A Wave Of Change: A Case Study On The Deccan Education Society, Poona

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After preliminary dabblings, mid-19th Century India saw western education making some progress, with the establishment of a few high schools and colleges in the larger cities of Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Poona. The three Presidency capitals of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay saw the foundation of the three Universities. Graduates in those days, acquired jobs as mid-rank administrators, receiving much social and financial status. However, there was a large group of educated young men who saw past this social and financial advancement and paid more interest to the needs and interests of the country. They also very well knew about the lacunas that existed in society; they thus, realised that education was the best tool that could be used to eradicate the demerits that clutched the Indian society acutely. It was in the mid- 1880s that a group of enlightened young men came together in Poona and set up a school and college, under the aegis of the Deccan Education Society, paving the way for furthering the educational needs of an awakening nation.

This paper intends to look at the journey of the Deccan Education Society, its founders, its objectives and its role as a change-maker in the field of education.

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Deccan Education Society, education, change-maker, society


The East India Company set up its rule in Poona in 1818, when they routed Peshwa Bajirao II, bringing an end to the Peshwa regime. Subsequently, the Bombay Presidency was established, this included Sindh, Gujarat, North-Western Karnataka and Maharashtra, however, Marathwada and Vidarbha were not part of it yet.

Western education

Governor Mountstuart Elphinstone was one of the early administrators who had understood that education of the natives was a must for the smooth functioning of the colonial administrators. The Charter Act of 1813, could be said to be amongst the first of the efforts made towards the implementation of education ion India. The section 43 of the Charter Act of 1813, made it compulsory on the East India Company to accept the responsibility of the education of Indians. As soon as Mountstuart Elphinstone took the charge of the first governor of the Bombay Presidency, he wrote his famous minute on education and did experiments for the educational reorganization of the province. He believed that education would lead to the ending of evil practices like Sati, female infanticide etc. It was clear from his experience that Indians were closely associated in the educational reorganization of Bombay. All educational institutions except Poona College and Elphinstone Institute were managed by the Bombay Native Education Society which consists of a large number of Indians. The Bombay Native Education Society conducted 115 primary schools of English medium. The prime aim of the educational system developed here in India by Government was to make it according to their colonial interests and that it should strengthen their colonial power. However, it was not until 1835, when Thomas Babington Macaulay gave his famous Minutes, through which he declared, the spread of education, to create a class of natives, who would be in manners and attitude and word. Issues regarding what has to be taught and how; what should be the medium of instruction, whether solely English or through vernacular languages, were issues that were being debated, until a solution was reached. The 1854 Despatch of Charles Wood, also known as “The Magna Charta of English Education in India.” “A scheme of education for all India, a very comprehensive scheme than the Local or the Supreme government could ever have ventured to suggest.” Soon after this, the University Acts of 1857 was passed.

Education expanded the horizons and opened up newer avenues of thinking and showed how Western society functioned, bringing to light the rudimentary and orthodox customs which had gripped the Indian society. Subsequently, a wave of Renaissance swept the country; a need to work towards socio-religious reform, education of the masses, the emancipation of women and the downtrodden, all began to attain centre stage. From Raja Ram Mohan Roy, to Mahatma Jotiba Phule to Keshav Dhondu Karve, to Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Savitribai Phule, Pandita Ramabai Saraswati, Ramabai Ranade, Cornelia Sohrabji and the likes, all generated a surge of inspiration for others to follow.

According to J.P. Naik and Syed Nurullah, there were three objectives which primarily discussed during the finalization of Educational policy in India:

  1. To spread the Western Knowledge
  2. To secure properly trained servants for the public administration of the country
  3. The Indian masses would do the Sovereign’s duty

The system of liberal education in India was organized with an emphasis of the spread of the western knowledge and for this purpose, universities were established and attempts were also made for the education of women. And at the same time, a system of professional and vocational knowledge was organized with the prime object of training Indians for government service. J.P. Naik and Syed Nurullah were against the common view that the sole aim of educational policy was to prepare servants for the administrative set up, and further argued that the pioneers such as Mountstuart Elphinstone, Lord Macaulay were of the view that there should be the eradication of superstitious culture and at the same time there should not arise sentiments of rebel against the align regime by spreading western knowledge.

Deccan Education Society

Schools like St. Anne’s, the Bishop’s School, and some others had already been established by the 1860’s in Poona. They had been functioning successfully, when on 1st January 1880, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar and Mahadev Ballal Namjoshi, started the New English School in Poona. This was the first school to be established in Poona, which was run by natives. Within no time the school gained good recognition for the standard of education it was imparting. The founders soon realised that, there was growing demand to expand into higher education and not restrict themselves to only school level teaching. Thus, on 2nd January 1885, the Fergusson College was established. It was named after the then Governor of Bombay, Sir James Fergusson, who had donated a good sum of money for the establishment of the college, he was the first patron of the Deccan Education Society. (As a matter of interest, Sir James Fergusson was the son-in-law of Lord Dalhousie; the master of ceremonies at the inaugural function of the college was Sir William Wordsworth, grandson of the famous poet William Wordsworth and Principal of the Deccan College, Poona.)

By founding the Deccan Education Society on ‘Vijaya Dashsami’, one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar, these great stalwarts began a journey of social change and a better society.

The establishment of the Fergusson College was a significant and logical continuation of the goal of spreading education to the higher classes. Principal Vaman Shivram Apte was the first Principal of the College, he was also the Secretary of the Society.

The activities of the Society soon picked up the pace, and one after another, other institutions – schools and colleges were established under it.

In 1935, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Fergusson College, a technology institute was started on its campus.

