History of AISF (All India Students Federation) is an inseparable part of the freedom movement of our country.
The student community have added glorious pages and chapters to India’s history through their memorable struggles and contributions. The AISF and other student organisations have made singular contributions both before and after independence. The AISF has left the deepest and an everlasting impression on the history of this country, particularly on student history. The beginnings of students’ movements and organisations go way back into the 19th country. Many people think that the student movement began only in the 20th century, but that is not true. The role and place of the student movement has been under- estimated. Therefore, we will make a short reference to the student activities of the 19th century. History finds a mention of a student organisation of 1828 called the Academic Association. It was founded in Calcutta by Vivian Derozio. Derozio was a Portuguese youth settled in Calcutta. He became a lecturer in Hindu College there at a very young age. In the course of time he gathered together a group of brilliant and leading students around himself, which came to be known as the Academic Association. The Association used to regularly organise discussions on serious educational, social and political questions. At the same time, it used to run a regular campaign against social evils, religious obscurantism and superstition and for social reforms. The Academic Association included students of all the religions – Hindu, Muslim, Christians etc, but they were united in the struggle against obscuratism. They went to the extent of eating beef and other kinds of meat publicly, openly violated religious obscurantist practices, and actively propagated western liberal ideas of progress and modernism. They spread the anti-feudal modern ideas of French, Italian, English and other revolutions. Consequently, the Academic Association had to face the ire of the socio-religious obscurantists. On the basis of the researches done so far, we may state that the Academic Association of 1828 was the first student organisation of India.
Young Bengal Movement The Academic Association and other organisations helped spread modern ideas not only in Bengal but also in the rest of India. In fact, the activities of the East India Company and direct British rule contributed to certain amount of modern and English education in places like Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, and several others. This was in accordance with the needs of the British administration. But the results of the spread of education often went against the expectations of the Britishers. The modern education brought in with it the ideas of democracy, liberty, freedom, liberalism and even of revolution eg. of the French revolution. Along with these developments, various industries were also coming up, which spread across in the course of time eg. railway (1853), jute, textile, mining, processing, (1854 and so on) etc. They too helped spread modern thoughts and forms of organisation. In fact, Marx commented that by so doing, the Britishers had, though unintentionally, sowed the seeds of a social revolution in India. One of the most important movements of the 19th century was the well-known ‘Young Bengal’ movement. It took place between the 1840s and 1860s and left a deep imprint on Bengal, particularly on its youth, as well as on the rest of the country. It was an organisation that carried forward the traditions of the Academic Association. Young Bengal contributed a lot to the renaissance and social reforms, and at the same time helped growth of national and political consciousness. Madhab Chandra Mullick, Ram Gopal Ghosh, Krishna Mohan Mallick and others were some of the leading figures of this movement. Some of the other student and academic organisations of the 19th century were – Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge (1838), Students’ Literary and Scientific Society (1848), Students” Association (1876), etc. The first one of the above-mentioned societies functioned in Calcutta. It used to organise debates and discussions and paper-readings on social problems and helped raise the consciousness of the youth. It functioned in the Hindu College, Sanskrit College and other institutions. Gradually, the Society began to organise discussions on political questions also, and even participated in political activities, which was a novelty for those days. The second organisation, that is the Students’ Literary and Scientific Society was established in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1848 in the Elphinstone Educational institutions. It is to be noted that the great economist, public and political figure of India Dadabhai Naoroji took the main initiative to establish this particular Society. The Society used to organise regular study circles and discussions. It played an important part in the educational field and established Gujarati and Marathi Gyan Prasarak Mandals. Also, it published a journal called Gyan Prasarak. Students’ Literary and Scientific Society made a great contribution to the women’s education. The Society founded several schools where girls used to be taught. It was a courageous step for its time because during those days, women’s education was stoutly opposed. Students Association (1876) was one of the most important student organisations of the 19th century. It was founded by Anand Mohan Bose and Surendra Nath Bannerjee in Calcutta. These leaders used the method of public meetings and mass movements, which was new for those times. The Students Association made a notable contribution in the foundation of the Indian National Congress (1885). The Association greatly politicalised the mass of students who took the path of mass struggles under its direction and outside. For example, the Students Association organised a big movement on the question of the exams of Indian Civil Service (ICS). The students demanded that the age-bar for the ICS exams be raised. They also demanded that the exams be held in India alongwith in England for the convenience of the Indian