Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Cunningham Circular

My Great Uncle Jack was my grandfathers eldest brother. He was born in Campbeltown in 1876 and educated at Allen Glen school, Glasgow and then St Andrew's University. From 1905 to 1907 he was Professor of English at Pachaiyappa University in Madras. In 1912 he was appointed Director of Public Instruction for Assam and a member of its legislative council.

By the 1930's there was a significant Assamese nationalist movement and of course the Indian nationalist movement. The violent elements of the Assamese nationalist movement were initially directed against the British. In 1930 Jack issued the infamous Cunningham Circular which imposed a blanket ban on any anti-British and/ or pro-swadeshi activity by students. He ordered them to sign an undertaking to the effect that they would have to leave their schools and colleges if they participated in anti-government demonstrations or movements. The Circular also obligated parents of students to stand as guarantors of their children's behaviour.

Thousands of students refused to oblige leaving their schools and colleges. There were 400 such students in Guwahati alone. A group of philanthropists came to the rescue of the students and decided to start a swadeshi school in the city on the same lines as schools already established elsewhere in India. The Kamrup Academy still exists at Chenikuthi.

Though Jack as DPI in Assam took decisions which inevitably had significant political dimensions he was also a distinguished Hindu scholar and was involved in setting up numerous educational institutions throughout Assam which contributed substantially to the development of the region.

Jack retired to Campbeltown in 1931 but returned to Assam in 1935 to conduct the Assam University Enquiry which examined the viability and terms of reference of a University in Assam. In 1939 he was made a doctor of literature at St Andrews University. In 1941 his house, which he shared with his sister Madge, was completely destroyed by a misdirected German magnetic mine intended to block the harbour. He died the following year.

My cousin Islay said "He was a bachelor who determined very early in life never to marry, but was admired and indeed loved by nearly all that knew him…Kind and understanding, without ambition and modest to a fault, he had a great sense of humour and his conversation was full of wit and unexpected and telling phrases."

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