sikh boys. [Now part of Government College of Technology Railway Road Lahore.]|
|1910||Dyal Singh College Lahore established.|
Brief Biography of Ruchi Ram Sahni
Sahni is India’s first meteorologist (1885-1886) as well as the first nuclear physicist (1915, 1917). He was the first Indian professor of science in his alma mater Government College Lahore where he served for 30 long years, 1887-1918. A conscientious teacher, he learnt carpentry from Bhai Ram Singh, later the celebrated architect of Khalsa College Amritsar to be able to better perform the laboratory duties. Another artistic influence on Ruchi Ram was Ram Singh’s colleague Sher Mohammad.
A man of many parts he was in addition a science popularizer, public speaker, writer, social and religious reformer, entrepreneur, and a commentator on educational and other issues and after retirement an active participant in public life. Product of a liberal composite culture, he learnt Urdu and Gurmukhi besides physics and chemistry and came to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of the Persian language. From 1894 till 1898 he taught science in Urdu at the Oriental College Lahore. He even translated a book on conservation of energy from English into Urdu. It is a separate matter that the translation could not be published because of ‘eternal lack of funds’. He made concerted efforts to propagate science through Urdu and Punjabi and integrate it into everyday life and economy. He was a strong advocate of vocational education. He was given the honour of delivering the inaugural address at the Victoria Diamond Jubilee Hindu Technical Institute Lahore established in 1897 for Hindu and Sikh boys. He firmly believed that if the ‘youth were provided with suitable means of instruction in technical subjects, many fresh openings could be made for them and the present pressure on agriculture and the services largely diminished’. The prescription is as valid today as it was 12 decades ago.
A prominent Brahmo leader of his time, he was a friend of, and adviser to, the wealthy philanthropist Dyal Singh Majithia (1848-1898). When Dyal Singh College was established in 1910, Ruchi Ram became its Trustee in accordance with the provisions of the benefactor’s will. If post-Dyal Singh, The Tribune did not fall into wrong hands, it was in no small measure due to the marshalling of brain and brawn resources by Ruchi Ram. However, his formal association with it had to wait for his retirement from government service; he served on The Tribune Trust from 1918 till his death in 1948. In 1923, he entered Punjab Legislative Council from the Punjab University constituency as a member of the Swaraj Party defeating [Sir] Manohar Lal.
Having experienced both opulence and poverty in his childhood, Ruchi Ram was very keen to promote science as a producer of wealth. In 1934, as the President of Northern India Chemical Manufacturers’ Association, he strongly objected to ‘the economic resources of the province’ being ‘mortgaged beforehand to a foreign concern [Imperial Chemical Industries]’, and wanted ‘the interests of indigenous chemical industries’ to be protected. In or after 1945 he wrote Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines, which was later edited by Dr Ganda Singh and published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC). With his characteristic thoroughness, he preserved all the press communiqués on the subject which SGPC had issued from time to time and subsequently presented a complete set to SGPC whose own collection had gaps.
Prof. Ruchi Ram Sahni’s plea for use of mother tongue as medium of scientific thought, emphasis on practical work as part of school and college education, advocacy of vocational education, and recognition of science as a generator of wealth make him even more relevant today than he was in his own era.
Posted on: 13 June 2013