In 1841, at the age of twenty one, Ishwar Chandra joined the Fort William College as the Head Pandit in the Sanskrit department. The brilliant mind that he was, he soon became proficient in English and Hindi. After five years, in 1946, Vidyasagar left Fort William College and joined the Sanskrit College as ‘Assistant Secretary’. But just after a year he entered into serious altercation with the College Secretary, Rasomoy Dutta, over administrative changes he recommended. Since Vidyasagar was not someone who would bow down to power, he resigned from the post on being refused by the college authorities and resumed employment at Fort William College but as a head clerk. He came back to Sanskrit College as a Professor on the request of the college authorities but imposed a condition that he be allowed to redesign the system. He became Principal of Sanskrit College in 1851. In 1855, he assumed the responsibilities as a special inspector of schools with additional charges and travelled to remote villages in Bengal to oversee the quality of education.
Vidyasagar is credited with the role of thoroughly remodelling medieval scholastic system prevailing in Sanskrit College and bring about modern insights into the education system. The first change that Vidyasagar made when he came back to the Sanskrit College as a Professor was to include English and Bengali as the medium of learning, besides Sanskrit. He introduced courses of European History, Philosophy and Science alongside of Vedic scriptures. He encouraged students to pursue these subjects and take away the best from both worlds. He also changed the rules of admission for students in Sanskrit College allowing non-Brahmin students to enrol in the prestigious institution. He wrote two books ‘Upakramonika’ and ‘Byakaran Koumudi’, interpreting complex notions of Sanskrit grammar in easy legible Bengali language. He introduced the concepts of admission fee and tuition fee for the first time in Calcutta. He set up the Normal School for training teachers enabling uniformity in teaching methods. Through his contacts at the deputy magistrate’s office he would help his students get jobs in government offices.
He was an ardent advocate of women education. He rightly viewed education as the primary way for women to achieve emancipation from all the societal oppression they had to face at that time. He exercised his power and lobbied hard for opening of school for girls and even outlined suitable curriculum that not only did educate them, but also enabled them to be self-reliant through vocations like needlework. He went door to door, requesting heads of families to allow their daughters to be enrolled in schools. He opened 35 schools for women throughout Bengal and was successful in enrolling 1300 students. He even initiated Nari Siksha Bhandar, a fund to lend support for the cause. He maintained his support to John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune to establish the first permanent girls’ school in India, the Bethune School, on May 7, 1849.
He disseminated his ideals through regular articles he wrote for periodicals and newspapers. He was associated with prestigious journalistic publications like ‘Tattwabodhini Patrika’, ‘Somprakash’, ‘Sarba Shubhankari Patrika’ and ‘Hindu Patriot’. He wrote a number of books that hold primary importance in Bengali culture. His lasting legacy remains with ‘Borno Porichoy’, an elementary level book for learning Bengali alphabets, where he reconstructed Bengali alphabets and reformed it into typography of 12 vowels and 40 consonants. He established the Sanskrit Press with an aim to produce printed books at affordable prices so that common people could buy them.
Vidyasagar was always vocal about the oppression that the society inflicted on women at that time. He was very close to his mother who was a woman of great character, who directed him once to do something to alleviate the pain and helplessness of Hindu widows, who were forced to live a life of abnegation. They were denied basic pleasures of life, marginalised in the society, often exploited unfairly and treated as a burden by their family. Vidyasagar’s compassionate heart could not take their plight and he made it his mission to improve the quality of life for these helpless women. He faced raging opposition from orthodox society which termed the concept as something heretic. He challenged the Brahminical authorities and proved that widow remarriage is sanctioned by Vedic scriptures. He took his arguments to the British Authorities and his pleas were heard when the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856 or Act XV, 1856, was decreed on July 26, 1856. He did not just stop there. He initiated several matches for child or adolescent widows within respectable families and even married his son Narayan Chandra to an adolescent widow in 1870 to set an example.
—Source: India Study Channel