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In Limelight for Denying Entry to Rahul, Osmania University Has a Rich History

The seventh oldest university in India has a tumultuous history of activism and controversy.

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Edited By :Tejas Harad

Hyderabad's century-old Osmania University was recently in the limelight after the varsity denied permission to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to visit the campus and to hold a 'non-political' meeting with the students on 7 May.

The university's reported refusal triggered a row, with several Youth Congress leaders staging a protest at the Osmania University Arts College over the decision, while the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and students' associations affiliated with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) organised counter-protests.

However, this is not the first time that the public university has come in the eye of the storm. The seventh oldest university in India has a tumultuous history of activism and controversy.

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A Look at Osmania University's History

From its genesis as an institute of Urdu instruction to its transformation into a modern university imparting education in English and various branches of science and technology, Jamia-e-Osmania, as it was earlier known, has come a long way.

Nawab Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, had promulgated a farman to establish the Osmania University on 26 April 1917. It was India's first university to adopt Urdu as the medium of instruction, but with English as a compulsory subject.

The seventh oldest university in India has a tumultuous history of activism and controversy.

Nizam Nawab Osman Ali Khan

(Photo Courtesy: Osmania University website)

The move to set up the university with Urdu as the medium of instruction was seen as the first step in revolt against the supremacy of the foreign languages in India. Upon its formation, Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore had observed:

"I have long been waiting for the day when, freed from the shackles of a foreign language, our education becomes naturally accessible to all our people. It is a problem for the solution of which we look to our Native States, and it gives me great joy to know that your State proposes to found a University in which instructions are to be given through the medium of Urdu. It is needless to say that your scheme has my fullest appreciation."

Arts and theology were only the two faculties in the first year with 225 students and 25 faculty members. It offered courses in different languages like Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Persian, and Arabic, besides Urdu and English.

The seventh oldest university in India has a tumultuous history of activism and controversy.
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The classes in the first few decades were conducted separately for boys and girls, in accordance with the purdah system.

In 1948, as the Hyderabad state joined the Indian Union, the University also witnessed massive changes.

Urdu was replaced with English as the medium of instruction, and several new courses like Political Science, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Journalism, Public Administration, Statistic, Genetics and Geophysics, among others, were introduced.

Over a hundred years since its formation, the university is recognised as the seventh oldest in the country and third oldest institute of higher education in southern India.

Its alumni include Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, India's first astronaut Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, celebrated film director Shyam Benegal, former Reserve Bank of India Governor Y Venugopal Reddy, founder and chairperson of Cobra Beer and Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, Karan Bilimoria, and Magsaysay awardee Shantha Sinha.

Legacy of Political Activism at Osmania University

Over the decades, the university has borne witness to the large-scale socio-political changes in the country, and has served as a nerve centre for various movements.

In 1952, a few years after India gained independence, the university students stood up in protest when the central government proposed to take over the institution and convert it into a central varsity with Hindi as the medium of instruction.
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Around the same time, the campus was also rocked by protests demanding jobs for locals.

The most prominent example of Osmania University's participation in the political arena, however, is noted as its vehement agitation during the Telangana movement in the early 1970s. The university served as the epicentre for persistent protests demanding separate statehood for Telangana, till the formation of Telangana nearly for decades later in 2014.

While the agitation had been continuing since the 1970s, it blew up in 2009, when a joint action committee formed to lead the demand for a separate Telangana was convened by Osmania University professor M Kodandaram.

During the 'Telangana March' of 2012 and the 'Chalo Assembly,' the campus saw clashes between the pro-statehood protesters and the police trying to contain the movement.

The seventh oldest university in India has a tumultuous history of activism and controversy.

The university, in a way, became the laboratory where the idea of a separate state simmered for four decades, before it was realised.

“The idea of Telangana was kept alive mainly through public meetings which were conducted regularly by different generations of students or student groups," Mallesh Sankasala, the former principal of the Arts College, Osmania University, told Mint on the centenary of the university in 2017.

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Recent Controversies: Rahul Gandhi, Tejasvi Surya

Osmania University found itself embroiled in controversy after it reportedly refused to approve the visit of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to the campus for a ‘non-political’ event, which was scheduled for Saturday, 7 May. The Congress said that Gandhi had wished to visit the campus to meet the varsity's students as well as unemployed youth, and listen to their grievances about lack of jobs in the state.

Although the Osmania University Executive Council has not refused the permit officially, reports of the university’s decision has triggered a fury among students.

Osmania University saw protests by the Congress, who have blamed Telangana Rashtra Samithi-led state government of playing a hand in discouraging the top institution to stop Gandhi’s visit. As many as 18 members of the National Students' Union of India (NSUI), the student wing of the Congress, were arrested by the police for pelting stones during an agitation outside the university's administration building on 1 May.

The seventh oldest university in India has a tumultuous history of activism and controversy.

Protests at Osmania University over denial of entry to Rahul Gandhi.

(Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

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The Congress party, along with some students, also moved the Telangana High Court, urging it to permit the Congress leader’s visit. The court, in 2016, had directed the state government to not allow political and public meetings on the university’s premises.

Hearing the plea on 4 May, the court upheld its 2016 order.

In 2020, BJP MP from Karnataka and the party’s youth wing president Tejasvi Surya had allegedly trespassed on the Osmania University campus without permission, following which a case was registered against him and his supporters by the police.

Surya had allegedly removed barricades stationed at the gates of the university and had entered the campus to pay respects to the martyrs of the Telangana movement.

The seventh oldest university in India has a tumultuous history of activism and controversy.

He had also delivered an address to the students, even as the Osmania University registrar denied having given permission for such an event.

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Topics:  Congress   Telangana   Rahul Gandhi 

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