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Role of Dr. G.W. Leitner in Promotion of Vernacular Education in Panjab

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Abstract

Dr. Leitner was appointed the first Principal of the Government College, Lahore in 1864. He was the force behind the idea of setting up a university in Panjab. He founded Anjuman-i-Panjab in 1865, a propagandist literary society for promotion of education and himself became its Secretary. When Panjab University College was sanctioned by Govt. of India, its first object was “to promote the diffusion of European Science, as far as possible, through the medium of vernacular languages of the Panjab and the improvement and extension of the vernacular literature generally”.
Role of Dr. G.W. Leitner in Promotion of Vernacular Education in Panjab
Hardev SinghVirk
Professor of Eminence, SGGS World University, Fatehgarh Sahib, India
E-mail: hardevsingh.virk@gmail.com
Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm (GW) Leitner was born in Budapest (1840) in a Jewish
family. At the age of eight, he went to Constantinople to learn Arabic and Turkish.
At ten, he was fluent in European languages and Arabic and Turkish. As a
Linguist, he had acquaintance with fifty languages and could speak fluently many
of these. He was appointed Professor of Arabic and Muslim Law in Kings College
London at the age of twenty three.
Dr GW Leitner, Principal of Govt. College, Lahore
Dr. Leitner was appointed the first Principal of the Government College, Lahore in
1864. He was the force behind the idea of setting up a university in Panjab. He
founded Anjuman-i-Panjab in 1865, a propagandist literary society for promotion
of education and himself became its Secretary. From the very outset, this society
started a movement to get the colleges of the Panjab dissociated from the
University of Calcutta and to secure the establishment of a University at Lahore. It
established a free Public Library, compiled a number of treatises and translations in
vernacular and classical languages, and opened an Oriental School at Lahore
during the first year of its existence. Similar societies were founded at Amritsar,
Gurdaspur and Rawalpindi. Dr Leitner prepared a plan for setting up “Oriental
University” for promoting the study of vernacular literature and to impart
knowledge of all sorts, including Science, in the vernacular. The proposal was not
approved at the Govt. of India level due to shortage of funds.
The demand for a University in the Panjab had its genesis in a letter dated June 10,
1865, from Sir Donald McLeod, the then Lieutenant-Governor of the province, in
which suggestions were invited for "the improvement of Oriental learning and the
development of a sound vernacular literature". The suggestions were warmly
taken up by the Anjuman-i-Panjab, about 200 members of which deliberated upon
them and proposed that an "Oriental University" be set up with headquarters at
Lahore to achieve the goal. The movement was actively supported by a number of
Englishmen who organized themselves into a 'European Committee of Support'.
Under the influence of this committee, the original character of the university was
changed into an Anglo-Vernacular university.
In 1870, Panjab University College and its twin, Oriental College Lahore were
born. The objective of setting up an Oriental University was to be achieved
through this college. It was called Oriental School till March 1872, when its title
was changed to Oriental College. Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit were taught as
major languages in Oriental College along with study of Arithmetic, Algebra,
Euclid, the History of India and Geography. After a few years, Hindi and Panjabi
were also introduced in its curriculum.
According to a Report of 1879, Oriental College was running “in a flourishing
condition” under the care of Dr. Leitner as a “guide, philosopher and friend”. He
was Superintendent of Oriental College in addition to his duties as Principal of
Govt. College, Professor of Arabic and Mohammedan Law there in, and Registrar
of Panjab University College. The Report by Dr. Leitner states the objects of the
Oriental College as follows:
1. To give a high Classical Oriental education together with instruction in
branches of general knowledge, and
2. To give a practical direction to every study. Oriental College was to train
students in Entrance, Proficiency and High Proficiency in Arts; the Oriental
Certificates of Pandit, Maulvi and Munshi; Oriental fellowships and
Translatorships; Native Lawyers; Sub-Overseers; Teachers of Schools;
Hakims and Veds in the native and prepared for the European medicine.
Dr Leitner was nursing the Oriental College to grow into the Oriental University.
He was overjoyed over the conduct of students who hailed from Kabul, Hunza,
Nagyr, Badakhshan, Bokhara, Kolab and Gabrial to become distinguished Oriental
Scholars. The classes were run by Pandits, Maulvis and Munshis. The Report
mentioned that the Engineering classes were taught by Ganga Ram (later Sir), the
Mayo-Patiala Fellow, in vernacular (Urdu medium) in Oriental College. Law
classes were also being held in Oriental College.
