UC Berkeley's Idealistic Young Men
Early 20th century, Indian students began coming to the United States to study engineering, medicine, agriculture, and manufacturing. The students represented all parts of the subcontinent and were more evenly distributed throughout the United States than the early Indian immigrants who were mainly confined to California; Robindranath Tagore’s son studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana, the son of the Maharaja of Baroda attended Harvard, other Indians were at Columbia and at universities in Nebraska and Iowa. But most Indian students chose institutions on the Pacific Coast -- the University of Washington, agricultural colleges in Oregon, Stanford, and, above all, the University of California, Berkeley. Taking everything into consideration, the University of California suited really the best for Indian students. Tuition was only $15 a year and living expenses about $250. Opportunities were plentiful in Berkeley for “self-support, the American custom of working your way through college, and a student could also make extra money selling shawls, ivory, art works and other Indian handicrafts. During the summer months students could make $125 a month as agricultural laborers.
In December 1911. the Modern Review, a widely-read Calcutta journal for Indian intellectuals, published an article entitled "Information for Indian Students Intending to Come to the Pacific Coast of the United States," by Sarangadhar Das, a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Das recommended bringing along a basic kit for the stay in America that could be acquired for about Rs. 125 in India, including soap, shaving brush, a pair of pump shoes, linen, athletic summer underwear, colored or striped shirts (plain not plaited, half a dozen), a pair of Paris garters, one black serge suit, an Indian-made artistic scarf pin, a few dhotis (sometimes handier than night shirts), and two collar studs. The students who came found many sources of support. The Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan had purchased a hostel at 1731 Allston Way where Indian students could stay rent-free. In 1912, one successful California potato farmer, Jwala Singh, funded the Guru Govind Singh Sahib Educational Scholarship, awarded through a competition held in India.
Students formed individual relationships with their professors, who were often helpful and encouraging to promising scholars. A small group of faculty on campus worked closely with the Indian students, including Arthur Ryder and Arthur Upham Pope. Ryder, a Sanskrit scholar who came to Berkeley in January 1906, encouraged the Indian students to participate in activities to promote understanding of Indian culture, including productions of the classical Sanskrit plays that he translated into English. Gobind Behari Lal presented the prologue for “Shakuntula” in 1914 and Tarakhnath Das also had a part. Pope, a junior professor in the Department of Philosophy and advocate of Indian independence since his undergraduate days at Brown, chaired the committee that selected the Guru Govind Singh Sahib Scholarship recipients. He, as well as any faculty member who was in contact with the Indian students, came under surveillance by the British during this period.
Prejudice and stereotyping were also part of the student experience. Many Americans, even on university campuses, were surprisingly ignorant about India. Dalip Singh Saund, a student at UC Berkeley from 1920-1924 comments: “In those days the picture of India which most of the American people carried in their minds had little basis in reality. It was a confused jumble of yogis, snake charmers, and maharajas. There were very few good books available about India, most of them written by former members of the British Government in India who were on the whole extremely unfriendly toward the history and culture of that ancient land..” Sometimes the manifestations of prejudice were relatively harmless, like the hazing incident described in the San Francisco Chronicle, 15 August 1921:
Members of the sophomore class of the University of California, who engaged today in upholding the university tradition of the hazing of freshmen, faced a real problem this afternoon in the form of three Indian scholars who were captured and lined up for hazing. It was decided to make them take off their shoes and wade in the chemistry pond, explaining to them that they were “bathing their feet in the university’s sacred pool.” Then it was decided to unwind their turbans to solve the mystery of what might be underneath. To this, however, the Indians objected and showed fight. The three finally freed themselves from their captors and ran frantically for the president’s office with the intention of calling the office of the British consulate at San Francisco for protection. But they were overhauled by members of the senior class, who restored the peace. The three are said to be graduates of Oxford University and are here to take post-graduate work.
However, some manifestations were more serious. It was rare for foreign students to be admitted to the Greek-letter societies, for instance, and, in an era when these societies controlled most student social activities, this exclusion restricted Indian students’ full participation in campus life.
In the 1910s, UC Berkeley had a significant role in the Indian independence movement, when Indian students studying at the university took an active part in forming the radical Ghadar Party - especially in publishing its paper, The Hindustan Ghadar. The Ghadar Party was an organization founded with the aim to liberate India from British rule. The party quickly gained support from Indian expatriates, especially in the United States and Canada. The Hindustan Ghadar was published under the auspices of the Yugantar Ashram in San Francisco with donations raised with the help of the Indian diaspora, especially with the aid of Indian students at the University of California, Berkeley. Har Dayal, who had come to the area as a lecturer in Indian philosophy at Stanford, was living at that time in one of the Indian student hostels in Berkeley. He addressed a meeting of all Indian students at Berkeley and sought to unite their views, denouncing British rule in India and calling for the students to do their part in bringing it to an end. Looking for a way to serve their country, the Gadar Party became a significant force in the lives of the students, UC Berkeley's idealistic young men.