Denny’s High School was a symbol of pluralism

Published April 28, 2019
Government Denny’s High School building, constructed in 1889, is still in use.
Government Denny’s High School building, constructed in 1889, is still in use.

Once a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in Rawalpindi, the Government Denny’s High School has been educating children for 138 years and trying to get back its status as an outstanding institution.

The school was established in 1881 by Controller of Military Accounts Col Denny with the help of well-off Hindu and Muslim families on Dalhousie Road (Kashmir Road). The land was leased for eight annas a month, and the school was managed by the Cantonment Committee.

The institution began as a primary school operating out of a few rooms, with the children of Military Accounts officials as students. The people of Saddar and the city areas began turning to the school later.

When it first opened, the area where the school was located was outside the city limits and received few visitors. After partition in 1947, the area became densely populated.

The main building is used for the headmaster’s office.
The main building is used for the headmaster’s office.

The school’s affairs were initially managed by a committee that consisted of Dr Datt, Seith Adam Jee Mamoojee, Lala Tan Sukh Rai, Babu Shoshi Bhooshan Chatterjee and Seith Nusarwanjee Jamasjee. The school’s building was completed in 1899 under the management of Seith Adam Jee Mamoojee and Babu Shoshi Bhooshan Chatterjee with donations from local elite families totalling Rs7,750.

Raja Buldeo Singh, the ruler of Punch, donated Rs4,000, while Seith Mamoojee Hakeemjee, Sardar Soojan Singh Rai Bahadur, Seith Nusarwanjee Jamasjee, Babu Bhundu Lall Gangooly’s widow Choonia and Sardar Boota Singh Rai Bahadur donated Rs500 each and Babu Shoshi Bhooshan Chatterjee donated Rs250.

However, the school faced a financial crisis in 1909. It was decided that the school would be handed over to Chief Khalsa Devan, a Sikh organisation, but after objections from Muslim locals Sheikh Fazal Ellahi, a Muslim leader from the cantonment, began a movement and the cantonment board decided to keep control of the school’s affairs.

The old structure in the Anglo-Indian style.
The old structure in the Anglo-Indian style.

In 1910, Lala Baijnath was appointed the new headmaster. After partition, a Hindu teacher, Lal Anup Chand Annada, was made headmaster. The school continued to be run by Hindu principals until Maulvi Riazuddin was made the first Muslim principal.

Denny’s High School remained under the control of the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board until 1972. After nationalisation it was operated by the Punjab government, which manages the school to this day.

A plaque bearing the names of people who donated to build the school.
A plaque bearing the names of people who donated to build the school.

The school is the alma mater of a number of notable individuals, including former vice chief of army staff Gen Yousaf Khan, former chief commissioner Qazi Farooq, former Punjab governor Raja Saroop, Maj Gen Rafiqueur Rehman and others.

“World Bank consultant Sat Goil from New Delhi contacted us on social media and told us he was a former student. Before partition, the school was also led by renowned educationist Lala Anup Singh,” Denny’s High School principal Jamshaid Iqbal said.

However, the school’s condition today is a far cry from its impressive past. Although new blocks have been constructed, they were built without adequate planning.

A new block with a basketball court. — Photos by Mohammad Asim
A new block with a basketball court. — Photos by Mohammad Asim

“[Denny’s High School] is the oldest school in Rawalpindi after the Mission High School in Raja Bazaar, which was established in 1856 by an American Presbyterian mission,” Chaudhry Mohammad Tariq, an old schoolteacher, told Dawn.

At present, the school offers classes from the playgroup level to FA and FSc.

“Quality education is being imparted, but the trend is for people to go towards private institutions. People prefer to seek admission in private and federal government-run schools, and Punjab government schools are their third preference,” he said.

There are currently more than 1,300 students enrolled at Denny’s High School, he added.

The highest enrolment in the school’s history was 2,000 students, when two shifts were introduced.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2019

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