It is a well-known fact that the British came to India as traders through the East India Company in the year 1608. A handful of Britishers established themselves under the guise of business relationships and started capturing various parts of India by adopting unethical techniques and methods. After defeating the Nawab of Bengal in 1757, this company started establishing itself as the ruler of the land. It operated arbitrarily, which led to total unrest and the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. To settle this unrest, the British Government intervened and thus began the British Raj in India. The Britishers, through various acts and laws, started appeasing certain sections of Indians by generating avenues for recruiting them in the lower positions of Government offices, administration, police, etc., to utilise their services for furthering their own interest.
This approach could not sustain for a long time, and their action revealed their natural face in their working style and procedures. The attitude of superiority, discriminatory and insulting treatment was high in trading, education, commerce, and science as well. We need to acknowledge the efforts of the Indian scientific community to cultivate science in the country despite British suppression.
Britishers brought science-based tools like mapping devices, compass, fire-glass, binoculars, and firearms, which initially impressed the Indians. But their ulterior motive of using scientific tools to explore and loot the natural resources from India was realised gradually by some individuals. The British established survey-based scientific exploration and used modern tools to extract our resources. As they were severely in need of a supporting and cheap workforce to meet their dark goals, they employed in their service local people with sharp acumen and those who had the best knowledge about their area’s geography and the respective field of science. However, Britishers gave them secondary status.
The British’s opening of new educational institutions in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay was in line with their intention to prepare a more skilled and learned workforce. The young brigade of scientists coming out of these institutions soon realised that they would never have an independent voice of their own as the British would always overshadow them. Moreover, this new generation of scientists also wanted to break the shackles of the myth that Indians could not think scientifically, did not have logical thinking, and could not do original research in the prevailing fields during those days. They revolted against the colonisers’ mindset and started their ambitious experimentation, though with limited resources but with the support of philanthropists.
Punishing Dr Sircar For Supporting Homeopathy
One of the noteworthy incidents is how a once blue-eyed Dr Mahendralal Sircar, a well-known allopathic doctor from Kolkata, became an antagonist for the Britishers. The story goes back to 1863 when he received his professional degree of MD from Calcutta Medical College. Soon, Dr Sircar became a very successful medical practitioner and was selected to be the secretary of the British Medical Association, Bengal branch. By 1867, he realised that specific treatments were not successful through allopathy. Moreover, allopathy treatments with Western medicine were a costly affair for ordinary Indians. In search of alternatives, he came across the well-known homoeopathy practitioner Dr Rajendralal Dutt from Calcutta and got attracted towards homoeopathy. Dr Sircar was perfect in his profession; he used all the scientific principles to study and practice medical treatment and started using homoeopathy to treat certain patients. However, this did not go down well with the British. For them, support to homoeopathy was like support to Germany as it originated from there, which was unacceptable to their belief and notion. Therefore, Dr Mahendralal Sircar became an enemy of the British, and they started taking revenge. He was immediately removed from the position of the secretary of the British Medical Association; they started rejecting his research publications in many journals and restricted his practice in many ways.
The meaning of such blatant, unlawful and discriminatory acts was not lost upon Indians. The idea of having their own establishment that would support science and cultivate the true spirit of science among the Indian researchers and enthusiasts was born. Therefore, with the help of Indian philanthropists, nationalists, and other supporters, Dr Sircar founded the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science (IACS) and inaugurated in Calcutta on January 15, 1876, with the then princely collection of Rs 61,000. The uniqueness of this institution was the vision of its national objectives in science and autonomy from the colonial Government.
Britishers brought science-based tools like mapping devices, Compass, fire-glass, binoculars, and firearms, which initially impressed the Indians. But their ulterior motive of using scientific tools to explore and loot the natural resources from India was realised gradually by some individuals. The British established survey-based scientific exploration and used modern tools to extract our resources
During his campaign for the association in 1875, Dr Sircar stated, “The objective of the association is to enable natives of India to cultivate science in all of its departments with a view to its advancement by original research, and (as it will necessarily follow) with a view to its varied applications to the arts and comforts of life”.
The IACS started with seven frontline areas of work viz. Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Systematic botany, Systematic zoology, Physiology, and Geology. Dr Mahendralal Sircar, Prof Lafont, Tara Prasanna Roy, Nilratan Sarkar, Chunilal Bose, JC Bose, Ashutosh Mukherjee and Param Nath Bose were some of the Indian scientists and intellectuals, who delivered lectures at the IACS. The most significant contribution of IACS was the development of the idea of nationalism in the cultivation of science. It is well-known that the first Nobel Prize in science in Asia—won by Sir CV Raman in 1930 for Raman Effect—is credited to the IACS, where Raman had carried out his experiments leading to the most prestigious award in the world.
The role of IACS was limited to Bengal; however, it led to the emergence of various institutions across various princely States. One of the members, and a hardcore geologist, Param Nath Bose, established the Indian Industrial Association in 1891, where members experimented with indigenous raw materials. Later on, the same Param Nath Bose educated Sir Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata on the iron deposits of the Chhota Nagpur plateau, Subsequently, the Tata Steel mill was established at Jamshedpur.
Institutions Survived on Donations by Indians
In 1904, Jogendranath Ghose established the Association for the Advancement of Scientific and Industrial Education (AASIE). This association played an important role in sending Indian students abroad during the Swadeshi movement.
