Susil Kumar Rudra was an Indian educationalist and associate of Mahatma Gandhi and C F Andrews who served as the first Indian principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.
Rudra was born on 7th January, 1861. He was the second generation Bengali Christian from a large land holding family of Bansberia in the Hooghly District of Bengal. Rudra graduated from the University of Calcutta and left for Punjab where he became a member of staff of St Stephen’s College in 1886.
Rudra worked at St Stephen’s College from 1886 until his retirement in 1923. In 1906, he became its fourth, and first Indian, principal and served in that post until his retirement in 1923. Rudra is said to be the first Indian to hold the post in any missionary institution in India. Under Rudra, the college grew both in size and reputation and became a largely residential college. Along with C F Andrews, Rudra drew up a constitution for the college that helped in making the terms of college into Indian discipline, gradually moving administrative control away from its founders, the Cambridge Brotherhood. It was also under him that a policy of equal pay for staff irrespective of race was adopted at the college.
Rudra was a close friend and associate of Gandhi and of C F Andrews. On Gandhi’s maiden visit to Delhi after his return from South Africa, he stayed with Principal Rudra at his official residence in the College premises in Kashmere Gate. Later, the draught for the Non-Cooperation Movement and an open letter to the Viceroy outlining the Khilafat demand were also prepared at his residence. While Gandhi revered him as a ‘silent servant’, he was reluctant to stay with him after the declaration of the anti-Rowlatt Satyagraha fearing it would compromise Rudra and expose the college to unnecessary risk. Gandhi’s concern was however not accepted by Rudra who saw this opportunity as only ‘a little service to his country’.
Rudra retired to Solan in Himachal Pradesh on his superannuation from St Stephen’s College in 1923. He died there, aged 64, on 29 June 1925 and is buried at the English Chapel in Solan. In an obituary Gandhi wrote in Young India, he called Rudra and Andrews his revisionists and described Rudra as a silent but deeply interested spectator in the happenings of the national struggle. Rudra left a sum of ₹1,000 to St Stephen’s College whose interest would serve to host an annual dinner for the College’s servants. The event, called the Rudra Dinner, held on 12 February every year commemorates the death anniversary of his wife,Mrs Priyobala Rudra and the birth anniversary of C F Andrews both of which happen to fall on the same day. Rudra was also one of the founding members of the Modern School in Delhi where since 1928, the Rudra Prize has been instituted in his honour. Andrews’ works North India (1908) and Sadhu Sundar Singh (1934) are dedicated to Rudra.
Wriiten by: Lima Thomas