Set up nearly a century ago, how Raisina Bengali School catered to a new population in a new capital

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Nearly 100 years ago, the transfer of the Imperial Capital from Calcutta to Delhi and the subsequent movement of government servants from Bengal to the new capital prompted the establishment of a new school for a new population in the city: the Raisina Bengali School.

The school was established on January 2, 1925 and is a government-aided school. According to Samar Chakravarty, former librarian of the school, it was initially set up in Doctor’s Lane in Gole Market, after which it operated in the premises of Willingdon Hospital, and then in another nearby location before finally finding a permanent home in its current location in Mandir Marg.

In 1931, BN Das, the secretary and manager of the new school, wrote to the Chief Commissioner requesting that accommodation be arranged for the school’s small staff of teachers. In his letter, he informed the Chief Commissioner that the school had 12 teachers, stating that “all of them, except one who is a local Mohamedan, are for obvious reasons Bengalis recruited from their home-province Bengal.”

“This institution is, to all intents and purposes, a natural off-shoot of the Imperial Capital on its transference from Calcutta to Delhi, in as much it caters for the education need of the sons and wards of the Bengali section of the non-migratory staff of the government of India and the teachers of the institution as such, should therefore have a legitimate claim to at least a part of the amenities that the Govt. of India have been pleased to confer to their own men,” he wrote in his plea.

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According to Chakravarty, the people primarily for whose benefit the school was established were those who used to work for the government audit department in Bengal and moved to Delhi. “They moved to Delhi with their families and needed suitable schools and colleges for their wards, linked to their language and culture. So, they formed two things for their educational, religious and cultural lives in their new city, both located close to each other: The New Delhi Kali Bari and the Raisina Bengali School,” he said.

It started as a boys’ school with 57 students and a solitary teacher and went on to become a co-educational school and one of the premier schools of the city.

“When Rabindranath Tagore came to Delhi once, he visited our school. Dignitaries and guests were frequent and President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed came to the school for our Golden Jubilee even though this was during the Emergency,” said Chakravarty.

The school’s current principal, Chandrima Basak, said all students of the school continue to be Bengali because a prerequisite for admission is that one parent should be Bengali, and that it is compulsory for all students to study Bengali till class VIII as a third language. The school also continues to offer Bengali as a subject till class XII.

However, in other ways, she said the character of the school has changed over time. She said while nearly the entire staff used to be Bengali till around 15 years ago, now just about one-fourth are Bengali.

“While once most of the students were children from educated families and many were children of bureaucrats, now most of the children are first-generation learners. Because we’re a government-aided school, we just have a nominal fee. Most of them are children of Bengali craftsmen and goldsmiths in Karol Bagh and they are excellent at art. This shift over time might have been because educated or more well-off families were preferring private schools for their children,” she said.

Chakravarty also said the school has been plagued by a lack of funds and resources for years, something that might have contributed to taking the shine off a once prestigious school.



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