At the turn of the 20th century, sons of kings, barristers, businessmen and civil servants had started pursuing education at Cambridge University.

In 1891, students started the ‘Cambridge Majlis’, a common ground for sharing ideas. ‘Majlis’ means assembly in Persian.

It was established as a social club, debating society, and a platform where students from the subcontinent could engage in some level of activism and engage with other South Asians too.

In the early days, the Majlis met at the home of Dr Upendra Krishna Dutt, an influential member of the Indian diaspora in the UK.

The Majlis also saw the birth of revolutionaries and freedom fighters like Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, Aurobindo Ghose, and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew among others.

The 1905 partition of Bengal sparked the Swadeshi movement among Cambridge students, which became much larger by 1909. At this time, there were less than 100 students at the varsity.

This caused the Britishers to panic, and the then Secretary of State for India Lord Morley gave the order to cut down Indian students to “one or two” per college.

Image: Downing College Archives

“Many would leave as revolutionaries, ‘trouble-makers’ and independence advocates; even if their actions at University pale in comparison to the sedition and activism in India in the 30s and 40s, it was here [Cambridge] that this elite group, previously spread across the subcontinent, first met,” notes a Varsity article.

Being far away from their home country, these students would discuss and debate the perils of British rule in India. They also spoke on other subjects of relevance and interest to them.

Following Independence, the society continued to meet with students, now from different countries in the subcontinent and even survived two wars between India and Pakistan (1947 and 1965).

However, the Cambridge Majlis was inactive for a few years after that and was revived once again in March 2019.

Whether we know it or not, this society opened the doors for many of our important freedom fighters.