students. During those days the Indian students had to travel all the way to England to sit in the exams, which was very difficult for most of them. Besides the above-mentioned organisations, a number of other student and youth bodies also came up in various parts of India eg. South India, Patna, Darbhanga, Assam etc. The borders of the provinces and states at that time were different, and underwent drastic changes in the course of decades. The provinces used to be very big and the educational institutions were far in between and few in numbers. Therefore, it was far more difficult to organise and to spread the message of organisation. For example, the present-day Bihar (and Jharkhand) was part of a giant Bengal-Assam-Orissa province in the second half of the 19th century. Bihar became a separate province only in 1912. There took place some notable movements in the second half of the 19th century. A strike took place in Patna College in April 1870 protesting against the insulting remarks of the Principal. It was a successful strike, and all the rusticated students were taken back. Another strike took place in the same Patna College on 31 August 1875, again on the misbehaviour of the Principal. A widespread dissatisfaction gripped the students of the hostels of Patna in 1892 against the mismanagement in them. Several student movements took place in the 80s of the 19th century in Cochin, Trivandrum, Trichnapally, Madras (now Chennai) and other places. Student movements took place in Assam under the leadership of Anand Ram Phukan and others. The last decades of the 19th century saw several movements demanding greater importance for the Assamese language, which led to the emergence of several organisations. Students, youth and educationists opposed the closing down of the Deccan College of Poona. An organisation known as the Graduates’ Association was very active in the 90s of that century in Bombay. There was another very important organisation in Bombay called Students, Brotherhood (‘SB’ – 1889). It was a highly organised and a regularly functioning student organisation, which was active for at least 15-20 years. A Boys’ Association was founded in Darbhanga (Bihar) in 1898. It later became a part of the famous Behari Students’ Central Association (BSCA). Thus, the facts and the research so far show that the students – youth organisation is not a contribution of the 20th century alone but originated in the 19th century. It gradually acquired a political character.
Student Movement at the Beginning of the 20th Century There took place a certain amount of spread of education by the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. By this time, the universities of Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Allahabad were already established and several independent colleges and schools founded. By the end of the 19th century, the number of students in British India, in the middle and higher school levels, had crossed two lakhs, and at college level more than 14 thousands. Education spread further during the 20th century. Thus, the material conditions of the student movement were being created.
Student Movement (1901-20) The first decade of the 20th century is full of student movements. A large number of student and youth organisations were also created in the first two decades of the century. The partition of Bengal was among the major reasons of the origin of all India student movement in this period. Various anti-student circulars too contributed to the process.
Dawn Society The Dawn Society was founded in Bengal in 1902. It was a powerful student organisation. The reason why it was established in 1902 was the publication that year of the Report of the Indian Universities Commission and the reaction of all the students and the educated people against it. The public opinion thought that the Report sought to destroy their identity as also the educational system. Famous educationists and general students participated in the Dawn Society. They demanded that India’s educational system should be completely changed. The Dawn Society also laid down the bases of swadeshi educational institutions and shops, which later became an important part of the Swadeshi and anti-Partition (‘Bang –Bhang’) movement.
1905-08: Anti-Partition Movement and Student Upsurge Bengal was divided in 1905. It was in 1874 that Assam had been divided, and consequently the Bengal Presidency consisted of Bengal, Bihar, Chhotanagpur and Orissa, till Bengal was further divided up in 1905 in a rather strange manner. The division took place on 16 October 1905: its western part consisted of Bihar, West Bengal, Chhotangpur and Orissa, while East Bengal and Assam constituted one province. Thus two provinces came into existence: Bengal and East Bengal. The partition of Bengal particularly led to severe reaction among the Bengalis. The nationalists in general were of the opinion that the step was taken by the British rulers to divide the Bengalis and the national movement. Not everybody agreed with this view, though, particularly in the western part of Bengal. Thus, the discontent at the partition of Bengal led to a great upsurge against it. This came to be known as anti-partition or ‘Bang-Bhang’ (‘division of Bengal’) movement. The movement became integrated, in the course of events, with the boycott of foreign goods and the use of swadeshi and swadeshi education. Anti-partition and Swadeshi movement was the first mass student-youth movement in India, with the participation of some other sections. It left a deep impact on the history of India, particularly the history student-youth movement, and gave rise to several important organisations and movements that were to play an important role in the later years. The consciousness of the youth was taken to qualitatively new heights. A national consciousness began to take shape. The movement spread over into South India also eg. Madras, Rajahmundhry, Kakinada, Machalipatanam, etc. Even a national university was established in Madras presidency in 1907. Bepin Chandra Pal played an active role not only in North India but also in South India in organising the students.
