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Delhi University Centenary: How a fledgling Delhi varsity became a premier pan-India institution

Delhi University began with two faculties — science and arts — and eight departments — English, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, history, economics, physics, and chemistry.

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The idea for a university in Delhi began in 1911 following the decision to shift the capital of the British Raj to Delhi from Kolkata (then Calcutta). (Delhi University)

Delhi University marked the start of its centenary celebrations on May 1. The varsity began with 750 students in three colleges in 1922, growing to 90 colleges and 86 departments with more than 6 lakh students enrolling from across India. Through its 100-year history, the university has become deeply intertwined with the evolution of the city.

IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY

The idea for a university in Delhi began in 1911 following the decision to shift the capital of the British Raj to Delhi from Kolkata (then Calcutta). However, World War I, differences over the varsity’s nature, and lack of funds kept the idea dormant for another 11 years.

On January 16, 1922, the Imperial Legislative Assembly introduced the Delhi University Bill with the aim to establish a unitary teaching and residential university in the British Indian capital. At the time, Delhi only had three arts colleges — St Stephen’s College, founded by the Cambridge Mission in 1882; Hindu College, founded in 1899; and Ramjas College, founded in 1917 — and Lady Hardinge Medical College. These three colleges became the varsity’s first constituent colleges.

The Assembly passed the bill on February 22, while the Council of States approved it on February 28. The Viceroy accorded assent on April 6 and the Delhi University Act came into force on May 1, 1922. The Viceroy, Lord Reading, became the first Chancellor of the varsity, while Hari Singh Gour was the first Vice-Chancellor.

Delhi University began with two faculties — science and arts — and eight departments — English, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, history, economics, physics, and chemistry.

EARLY STRUGGLES

During its first decade, the varsity made significant additions: the Faculty of Law was set up in 1924; Delhi College, tracing its history to the 17th century, was revived as Anglo-Arabic College and affiliated to the varsity that same year (the college is now Zakir Husain Delhi College); Commercial College (Shri Ram College of Commerce) started in 1926; and Lady Irwin College was started in 1932.

During this phase of transition, the university functioned from rented buildings — being housed in the Ritz Cinema building, Curzon House on Alipur Road, and in the Old Secretariat building. It was allotted its current home in the Viceregal Lodge and Estate close to the Ridge in 1923.

However, the varsity continued to suffer from problems in its early years. In her essay The Foundation and Early History of Delhi University in Delhi Through The Ages, historian Aparna Basu wrote that Delhi University failed to receive substantial measure of public confidence because of rivalry between the colleges and internal strife and factionalism.

MAURICE GWYER’S VISION

The tide turned for the varsity following the appointment of Sir Maurice Gwyer as Vice-Chancellor in 1938. Gwyer Hall, the university’s oldest men’s residence, is named after the man, who presented a memorandum to the government with a vision for an all-India character. Basu wrote that he envisioned the varsity as a “miniature Oxbridge” with clusters of small residential colleges around the varsity’s core.

Among his measures were the establishment of professorial chairs and readerships, scholarships to encourage young men with real ability to come to Delhi from across India, transfer of constituent colleges to the varsity area, and fixing three years as the length of an ordinary degree course.

In 1942, St Stephen’s moved to its new site in what would become North Campus, soon followed by Hindu, SRCC, and Ramjas.

POST-PARTITION GROWTH

Partition changed the city’s demography and character. The need to accommodate students from West Punjab led to establishment of new colleges such as Hansraj College (1948), SGTB Khalsa College (1951), Deshbandhu College (1952), and Kirori Mal College (1954).

With colleges being added over the years, the most recently founded ones were intended to cater to students from far-flung areas — Aditi Mahavidyalaya in Bawana, Keshav Mahavidyalaya in Pitampura, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College in Dwarka, Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar College in Yamuna Vihar.

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