Seeking to regain lost glory, this Khanna school had caught Nehru’s eye
Home to Asia’s largest anaj mandi (grain market), this town on National Highway 1 between Patiala and Ludhiana is also known for one of the oldest schools in the region. Public Anglo Sanskrit High School, set up in 1912, was started by landlords with a nationalist bent. The freedom struggle had gathered momentum and the world was at war from 1914-18. The turmoil only strengthened their resolve to educate and empower the new generation of emerging India.
The school began from a few rented rooms of a mill and was shifted to its present location in 1915. Spread over five-and-a-half acres today, the campus opens to a brick red clock tower and E-shaped block consists of more than 60 well ventilated and spacious classrooms that surround Dayanand Hall, named after Arya Samaj leader Dayanand Saraswati. Started to impart education in Hindi and Sanskrit, the school provided liberal education with nationalist leanings.
After Independence, the school was known as AS High School. It is now affiliated to the Punjab School Education Board and offers teaching in Hindi and Punjabi mediums though science is taught in English in Classes 11 and 12.
Debt of gratitude
Built on public charity, this temple of learning is a community school in the true sense of the word. Prominent citizens of the time, namely Inder Singh Ahluwalia, Ch Rolu Ram, Bawa Gurmukh Singh, Sham Lal Ram Nath, Babu Siri Ram Panesar, Jagan Nath Shahi, Amar Nath Bhandari, Bhagat Bhagwan Dass and Kedar Nath Shahi, played a key role in its establishment.
The school’s students have been state merit holders and national-level sportsmen since 1922. Sharing the success formula, KK Sharma, who started his career as a teacher in the school in 1971 and retired as its principal in 2010, says “I’m emotionally attached to this institution that provides quality education at a reasonable cost. It’s seen the time when teaching was a mission not a profession.”
Recounting the golden era of the school, he says that for the first 50 years, the school had only two headmasters. The first, Nand Lal Kalra, served from 1920-45 and his successor, Madan Gopal Chopra, was at the helm till 1974. “Both headmasters were dedicated and disciplined. They ensured students excelled in sport and studies,” says Sharma.
Sharing an anecdote, he recalls how in 1964, then prime minister Jawarharlal Nehru was driving past the school when its red and white exterior caught his eye. He walked down 250 yards to take a closer look at the school building, which is a blend of Mughal and British colonial style architecture.
Pingalwara to place of pride
This school takes pride in shaping and moulding acclaimed bureaucrats, doctors, engineers, educationists, statesmen and sportsmen. They include IAS officers BS Ojha and RS Ojha, both brothers who rose to become the chief secretaries of Haryana and Punjab at the same time; social worker Bhagat Puran Singh, who founded the Pingalwara in Amritsar and was a student from 1916-23; Justice Sukhdev Singh Kang, former chief justice of the Jammu and Kashmir high court and governor of Kerala; Dr SP Loomba, a former principal and director of Rajindra Medical College and Hospital, Patiala; Dr Daljit Singh, a former principal of Khalsa College, Amritsar, and now vice-chancellor of Rayat Bahra University; Raj Kumar Vashisht, who retired as additional director general of Himachal Police; JV Yakhmi, a retired associate director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai; and Chander Prakash Vora, former director general of Zoological Survey of India.
Among the sportsmen are Shekhar Bector, who represented India for seven years in gymnastics, Sukhdeep Singh, who won seven medals at the university championship in swimming, and Bhupinder Singh, who brought laurels to the school in athletics.
Officiating principal Dinesh Kumar Gautam, who joined the school as a Hindi and Sanskrit teacher in 1984, admits the school has hit a rough patch of late. He says the decline set in after the death of principal Naresh Chandra Khanna on March 14, 1991. “The principal was returning from the morning assembly when militants barged into the campus and shot him dead in front of staff and students,” says Gautam. Today, a bust of the late principal stands at the place where he was assassinated.
“In the early years, the headmaster was the final authority and the management entrusted in him with the responsibility of ensuring a good result. That’s not the case anymore,” says Sharma.
An alumnus, Vinod Vashisht, minces no words when he says populism is costing the school its glory. “With the electoral system of management, political interference in the recruitments and delay in the appointment of a regular principal are contributing factors for the decline,” he says.
To start with, the only other school in town was Khalsa School, but with several English medium private schools, affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), opening up over the past two decades, takers for the oldest school has seen a drop.
The school did well during RS Sharma’s 13-year tenure as principal till 1987 as he was also committed to its excellence. There was no regular principal from 1987-90 till Naresh Chandra Khanna took charge. The school performance started showing an improvement from 2000 onwards with students undergoing extra classes.
Vacancies to fill
“There has been no regular principal since 2010. An officiating headmaster can’t take firm decisions and think long term. Ad hocism doesn’t work. This school needs a visionary who is committed to it,” says KK Sharma.
Today, 45 out of 79 posts of teacher are vacant in the school.
In 2002, the Punjab government banned new appointments in all aided schools and colleges to tide over the fiscal deficit. The ban was challenged by school managing committees and lifted in 2013. The schools were asked to fill vacancies over four years but this was not done mainly because of the government’s decision to reduce its share in such schools from 95% to 70% and increase the committee’s contribution from 5% to 30%.
Though the income slab was not the criterion for admission, today the school caters to students from the economically weaker sections many of who need to work for a living, too. “All children have the ability and can do well with proper guidance,” says Sharma. He suggests that the trust membership criteria can be reviewed to include a minimum educational qualification and adds that the trust should unanimously start nominating two to three educationists as members.
Reacting to this, Rajeev Rai Mehta, the trust president, says getting 20 members to agree on nomination is a tall order. “We are on the course to recovery. This year’s result was better than last year’s,” he says.
The alumni association, which was formed only last year, is also playing a major role in motivating children to complete their education and head for college. Vinod Dutt, an alumnus and managing director of Super Milk, says, “We are helping students by paying the amount they earn by working so that they can study after school.”
Dutt has been instrumental in revamping the school library, too.
History at a glance
1915: School started up to middle standard
1920: Raised to high school standard; Inder Singh North Block of eight rooms built. Inder Singh Ahluwalia donated Rs 22,500
1922: First matric class appeared in the exam conducted by Punjab University, Lahore, to which the school was affiliated
1927: Main building of the school and hostel completed
1929: Dayanand Hall set up. Ch Rolu Ram donated Rs 18,000 for it.
1932: The Anglo Sanskrit High School Khanna Trust and Management Society became a registered body on November 17, 1932
1945: New block of primary school ready
1946: AS College, Khanna, set up
1958: School raised to higher secondary standard
1961: Library hall built with donation by Siri Ram Panesar
1970: Clock tower built with then principal Nand Lal Kalra raising funds for it
1986: School raised to senior secondary standard
1997: Platinum jubilee of the school celebrated
The AS High School Khanna Trust and Management Society runs seven institutions to cater to the academic needs of more than 7,000 students in Khanna. The institutions are: AS Senior Secondary School, AS College, AS College for Women, AS Modern Senior Secondary School, MGC AS Model School, AS College of Education and AS Group of Institutions.
There are 5,700 trust members, who are permanent residents of Khanna and have donated Rs 21,000. They elect a body of 20 members for three years. At present, advocate Rajeev Rai Mehta is the trust president and Baldev Krishan Batra the general secretary.
(This is a part of HT’s special series on ‘Punjab Region’s Oldest Schools of Learning’)