The establishment of the Deccan Education Society lay in the fact that, the society went on to become a landmark in Indian education. Many more such education societies were established after being inspired by it. The Deccan Education Society, became a great example of a non-governmental effort in spreading education.

In the initial years, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar worked as teachers in the Fergusson College. Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Dhondo Keshav Karve were also life members of the society and taught at the college in the 1890s.

The society established the New English School at Satara in 1899. The society took over the Mawjee Madhavjee English School in Umbergaon in 1919, and the Dravid High School of Wai in 1934. In 1919, the society opened the Willingdon College in Sangli to fulfil the demand for higher education in southern Maharashtra. In 1939, the Society started a secondary education for girls by starting the Ahilyadevi High School for Girls in the historic premises of the Holkar Wada in Pune. In 1943, the society started the Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce, for which the Brihan Maharashtra Sugar Syndicate Ltd. gave to the Society a donation of Rs. 2,00,000. Rulers of many Princely states like Bhor and Sangli were patrons of the society.

The aim of the Deccan Education Society was declared to impart national education. Rajarshi Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj was the president of the Deccan Education Society and helped it in its development.

The inception of the Deccan Education Society and the Fergusson College, coincided with that of the Indian National Congress. All of this brought about a spirit national awakening and self-respect. It was a time, when the country was going into a phase of socio-political progress. It was unique coming together of events, when an educational institution as the Deccan Education Society was established by the Father of Indian Unrest, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and was nurtured by the influential political leader, Gopal Krishna Gokhale. The Deccan Education Society has seen a whole wide spectrum of historical events in its journey since its inception. In fact, the establishment of the Indian National Congress ushered in an upsurge for the struggle for independence. The Golden Jubilee Year of 1935, coincided with the end of the non-Cooperation phase and the setting in power of popular ministries under the Irwin pact. In 1945, the year of the Diamond Jubilee saw the end of the Second World War; as well as the Simla Conference, where seeds were sown for the establishment of an Interim Government. In the next few years, India would witness the horrific partitioning of the country and the attainment of independence. Subsequently, in the next few years, a university would be established in Poona.


Today, even after 134 years, the Deccan Education Society is a name to reckon with. It is a dynamic and vigorous conglomeration of now over 45 institutions, known for the quality of education they impart. These institutions are spread through Pune, Mumbai, Sangli, Satara and Wai, they consist of pre- primary, primary and high schools, undergraduate and post-graduate colleges in Arts, Science and Commerce, Management, Agriculture and Law and research institutions. There are also institutes of technical and vocational education including nursing and physiotherapy.

The Deccan Education Society has rendered priceless service to the country through the scores of students who passed through its hallowed portals. Several of its students have been renowned patriots, thinkers, philosophers, poets, writers, teachers, social workers, scientists, industrialists, administrators, defence officers, sportspersons and film makers. Every walk of life is enriched by Fergussonians, who have achieved eminence in their respective field. The College has gained worldwide reputation and recognition. Whether it was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, former Prime Ministers P. V. Narasimha Rao and Vishwanath Pratap Singh, P. L. Deshpande, Prahlad Keshav Atre, R. P. Paranjpe, Shriram Lagoo, Smita Patil, J. B. Kripalani, Madhav Gadgil, Sai Paranjpye, Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla, and many others, all of whom have in more ways than one contributed immensely to the nation. Whether it was its founders or its students, the Deccan Education Society was blessed to have luminaries.

Institutional histories have been many, but it would not be incorrect in saying that the Deccan Education Society, has been by far unique. It came up at the time of the beginning of the freedom efforts, when it was not known that the exertions would take shape into a movement of independence. It was started by individuals who had carved out a niche for themselves and were pioneers in the field of the freedom movement.

The Deccan Education Society had also been blessed in securing patronage from even, as much as from the Governor himself. This was, however, also the time, essentially the post- 1957 era, when were playing it safe, by using the Safety Valve Theory; as they were now, not in the mood, position or condition to risk another Revolt, like the one that had taken place in 1857.

Whether it was out of genuine desire to improve the educational set up in the nation or was it a continuation of Macaulay’s policy of educating the natives for fulfilling the administrative needs of the Raj, or out of the concern of pleasing the natives in order to avoid revolt. Whatever may have been the accurate purpose; it worked in the favour of the founders of the Deccan Education Society, who, in many ways were the game-changers, and ushered in an era of transformation.

Today, the Deccan Education Society and its institutions have garnered a great and enviable stature in teaching and research in the Sciences and Humanities. It continues to play an important role in the field of education and is surely a pioneer in setting a change in society.


  1. Naik J. P. (1943), A Review of Modern Education in India (1813-1942), Tilak College of Education, Pune, p. 13.
  2. Naik J. P. Nurullah Syed, (1974), A Students’ History of Education In India (1800-1973), McMillan India, Madras, p. 97-99.
  3. Karve D. D., The Deccan Education Society, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Feb., 1961), pp. 205-212
  4. Johnson, Gordon (1973). Provincial Politics and Indian Nationalism: Bombay and the Indian National Congress 1880-1915. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 68–78. ISBN 0-521-20259-0. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  5. DES (1945). Diamond Jubilee of Deccan Education Society and Fergusson College, 1884-1945. Pune. pp. 4–6. Retrieved 30 June 2018
  6. Catriona Ellis, ‘Education for All: Reassessing the Historiography of Education in Colonial India.’ History Compass (2009
  7. Suresh Chandra Ghosh, ‘Bentinck, Macaulay and the introduction of English education in India,’ History of Education, (March 1995


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