Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary 1

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Dr Kapil Muni Tiwary was an eminent linguist who had worked as a professor of Linguistics and English literature at the universities in India, the Republic of Yemen and in Iraq for more than 50 years. He passed away on 26 April 2021.

A scholar of English, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and several South Asian languages including Hindi and Bhojpuri, Dr Tiwary had completed his PhD in Linguistics under the supervision of an internationally acclaimed indologist, Prof George Caradona in the sixties. The subject of his thesis was Panini’s description of Sanskrit nominal compounds. He carried out some path breaking research in Descriptive and Socio- Linguistics. Many of his papers were published in well-known international journals.

In a series of interviews that I conducted in 2019 he shared the experiences of his life and times as a student and as a teacher. In the following episode he relates the story of how he got exposed to the political activities as a student in Patna University. One may also peep into the political climate of the university, immediately after independence.

Me: Sir, how did you get exposed to the political activities as a student in Patna university?

Prof Tiwary: In 1948 I enrolled as a student of I A (Intermediate of Arts) in Patna College. I was fresh from school, having no idea of what a college is, what the atmosphere was like etc. Zila School Arah, from where I had come, had strict discipline. You had to follow the rules or face the music in the school. A student like me, who was good in studies, hardly had the scope for any violations. So when I joined the College I felt I had been released from a cage. 

Patna College then was considered as the oldest and the best college for Humanities in Bihar. This 150 year college was known not just for its heritage Dutch buildings and the sprawling, beautiful campus on the bank of Ganga but also for its alumni and professors.

Soon after I joined Patna College there was a strike in the university for the abolition of Test. You had to take a test in those days before you were allowed to take the Final Examinations. It was known as the Pr-Final Test. You could appear in the Finals only after you had cleared that Test. One of the student leaders who were spearheading the protest was P N Sharma who became a professor and later Principal of Vanijya Mahavidyalaya at Patna University. P N Sharma was a student of fifth year MA(Master of Arts) then. Another student leader named Janu Prasad wanted a complete overhaul of the Examination system in the university. When he spoke about the reforms in the Exam system, we listened to him with rapt attention. 

That strike continued for many days. It led the authorities to shut down the colleges for a month and the students were sent home.   

We, the students of the first year, were innocent. For us everything in the college was new. We did not know what Test was about or the strike was about. The protests were being organised by the students from the senior classes. It was they who held the public meetings. But we found the idea of change pleaded by them exciting. We would encourage them by listening, clapping and saying Zindabad. Nothing more. Little did I know that what had come to me as fun was soon going to take me in its grip in due course.

The protest against the Test in the university took place in 1948, only a year after India’s independence. Congress at that time was the strongest political party in the country. The student wing of Congress was, and still is, NSUI (National Students Union of India), which was quite powerful and active in the universities. Communist Party of India was just making its foothold in Indian politics. It was trying to make inroads into the students through its student body, AISF (All India Student Federation).

The protest against Test had nothing to do with party politics. It had actually been initiated by the students as an expression of their resistance against the existing examination system. But I was not aware that AISF was looking for such moments of resistance from the students in the university. They had been watching the event very closely. 

They soon grabbed it as an opportunity to strengthen their base. They identified the students who were cheering or supporting the leaders in the public meetings and started inviting them to their regular meetings. I, being a part of the Students’ group from Arah District, started attending the meetings out of curiosity.  

A few months later, there was a move on the part of the university to increase the examination fee by 5 rupees and AISF decided to protest. A meeting was going to take place in Wheeler Senate Hall of the university to approve the proposal for the increase. The meeting was to be attended by the teachers, officials, the Vice-Chancellor and others. All India Student Federation decided to protest against the proposal of the hike. 

Wheeler Senate Hall, as you would know, is an imposing building facing Ashok Rajpath in Patna. It was built to host the university meetings, convocations and other functions during the British period. The hall was constructed at a cost of Rupees 1.75 lakhs, which Raja Devaki Nandan Prasad Singh of Munger had agreed to bear then. It was inaugurated by the then Governor of Bihar and Orissa Province and Chancellor of the University, Sir Henry Wheeler in 1926. So it was named Wheeler Senate Hall. While passing through Ashok Rajpath you can’t miss the large structure of the hall with its huge pillars in the front. The hall is situated at a height for which you have to climb stairs. 

While the meeting of the Fee Committee was going on, a group of about 20 AISF students ascended the stairs and started shouting slogans to withdraw the proposal for the hike. I was one of them. It was my first experience of being in the forefront of a protest. Among others there was a daughter of Mr Dutta, a professor of Philosophy. There was also a daughter of another professor in the university.

I shiver to think even now how dangerous it could have been for us. We faced initial resistance at the main gate. A group of people had been deputed by the university authorities to block our entry to the hall. It led to some pushing and pulling from both sides. We were being pushed from inside and anyone of us could have been pushed below on the ground and would have broken his neck, nose or head. Anyway we kept on shouting slogans and managed to enter the hall. 

We must have continued shouting for a few more minutes when the situation became more precarious. Suddenly a large group of students entered the hall from another side and the front gate was closed from inside. These students had been called by the university authorities to the venue to counter our protest. They were the members of NSUI, the Congress supported student body.  They were larger in number, almost double or triple of our own. Soon sloganeering and counter sloganeering started from both sides. 

We were saying, “छोड़ो बाप को, हटाओ फीस वृद्धि “, which meant, forget the father, withdraw the hike. 

One of the students in our group was the younger brother of Chandrashekhar Singh, a prominent youth leader of the Communist Party in those days. He was two years senior to me in college. Their father, Shree Ramcharitra Singh himself was a famous leader of Congress party, a Cabinet Minister in the Government of Bihar then and it was he who was presiding over the meeting as a member of the University Senate. 

Both the father and the son were present in the hall, the former was leading the authorities for the hike and the son was protesting against it. And so the slogan, छोड़ो बाप को, Forget the father.

The NSUI students were even louder. They were saying,

“कम्युनिस्ट गुंडों को मारो ”, Attack the Communist goons.

Both the groups came face to face with each other for a while, shouting slogans. Then it became physical. Our group was small and we were at a disadvantage. The other group started hitting and pushing us down. We could have been crushed in the pandemonium. It was becoming violent. With a lot of difficulty we were able to escape. It was very scary. 

Much later Prof P N Sharma once said to me, “You remember the protest in which you had participated then. I had saved you people. You could have been beaten to death.”  He was one of the student leaders of NSUI who had come on behalf of the authorities on that day.  

Most of the students who had joined the protest did not know much about the Communist ideology. We were innocent. But we did like the way the student leaders of AISF spoke against injustice. We also liked their idea of equality. We didn’t know, at least I didn’t know that the protests like these were part of a larger battle that was going on between the Congress and the Communists to seize the political space at the state and national level.

I kept attending the meetings of AISF and the Communist party frequently. I would listen to the speeches of the leaders and read the literature. My initiation into the Party had begun without my being aware of that. I became one of their recruits and my name was on their list on which the State Intelligence Department lay its hands later. It was keeping a close eye on the activities of the Communists in the university.

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