It is important to note the present Jadavpur University and Rajabazar Science College are also the outcome of the National Council of Education set up in 1906 through Bengal Technical Institute and Bengal National College. The point to note is these institutions were outside the purview of the financial support of the British Government and survived only on donations from Indian philanthropists like Sir Taraknath Palit and politician and social worker Sir Rashbehari Ghose. Despite the discriminatory behaviour of the colonial masters, these institutions carried out advanced scientific research in Calcutta.
The establishment of the Calcutta Mathematical Society on September 6, 1908, was one of the similar efforts to generate opportunities and contribute to mathematics by Indian students. The society made its mark under the leadership of Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, the then Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University and founder president of the society, along with others.
The story of Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose is another anecdote on the list. Bose, an extraordinary physicist, botanist and biologist of the time, attracted the attention of the significant scientific community across the globe through his demonstration of wireless transmission of electromagnetic radiations. However, he too had to endure intense racial discrimination by the British. He was appointed in provisional education service with one-third the full salary of a professor, which they reserved only for professors of European origin. In fact, during his official deputation at Cambridge, the authority did not sanction his paid leave and forced him to make arrangements to complete his studies. Bose lived his life with the Indian philosophical thoughts of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam by not patenting his research in the interest of humanity. A man of high calibre, his experiments discovered and proved the existence of life and sensitivity in plants through his innovative techniques and instruments. After he retired from Presidency College, he used all his savings to establish Bose Research Institute in 1917. His sheer interest was to continue the tradition of experimentations for the sake of science and for national prestige. In the inaugural function, he mentioned, “I dedicate this institute—not merely a laboratory but a temple…”, which was later known as Basu Vigyan Mandir.
JC Bose had to endure intense racial discrimination by the British—he was appointed in provisional education service with one-third the full salary of a professor, which they reserved only for professors of European origin. In fact, during his official deputation at Cambridge, the authority did not sanction his paid leave and forced him to make arrangements to complete his studies. Bose lived his life with the Indian philosophical thoughts of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam by not patenting his research in the interest of humanity
Prof Shankar Purushottam Agharkar was yet another name, who established educational institutions in Pune. He was an Indian morphologist and an expert on biodiversity of the Western Ghats, where he discovered the freshwater jellyfish, generally found in Africa. Prof Agharkar was also secretary of the Indian Science Congress Association for several years. Inspired by Dr Sircar’s IACS, he brought together many like-minded educationists and scientists of Pune and established the Maharashtra Association for Cultivation of Science in Pune in 1946. Prof Agharkar was unanimously chosen as the founder-director of the institute. In the beginning, there was no fund available to run the institute. Therefore, many scientists worked voluntarily without any pay. To establish the institute, Prof Agharkar even sold his wife's gold ornaments. Such was the dedication and passion of people at that time. The institute was named after him in 1992 as the Agharkar Research Institute.
A Sea Voyage That Changed India
In 1893, Jamsetji was on his way to an industrial exposition in Chicago. He was staying at the same hotel in which Vivekananda would check in a few days later.
The great duo embarked on a voyage from the Japanese port of Yokohama to the Canadian port of Vancouver aboard SS Empress of India.
The two had met earlier also. Vivekananda narrated to Jamsetji the experiences he had gained during his travels throughout the length and breadth of India as a wandering monk in the quest of truth. He talked about the relentless oppression and repression of his fellow Indians he had seen at the hands of colonial authorities.
Furthermore, Vivekanada spoke about how, during his visit to in Canton (Guangzhou) in China, he had come across many Sanskrit and Bengali manuscripts in Buddhist monasteries.
He also explained that taking his faith to the West and calling for unity between the world’s major religions was the mission of his visit to the World Parliament of Religions.
They also discussed Japan’s phenomenal progress in technology and Jamsetji’s plan of laying the foundations of the steel industry to India. Jamsetji also explained that he was in search of equipment and technology that would help make India a strong industrial nation.
Vivekananda endorsed the vision with enthusiasm, adding that the real hope of India lay in the prosperity and progress of its ordinary millions. He also added that instead of importing matches from Japan, Jamsetji should manufacture them in India and help provide a livelihood to the rural poor.
Impressed by Vivekananda’s views on science and deep-rooted patriotism, Jamsetji requested his guidance in his campaign in establishing a research Institute in India. The visionary monk smiled, gave his blessings to Jamsetji.
It is clear that the national scientific awakening of the country—an important constituent of the struggle for freedom from British rule—was powered by India's scientific community with the generous support of the country's philanthropists, businessmen and political leaders, all of whom came together to free India from the colonial yoke. It was a brave effort to create and nurture long-lasting indigenous scientific institutions without the support of the colonial Government and without antagonising it either.
A well-known example is Swami Vivekanada’s suggestion to Sir Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata during their voyage from Japan to Chicago in 1893 to establish an indigenous science institute in India. This idea came about due to the typical characteristics of Britishers of not sharing their ideas and techniques when it came to the natural growth of science. Swami Vivekananda’s suggestion became a reality in 1908 when the Indian Institute of Science was established at the initiative of Jamsetji Tata and through the wholehearted support of the Maharaja of Mysore, who donated 350 acres of land in Bangalore to set up the institute.
To conclude, we can infer that the establishments started by the British in India had the sheer aim to loot India and generate lower-income labour to increase their revenue. Therefore, the majority of institutions established by native Indians were highly spiritual in developing the Swadeshi spirit and nationalistic approach among the people of India.