West Bengal, India., Dec. 5 - In these parts of a contemporary world where missionary activities in educating the underprivileged are often conceived as a tool for religious conversion, the 100-year-old Bankura Christian College could stand as example that dispels such notions.
Established as the Wesleyan Mission College on 29 June 1903, it was Bankura district’s first educational institution, the Wesleyan missionaries having chosen the location not because of any concentration of the Christian community nor, for that matter, to spread the faith. According to 1901 figures, Bankura town had 19,553 Hindus, 993 Muslims and 158 Christians — the last constituting about 0.76 per cent.
At the time, the district population was 1.16 million. In 1981, this figure rose to 2.37 million, of which Christians numbered 3,197 or 0.13 per cent of the total. Which would suggest that conversion could hardly have been the motive for setting up an institution that advertises its achievements by way of a long and hallowed alumni list for more than 100 years.
During the centenary celebrations, the pioneering efforts of founder-principal Rev J Mitchell, his successor, Rev AE Brown, who was also the chairman of Bankura municipality, and EJ Thomson were remembered. Thomson, who served as a professor of English over two stints during 1910-14 and 1920-24, subsequently got to know Rabindranath Tagore closely and translated many of his works. He subsequently became a professor of Bengali at Cambridge University.
The distinguished alumni list, available from the college publications, includes the Hon’ble Justice Ambika Prasad Bhattacharya, Advocate-General Balai Roy, writer Manik Bandyopadhyay, eminent linguist Sukumar Sen, columnist Sajanikanta Das, freedom fighter Khudiram Das, writer Radhikamohan Bhattacharya, film director Shakti Samanta, singer and composer Asima Bhattacharyya, scientist Purnendu Dasgupta and former UNO Assistant Secretary-General, the late Pravat Ghosh.
In 1907, the college received affiliation from Calcutta University to run IA and BA courses. With excellent initial results, it easily became a popular destination for higher education. With an increasing number of branches and students, classes had to be shifted to the central hall of the town but, as per university norms, the necessity for a new building arose. The original choice of "Hill House" had to be abandoned as the district administration decided to use it as the district magistrate’s abode.
Eventually, after some teething problems, Anderson Garden was chosen for the purpose. Through a memorandum of agreement executed on 27 November 1905 between the government and the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Trust, the college got the right to use the 40-acre plot. From 1910, classes were held in the new campus and from 1911-12 the college became co-educational. Mridubhasini Sinha was the first girl candidate who passed the BA examination. She was, incidentally, a Christian.
In 1917, the college became a full-fledged degree institution. By which time students from neighbouring Midnapore, Burdwan, Birbhum and Manbhum were on its rolls. Students from the Dhanbad and Jamshedpur belts also chose this college for the simple reason that it was the only institution around for higher education.
After Independence, the pioneering role of Bankura Christian College was somewhat diluted, but status was maintained. Which is why Professor Satyasadhan Chakraborty, minister for higher education, declared the institution the "lead college" in the district during the centenary celebration programme on 29 June 2003. He takes a keen interest in its activities and wants the college to go through the accreditation process at the earliest.
As for its hard-working principal, Richard Rabindranath Bajpai, he has all of Bankura to lend him a helping hand in propagating the merits of this hallowed institution.