Behari Students’ Central Association (BSCA) There is a general mistaken impression that regular and strong students’ movement in India took shape only in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century. But the fact is that there were several well – organised student and youth bodies in India well before the First World War, particularly in Bihar, Assam, Bombay, Madras, etc. Among the notable organisations was the BSCA or the Behari Students Central Association, founded in 1906. It was initiated by Rajendra Prasad (later Dr Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President) and his associates during the Durga Puja holidays in Patna College in the first Behari Students Conference. It was presided over by (later Justice) Sharfuddin. It is interesting to note that delegates from most of the schools and colleges took part in it. BSCA established its branches in all the districts and important towns of Bihar. Branches in Calcutta and Benaras were also founded. The BSCA war not a short – lived, temporary organisation. For the first fifteen years of its existence ie. upto 1921, it convened its annual conferences regularly, and its branches were very active. It was an unusual student organisation in many senses. People generally are either unaware of it or know very little. The BSCA concentrated on educational and social reform aspects in the beginning but gradually shifted to political and nationalist positions. It is to be especially noted that BSCA greatly contributed to the founding of Congress Party in Bihar (1908). Another notable organisation was the Students’ Brotherhood (est. 1889), in Bombay and neighbourhoods, a highly organised and regular body, active in the last decade of the 19th century and first two decades of the 20th century. It also brought out a serious and in – depth quarterly journal Students’ Brother hood Quarterly (SBQ). We will not be able to describe other student organisations for lack of space.
India’s First Student Organisation (1920) As per the researches conducted so far, the idea of establishing an all – India students’ organisation was being discussed way back in 1906. Annie Besant used to publish a students’ journal titled the Central Hindu College Magazine (CHC Magazine) from Benaras in 1908. It discussed the formation of an India – level body of students on several occasions. It meant that the educated sections, teachers, students, leaders etc were feeling the need for and possibility of such a step. This fact is being mentioned for the first time by this writer in his detailed work on the student movement as well as in this booklet on AISF history. Thus, the attempts to found an all India organisation of students were being made much before the First World War. But such an organisation could not be formed in those early days. Among the reasons was the outbreak of the First World War (1914-18). The War brought about a qualitative change in the country’s and world situation. Russian revolution took place in November 1917. Bourgeois democracies were established in several European countries, Liberation movements gathered speed in Africa, China, Turkey, other countries as well as in India. Ideas of Marxism and socialism spread all over quickly. The crisis of British and other imperialisms deepened. Such were some of the absolutely new factors. The change in the situation led to a sharpening of the national freedom movement in India. The influence of the Indian National Congress spread rapidly among the masses. New types of radical and mass leaders emerged eg. Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sibhash Chandra Bose and others. The socialist and leftist ideas began to spread more rapidly. These conditions created favorable situation for the growth of student-youth movement and the emergence of their organisations. Consequently, several of them came up during this period. It is well known that the non-cooperation movement began in 1920, led by Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. It was in the course of the preparations of the non-cooperation that the country-level organisation of students was born in 1920. Several student conferences, gatherings and meetings took place in the course of 1919 and 1920 at various places all over the country. Some of them proved temporary, others permanent. Student conferences and conventions were organised during 1920 in Bihar, Bombay, Pune, U.P. and several other places. Several meetings took place in Nagpur in November 1920, wherein it was decided to convene an all India conference of students. Meetings of similar nature took place in Ahmedabad, Bombay etc. Ultimately it was agreed that an all India students’ conference would be convened in December 1920 in Nagpur on the occasion of the session of the All India Congress Committee. Students’ organisations all over the country were accordingly informed of it. The All India College Students’ Conference (AICSC) began our 25 December 1920 in Nagpur. It represented only the college students. Hence the name. Though cooperating closely with the Congress, it was basically an independent initiative of students and student leaders. R.J. Gokhale was the Chairman of the Reception Committee, the conference was inaugurated by Lala Lajpat Rai. The conference decided to take an active part in the non-cooperation movement and to fully support the Swadeshi. The conference decided to establish All India College Students’ Conference as an All India student organisation (AICSC). It was the first-ever all India conference of students in this country. The news of the founding of the AICSC spreadlike wildfire all over country. It played a crucial and important, in fact a leading, role in activating the student mass and in raising their consciousness. The AICSC organised at least five all India students’ conferences subsequently. The organisation was active for several years. Thus, the AICSC was the first ever all India organisation of students.