When Panjab University College was sanctioned by Govt. of India, its first object
was “to promote the diffusion of European Science, as far as possible, through the
medium of vernacular languages of the Panjab and the improvement and extension
of the vernacular literature generally”. It was proposed to be achieved by offering
monetary rewards to translators, editors and compilers. Dr. Leitner himself
prepared four volumes under this scheme: “Sanin-i-Islam Parts I ⅈ and an
Arabic grammar “Muqadamat-us-Sarf” in Urdu and Arabic”. Lala Bihari Lal wrote
a treatise on psychology “Atam Tatwa Vidya” in Gurmukhi. Books of Chemistry,
Mathematics, Physical Science, Philosophy and Physiology were translated into
Urdu, the lingua franca of Panjab. So Academic Panjab was infected with the
writer’s itch, one of the universal diseases of modern civilization, under the
patronage of Dr. Leitner, the greatest Orientalist of his times.
The establishment of the Panjab University College was only a stepping-stone for
the leaders of the movement to press forward their demand for the foundation of
the Panjab University. Dr. Leitner, the Principal of the College, pleaded their case
very effectively. Despite all efforts of Dr Leitner to push up the proposal in the
both Houses of Parliament in England, it was not approved by the Government of
India. The decision evoked great disappointment and there was complete lull for
three years.
In 1877, Lord Lytton, on the occasion of the Imperial Darbar in Delhi, promised to
introduce a Bill in the Legislative Council for endowing the Panjab University
College with the status of a University, competent to confer degrees. During the
next five years the torch of the University movement was kept burning by the
people of the Panjab under the guidance of Dr. Leitner and letters were exchanged
between the State Government and Government of India on the one hand, and
between the Government of India and the Secretary of State on the other. Panjab
University came into existence on October 14, 1882, by a Notification issued by
the Lieutenant-Governor of the Panjab, in pursuance of the provisions of the Act of
Incorporation. Mr. Baden-Powell was appointed the first Honorary Vice-
Chancellor and Dr. Leitner, the Registrar of the new University.
He retired from Indian Civil service in 1886 and died in Bonn in 1899. The people
of Panjab (both Indian and Pakistani) owe their debt and gratitude to Gottlieb
Wilhelm Leitner for creation of Panjab University (Lahore & its sister at
Chandigarh) and promotion of Oriental Learning in vernacular languages of
Panjab. He was a pioneer of Urdu language as medium of instruction and he wrote
several treatises on the dialects of the tribal belt of Hindu Kush area of United
India.
Why Step-Motherly Treatment for Panjabi: After the annexation of Panjab in
1849, the British Indian government started planning for introduction of modern
European system of education in Panjab. Sikh Sardars were generally as innocent
of letters as the medieval English barons of England. Persian was the court
language of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was replaced by Urdu as the lingua franca of
Panjab after annexation and also adopted as the medium of instruction. The Panjab
Administration Report of 1851-52 states:Panjabi is falling into desuetude, losing
its currency as a spoken language, and degenerating into a provincial and rustic
dialect whereas Urdu is gaining ground among the upper and middle classes in
Punjab”.
The Sikh Sardars and Chiefs of States also gave preference to Urdu vis a vis
Punjabi in the Gurmukhi script as medium of instruction. Sardar Dyal Singh, a
scion of the Majithia family, was among the promoters of Western education in the
medium of English. He was a philanthropist extraordinary and donated funds to
several educational institutions in Lahore without any strings. He donated all his
movable and immovable properties in Punjab to set up Dayal Singh Trust. Thus
his wealth was used in funding The Tribune, Dyal Singh College & Library and
activities of Brahmo Samaj in Lahore and Calcutta.
Ultimately, Panjabi was introduced in the curriculum of Oriental College, Lahore
in 1877 through the efforts of Bhai Gurmukh Singh, a prominent leader of Singh
Sabha movement, and Sardar Attar Singh Bhadaur, President of Khalsa Diwan,
Lahore. Gurmukh Singh was appointed as first teacher of Panjabi. Later on, Panjab
University, Lahore was not in favour of recognizing Panjabi as a subject for
examinations on the plea that there is no worthwhile literature published in this
language. Again, Sardar Attar Singh came to the rescue by providing a list of
books from his library to the senate of the university. However, Panjabi was being
taught at the basic level (Budhimani, Vidwani and Giani) and MA in Panjabi was
introduced in the University curriculum at Khalsa College, Amritsar in the
academic session 1948-49, after the partition of India in 1947.
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