John Drinkwater Bethune, a pioneer in native Indian Women's education

John Bethune, founder, Hindu girls' schooWikiwand
John Bethune, founder, Hindu girls' school.Indian Philately Diges

During the colonial period under the East India company, women's education in the Indian society was not given any priority as the Indian natives were conservative to  the core regardless of their religion and caste. No British administrator  tried to impress on the Indian community the value of woman's education and its benefits. That woman's education is equally important for the progress and welfare of the society did not dawn on them. 

Some European administrators and and European preachers - both men and women wanted to change the appalling conditions prevailing then regarding women's education. Unfortunately, many preachers included Christian teaching as a subject and this did not enthuse the high society people. Some preachers approached the poor girls to enroll in the school with some enticements. So, somewhere down the line something called "sincere  and dedicated approach" to women's education was missing. Some administrators felt education should not have religious compulsion. John Bethune,  British lawyer with the EIC, on the side lines, wanted to make the Indian women literate and be progressive and saw considerable success  despite social taboos and odds prevailing in the conservative Indian society.
John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune (1801–1851)Wikipedia
John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune (1801–1851) whose earlier name  was John Elliot Drinkwater, was by profession,  a barrister and  was a law member of the Governor-General's Council. Being an  Anglo-Indian lawyer, he paid particular attention to women's education and did  a pioneering work  in promoting  it in 19th-century India.   Proving that he was a man of action, in 1849, Bethune, as Governor's Council member  founded an institution for women's education in Calcutta (now Kolkata), then the capital of British India. What started out a small institution then  became a well-known college and bore his name in his memory. 

Bethune school / college, Kolkata. Mythical India
Born in Cheshire, son of Col. John Drinkwater Bethune of Salford, John was educated at Westminster School and at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. His mother, Eleanor Congalton, was a  woman of erudition and right from his childhood he had liberal thoughts Having become qualified for bar, he got  an administrative position in Parliament.That he was proficient in Greek, Latin, German, French and Italian earned fame and helped him get a job in India. On Lord Gray's recommendation he became a member in the Home department, giving due consideration to his talents. In 1848, he landed in India as Law Member of the Governor General's Council and later became president of The Council Of Education. Earlier in London, Bethune chanced to appear as junior to Francis Bethie  in the famous appeal case against Lord Bentinck's 'Suttee' (Sati) Prevention Law of 1829. Being Bethie's junior, he placed the petition before the Privy Council in August, 1831 that was dismissed. This case proved to be a turning point for him and it gave him a chance to understand the poor social condition of women in India. Taking inspiration from his mother, he made up his mind to do something for the betterment of Indian women and to free them from deprivation and illiteracy.Till his arrival in India, the East India company  never paid attention to Indian women's education.

Mr. Bethune was instrumental in starting the  school in Cornwallis Square for the education of the daughters of the natives, and it was the first of its kind in Calcutta. In November, 1850 Hon'ble Sir John Litter, then Deputy Governor of Bengal laid the foundation stone of the spacious building that included a fine residence for the Head Mistress on the premises. He did not live to see the school building. In memory of the founder there is an oil painting and a bust size statue in the premises there. He, without any hesitation,  bore the financial  burden of the Hindu Girls' School project.

The earliest schools for Indian girls were  opened at Gouribari in north Kolkata in 1819 and another one in 1820, The former was run by the Calcutta Female Juvenile Society, under the  Calcutta Baptist Mission Society and the latter was started by  Mrs. Gogerly  under the auspices of London Missionary Society. The subjects taught included  reading and writing in Bengali, in geography, needlework and the Bible. The students were from the lower  strata of the Hindu society. In 1818,  David Hare established the School Society in Calcutta  and liberal Hindus preferred their women to go to school. However, this view was  not shared by others in society.  One Ms. Mary Ann Cooke, in 1821 with the Church Missionary Society started schools and due to her efforts  least 277 girls were benefited. The first school for girls in India was opened by Mahatma Jotiba Govindrao Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule in 1850, at Bhide wada in Pune city of Maharashtra region of India.

Bengal Ladies Society started by Lady Amherst had 19 girl's schools with 450 students in different parts of Bengal. according a report.  As  most  of those schools were run  by Christian women as part of their missionary work, the Bengali high society people - mostly Hindus  were  not ready to send their girls to school. They did not like religion  mixed with  school studies.

The Young Bengal group had been in the forefront  and a persistent advocate of the cause of Indian women. One Peary Charan Sarkar, a former student of Hindu College, took the initiative and set up a free school for girls in 1847 in Barasat, a suburb of Calcutta (later the school was named Kalikrishna Girls' High School). Mr. Bethune had a chance to  visit this school as part of his inspection work being the  President of the Council of Education and was much impressed by the  functioning of this native school. Once he left the portals of this institution, his long-lasting impression about the school made him think differently regarding Indian women's education. 
Bethune collegiate school Noise Break
Bethune  not only founded the  secular Hindu  Female School on 7 May 1849  with support  from like-minded people like Ramgopal Ghosh, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar but also  donated all his movable and immovable property to the school. Though holding a high office in EIC, he never invited any Europeans during the inauguration of the school. The school was monitored by many committees and the girls' guardians played an active role in the school's activities. This being his first efforts in Kolkata, the liberal society was happy about his initiative and it had a favorable impact on the society, in particular,  among the liberal Hindus. The medium of instruction was in Bengali and English was also taught as a subject under option. Later, the government took it over in 1856 and renamed it Bethune School in 1862–63 in honor of John Drinkwater Bethune. In 1868, when Miss Piggot, the headmistress encouraged Christian education, she was forced to resign the job. This infuriated the orthodox section of the society and it  was against girls going to school. People from orthodox Hindu families in the early 19th century  considered education of women almost a sin. However, towards the end of that century, the prejudice against women's education had begun to decline.Thanks to John Bethune and his like - minded Indian friends.  John Bethune was busy with his Calcutta Public Library and translation activities into Bengali. He published a treatise on women's education by Pandit Gour Mohan Vidyalankar and distributed it at his own cost.

John Bethune's grave in Kolkata.
John Drinkwater Bethune died  on 12 August 1851 in Calcutta. Unfortunately,  he did not live to see the spacious building that housed his school that later became  the Bethune College. No doubt, he left an  indelible mark in the domain of women's education  by providing space for them and their progress in the society. He lost no time to accomplish his chosen task of putting  Indian woman's education on a firm foundation so that  the future generation,  could  use it as  a springboard  to  move up and play a vital role in the progress of the society by being a good house wife and a source of inspirations to others.