Nawab Jassa Ahluwalia Govt College: From a peepal tree to royalty’s passion
The college was set up along with the three universities in erstwhile Calcutta, Madras and Bombay; French architecture is the highlight of the campus, where 1,200 students are studying today.Updated: Jul 09, 2018 17:38 IST
The 32-acre campus of Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (NJSA) Government College, the oldest educational institute of North India, stands tall and proud in the heart of this heritage city. The institute started out in 1856 as a Sanskrit Vidyalaya, formally christened Randhir School, after its founder, the Maharaja of Kapurthala princely state, Randhir Singh. Old-timers recall it as nothing more than a peepal tree; the sprawling tree still stands and is, today, over 200 years old.
English roots to present name
“The year was 1854. Three universities in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay were established under the new education policy based on the Wood’s Despatch. It was then that the school was started under the peepal tree,” says Vijay Kumar Singh, principal of the college.
The college celebrated its 150th foundation day in 2006. An article in a souvenir released to mark the occasion remembered the peepal tree with fondness. “Education was imparted in the traditional Guru-Shishya form,” the piece remembered.
“Students still enjoy sitting under the peepal. We introduced teaching up to Essay Level in 1864. In 1871, a European, Mr Hudson, was appointed principal. Till Panjab University was set up in 1882, it remained affiliated to Calcutta University,” says Bikram Singh Virk, a professor in the commerce department.
In 1978, the college was given its present name, after the founder of the erstwhile Kapurthala state. The principal claims that the college is the oldest in the region, with the exception of Edwards College, Peshawar. Harry Randhawa, a local citizen, who has taken initiatives to preserve the heritage of Kapurthala, claimed that the land on which the college stands was a training ground for the army of the princely state.
French taught here in 1916
The college records claim that by 1871, four languages, Urdu, Persian, Sanskrit and English were taught at the institute. After Randhir Singh’s demise, the British controlled the college, with the newly-appointed Maharaja Jagatjit Singh still a minor.
After coming of age, Maharaja Jagatjit raised the college to the intermediate level in 1896. Subjects from natural sciences were also added to the curriculum.
“The Maharaja loved French, so he introduced the language in the college in 1916. The course he introduced was unique,” adds Randhawa.
The college library is also a treasure for scholars. “Even today, scholars from across the country visit our library. They say that we have one of the oldest book banks, especially in Sanskrit, Urdu and French,” claims Jatinder Kaur Dhir, a professor in the home science department.
Co-education, but with a veil
The college went co-educational in 1943, arguably the first institute to do so in the region. In the first couple of years, only 12 girls joined. “As a reflection of the orthodoxy of the times, some of our students remember that girls and boys sat with a veil separating them,” reminisces Dhir. By 1945-46, girls numbered 21 in a batch of 233 students (9%).
‘Principal paid more than chief judge’
Maharaja Jagatjit paid his staff well, something that the staff remembers with pride. “The salaries paid to staffers were much higher than other state functionaries. Principal HY Langhorne, appointed in 1905, was getting a monthly salary of ₹400 plus ₹100 as special allowance. Professors were paid ₹275 per month. A sessions judge, magistrate, advocate general, SP and CMO were paid ₹425, 325, 275 and 250, respectively. Only the chief judge of the state used to get ₹550 per month, higher than the principal,” said Virk, who has written articles on the institute. A monthly stipend between ₹4 and ₹10 was also given.
The Maharaja awarded a gold medal, worth ₹100, to the student standing first in the FA exam in the college. The Oriental Section topper got a silver medal.
Secret to the architecture
The close ties of the Kapurthala royalty with France is reflected in the architecture. The U-shaped building that houses the modern-day classrooms and verandas was constructed around the old peepal tree. In 1913, the then Punjab lieutenant governor Sir Louis Dane inaugurated it.
In 1916, a ‘Jubilee Hall’ was built to commemorate the silver-jubilee of the installation of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh to the throne. It was here that the Maharaja held his public durbars. Now, this building is the auditorium.
Evening classes in photography and short-hand were started in 1935 and many working students availed this facility to make a move up in their careers. The ‘Jagatjit Law Library’ was also renowned.
Today, the college admits 1,200 students in BA, BSc, BCom and MCom. It also offers a postgraduate diploma in computer applications.
Late Sardar Swaran Singh, ex-foreign minister; Ghulam Mohammed, ex-governor of Pakistan; Balwant Singh, ex-finance minister of Punjab; Gulzar Singh and Jagtar Singh Multani, both ex-ministers of Punjab; Kirpal Singh Dhillon, Upinderjit Kaur, Raghbir Singh (ex-ministers); AN Kashyap, ex-chief secretary of Punjab, DS Jaspal, ex-principal secretary, information and public relations; Bhavna Garg, IAS; GS Aujla and DL Kashyap, Jaspal Singh (minister of cooperation in Gujarat), RP Mittal (all retired IPS officers) are among its alumni.
Arjuna Awardee Sajjan Singh Cheema and eminent personalities from the field of literature Sohan Singh Meesha and Surjit Pattar also studied here. Former Himachal Pradesh speaker Radha Raman Shastri was also a student.
Former Punjab finance and education minister, Upinderjit Kaur, who joined in 1955 as an intermediate student, recalls, “The faculty was the best among many leading colleges. When I entered the college, in my class of 125 students, only 12-15 were girls. Men also dominated the faculty. However, we were always comfortable,” said Kaur, who passed-out in 1959.
‘Restore its status of a jewel’
“I would call it a neglected jewel. Shortfall in infrastructure means that it has fallen behind other new colleges. With Kapurthala district a neglected area in Punjab politics, the college has borne the brunt,” adds Randhawa.
He claims that in 2000, PUDA demolished a century-old hostel that accommodated 70 students, with the promise of building a new one. “The new hostel never came up,” he adds.
The history section on the college website also expresses a deep desire to restore its glory. “With tears in its eyes, this alma mater begs from its alumni, who are occupying respectable positions in various fields, to return it to her previous glory in the form of a new building, equipment, sports complex and plenty of funds so that it may produce others like them.”
First Published: Jul 09, 2018 12:18 IST