Delhi University’s Dyal Singh Evening College is a little paperwork away from being officially rechristened Vande Mataram Mahavidyalaya.

The name was suggested at a meeting on November 17 by the college governing body’s chairperson, Amitabh Sinha, a lawyer and member of the Bharatiya Janta Party. College principal Pawan Kumar Sharma said that the proposal was adopted with little resistance from other members of the governing body.

Founded in 1958, Dyal Singh Evening College has long shared its campus with Dyal Singh College, which started the next year. Both colleges share the same governing body and college buildings but have separate teaching and administrative staff, principals and students. However, five months ago, Delhi University decided to convert the evening college into a morning college. This is why the evening college needed a new name.

The proposed rechristening, however, has elicited mixed feelings among the teachers and students of the morning-shift college. Some say that it is a “divisive name” that contradicts the secular legacy of the 19th century businessman, progressive thinker and educationist Dyal Singh Majithia after whom both colleges are named. Others say the colleges have pressing problems that should have been addressed instead, such as the lack of infrastructure that makes it difficult for two colleges to run from the 11-acre campus at the same time.

Majithia’s legacy

The Dyal Singh College Trust Society was founded in Lahore by Dyal Singh Majithia (1848-1898), an early supporter of the Indian National Congress. It established its first college, the Government Dyal Singh College, in that city in 1910. After Partition, the Trust moved to India. It started the evening college – Delhi University’s first – nine years after Independence. In 1978, Delhi University took over the management of both colleges, which is why the Trust had no say in the renaming of the evening college. The Trust still runs colleges, schools and libraries in the Punjab-Haryana-Delhi region.

Majithia also founded The Tribune newspaper and was a trustee of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, an offshoot of the Hindu social reform movement.

Sachin N, a teacher at Dyal Singh College and member of Delhi University’s academic council, said that Majithia was “a committed secularist”. Explaining why he felt the evening college’s new name was problematic, he said: “‘Vande Mataram’ does not have the same connotation it did before 1947. Today, it is a divisive phrase used to bait a minority community. It goes totally against Majithia’s legacy.”

In a feature published in 1998 to commemorate Majithia’s death centenary, the academic Madan Gopal wrote in The Tribune:

“Dyal Singh was an unorthodox person. He had Muslim and Christian cooks. At his dining table sat Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Parsis. The wine dealers’ bill for himself and guests was substantial. A scion of the family that had held charge of the affairs of the Golden Temple for decades, Dyal Singh returned from Kashi to Majitha. Instructed by a British governess and then educated at the Christian Mission School at Amritsar, he had an inquisitive mind. He knew more about Christ and Christianity than even the pastors. With a religious bent of mind, he studied the Gita with the help of a Sanskrit teacher from Ferozepur, and studied the Quran too.” 

But both Sharma and the college’s students’ union president Divakar Yadav denied there was any ideological slant to the rechristening. “[Vande Mataram] is a totally secular name about respecting the motherland,” said Sharma. “It does not go against what Dyal Singh Majithia stood for – he was a great patriot, a great son of this country.”

Attempting to explain that the college did not undermine Majithia’s legacy, Sharma said that the evening college still had a section in its library comprising “books brought from Lahore”.

Yadav said that students were pleased with the new name, which had nothing to do with the fact that a member of the BJP was the chairperson of the governing body.

Manjinder Singh Sirsa, a member of the Shiromani Akali Dal, and an MLA representing Rajouri Garden in Delhi, has opposed the decision to rename the evening college. “We [will] not let the name change happen,” he told the Press Trust of India. “If it is not revoked, it will result in unpleasant protests.”

Governing body chairperson Amitabh Sinha did not reply to calls or text messages seeking his response. If he does, this piece will be updated.

Limited infrastructure

Viraj Kafle, who represents teachers in the college governing body, said that though the renaming proposal has drawn immense attention, picking a new name for the college was not even on the top of the agenda for the November 17 meeting, as both colleges have major problems to deal with.

Since around 2010, Delhi University has converted several evening colleges into morning colleges. For instance, Deshbandhu Evening College became Ramanujan College in 2010, and Ram Lal Anand Evening became Aryabhatta College in 2014. However, in these cases, the new morning colleges got separate premises to function from. However, both the Dyal Singh colleges are expected to squeeze in together without being allocated additional space.

According to the morning college’s staff association president, PK Parihar, Dyal Singh College has about 6,000 students while Dyal Singh Evening College has about 2,500. “We have just 11 acres of land and already space was limited,” said Parihar. “How can two colleges run together at the same time?”

He added: “There is friction between morning and evening college teachers over classrooms and parking slots. The canteen is crowded and our playground is small even for just one college. We do not have hostels or staff quarters.”

Though Sharma said that new buildings are coming up, others say even those will not be adequate for both colleges.

During the November 17 governing body meeting, students protested against the decision to convert the evening college into a morning college without the provision of additional land. Another protest in collaboration with the All India Students’ Association is scheduled for November 20.

Kafle said that he dissented at the governing body meeting, not with regard to the choice of the new name, but regarding the decision to rename the college at all. “I dissented, saying that a name cannot be selected till the other problems have been resolved,” said Kafle. “Another teacher wondered aloud if it would not be better to continue with the legacy of Majithia, but there was no further discussion on it.”

In July, in response to protests, Delhi University’s executive council formed a committee to study the feasibility of having the two colleges run from the same campus at the same time. But Sachin N confirmed that both colleges have been running together in the morning since September.