1920-35: Characteristic features of student movement, preparations to form AISF The period between 1920 and 1935 was very eventful. We won’t go into too many details of this relatively long period for lack of space, except very few. The material basis of student movement ie. the educational institutions and the number of students increased rapidly during the first three or four decades of the 20th century. The number of universities was 8 in 1916-17; it increased to 14 in 1921-22 and 16 in 1936-37. The number of colleges was 226 in 1921-22, increasing to 340 in 1936-37. There were 8987 secondary schools in 1921-22 and 14414 in 1936-37. The number of students doubled between 1901-02 and 1921-22 and increased by three times in 1936-37 as compared with 1901-02. The number of students in the various educational institutions was 45 lakhs in 1901-02, increasing to 84 lakhs in 1921-22 and to one crore 41 lakhs in 1936-37. The number of girl students in 1901-02 was 4.5 lakhs, 14 lakhs in 1921-22 and 31 lakhs in 1936-37. The increasing number of students constituted the growing material basis for the student’s movement in India. Their educational, political, personal, family, social, economic etc problems as well as activities were on the rise and their impact on the society as well as their social role was increasing. The students were more and more coming out into struggle on the various demands in the abovementioned fields. The number and intensity of the student movement was rising. A large number of student and youth organisations was being born. An important movement cum campaign of youths and students took place between 1928 and 1930, known as the Youth League (YL) movement. The Y.L. movement led to the increased radicalization of the student and youth movement. It led to greater spread of socialist and Marxist and left views among the younger generation. The youth-students endeavored for new views and paths. They were getting attracted to the ideas of revolution and of the Soviet Union. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Yusuf Meherally, Subhash Chandra Bose and P.C. Joshi were some of important figures of this movement. The Youth Leagues were established in virtually every nook and corner of the country, in small and big towns, schools and colleges, mohallas, etc. It was a countrywide movement, number of small and big student/youth periodicals and magazines were brought out. The YL movement laid the foundations for the future emergence of a large number of youth and student organisations. Some of the important student youth journals brought out during 1920-35 included The Collegian, The Young Liberator, etc. In the meantime, several student and youth conferences were organised at provincial level An all India socialist youth conference was held in 1928 in Calcutta under the presidentship of Pt. Nehru. Another gathering was the All India Students’ Convention in Lahore in 1929 under the presidentship of Pt Madan Mohan Malviya. In Bengal, two important student organisations were constituted at the end of the 1920s-beginning of 1930s eg. ABSA or All Bengal Students’ Association and BPSA or Bengal Provincial Students’ Association. Student organisations also came up during this period in Punjab, Bihar, Delhi, U.P., Madras, Assam, Orissa, Bombay, CP-Berar province, Sindh, Lahore, etc. Some of them originated under the name of Students’ Federation (SF) and or later on joined the AISF. SF or SF – type organisations were being rapidly formed in 1934, 1935 and 1936 in several places indicating that the movement was proceeding towards the formation of an all India student organisation. Lahore Students Union (LSU), Madras Students Organisation (MSO), UP University Students Federation, CP-Berar Student Organisation, Bombay Students Union (BSU), later All Burma Students Union (ABSU), Assam Students Federation (or Asom Chhatro Sanmilan, formed in 1916), All Utkal Students Federation, Sindh Students Federation and many other student organisations were formed or were in the process of formation. Thus, there was a spate of activity all round. Many of them were independent, not connected with any political party. Some others were related with the parties in one way or the other. But the notable fact is that most of the student organisations were joint forums of students of various views and political affiliations, as also of the non-political and non-affiliated students. Political parties like the Indian National Congress and its groups, Congress Socialist Party, Communist Party of India and some others were active among the students. They had some sort of influence on the student masses. Let it be emphasized here that the independent, non-affiliated, non-political elements had far greater influence on students than what is realized.
Foundation of the AISF (1936) In the meantime, an all India students’ conference was convened in Karachi on 26 March 1931 under the presidentship of Pt. Nehru. It was called to organise All India Students Federation, and was attended by nearly 700 delegates. But the attempt did not meet with success due to a number of reasons.