About Prof. Ruchi Ram Sahni

Ruchi Ram Sahni (1863-1948) was born barely 14 years after the British annexation of Punjab and lived to see India become independent. His life thus spans a very important period of history. He was the first person from Punjab to make a career in science. He was the first Indian officer in the India Meteorological Department (1885). Moving by choice to teaching, he became the first Indian science professor at Government College Lahore which he served from 1887 till his retirement in 1918. The University instituted Ruchi Ram Sahni Declamation Contest Prize in his honour. He is also India’s first nuclear scientist who published two research papers in 1915 and 1917 working in the laboratory of Ernst Rutherford in Manchester where he interacted with Niels Bohr. (Interestingly, in his laboratory work, he was assisted by his son Birbal Sahni, the well known paleobotanist, who was at the time studying in Cambridge.) He remained a member of Punjab University Senate and of Syndicate for a number of years, till 1921. In 1923, he entered Punjab Legislative Council as a member of the Swaraj Party.
Ruchi Ram was a conscientious and inspiring teacher who spent six months learning carpentry for the sake of laboratory work. His instructor in the craft who also doubled as his teacher in art and aesthetics was Bhai Ram Singh, later the celebrated architect of Khalsa College, Amritsar.  Having been a student who came up in life through scholarships and help from well meaning people, he took his mentoring role very seriously. One of his students whom he mentored in various ways was Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, who was appointed Director of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1940, and who set up a string of national laboratories in independent India. Ruchi Ram, his geologist son Mulk Raj Sahni, Birbal Sahni and Bhatnagar were invited by C. V. Raman to be foundation fellows of Indian Academy of Sciences established in 1934. Coincidentally, the Sahnis’ ancestral home town Bhera, now in Sargodha district, Punjab, Pakistan,  is also Bhatnagar’s birthplace.
Ruchi Ram was in addition a social and religious reformer, science popularizer, text book writer, and author and after retirement an active follower of Mahatma Gandhi.  Product of a liberal composite culture, he learnt Urdu and Gurmukhi besides physics and chemistry and came to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of the Persian language. As Kapurthala Alexandra Scholar at Oriental College, Lahore he delivered lectures on science in Urdu to its students, and even translated a book on conservation of energy from English into Urdu. It is a separate matter that the translation could not be published because of lack of funds.



He was an enthusiastic advocate of Punjabi (and regional languages in general) ‘as a vehicle of scientific ideas’.  He gave public lectures in Punjabi in Lahore, other towns and even remote villages. All his lectures were ‘illustrated with easy experiments, often with simple apparatus which any one could make for himself’. His own estimate was that he gave about 500 popular lectures in all under the auspices of the rather short-lived Punjab Science Institute which he co-founded in 1885. In conjunction with the Institute he set up a workshop as business venture for repairing old instruments and making new ones. A great votary of employment-oriented technical education, he played an important role in the movement that maintained that ‘if Hindu and Sikh youth were provided with suitable means of instruction in technical subjects, many fresh openings could be made for them and the present pressure on agriculture and the services largely diminished’. As a result, Victoria Diamond Jubilee Hindu Technical Institute was set up in Lahore in 1897 and Ruchi Ram given the honour of delivering the inaugural address. The Institute was headed by the famous poet-scientist Puran Singh during 1904 -1906.  Having experienced both opulence and poverty in his childhood, Ruchi Ram was very keen to promote science as a producer of wealth. In 1934, as the President of Northern India Chemical Manufacturers’ Association, he strongly objected to ‘the economic resources of the province’ being ‘mortgaged beforehand to a foreign concern [Imperial Chemical Industries]’, and wanted ‘the interests of indigenous chemical industries’ to be protected.
A life-long adherent of the Brahmo Samaj principles, he held all religions in high esteem. In or after 1945 he wrote Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines, which was later edited by Dr Ganda Singh and published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC). With his characteristic thoroughness, he preserved all the press communiqués on the subject which SGPC had issued from time to time and subsequently presented a complete set to SGPC whose own collection had gaps.
 Ruchi Ram Sahni belonged to the first generation of University students in Punjab who were ‘practically without any guidance from our elders’. Very conscientiously he set out to remedy this deficiency for the coming generations of students.  On a personal level, he sought knowledge and strove to live in accordance with it. As member of the society, he strove even harder to apply his intellect, learning, analytical skills and organizational abilities for the benefit of his countrymen. It is in this context that he continues to be relevant today.

Ruchi Ram Sahni (1863-1948) was born barely 14 years after the British annexation of Punjab and lived to see India become independent. His life thus spans a very important period of history. He was the first person from Punjab to make a career in science. He was the first Indian officer in the India Meteorological Department (1885). Moving by choice to teaching, he became the first Indian science professor at Government College Lahore which he served from 1887 till his retirement in 1918. The University instituted Ruchi Ram Sahni Declamation Contest Prize in his honour. He is also India’s first nuclear scientist who published two research papers in 1915 and 1917 working in the laboratory of Ernst Rutherford in Manchester where he interacted with Niels Bohr. (Interestingly, in his laboratory work, he was assisted by his son Birbal Sahni, the well known paleobotanist, who was at the time studying in Cambridge.) He remained a member of Punjab University Senate and of Syndicate for a number of years, till 1921. In 1923, he entered Punjab Legislative Council as a member of the Swaraj Party.

Ruchi Ram was a conscientious and inspiring teacher who spent six months learning carpentry for the sake of laboratory work. His instructor in the craft who also doubled as his teacher in art and aesthetics was Bhai Ram Singh, later the celebrated architect of Khalsa College, Amritsar.  Having been a student who came up in life through scholarships and help from well meaning people, he took his mentoring role very seriously. One of his students whom he mentored in various ways was Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, who was appointed Director of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1940, and who set up a string of national laboratories in independent India. Ruchi Ram, his geologist son Mulk Raj Sahni, Birbal Sahni and Bhatnagar were invited by C. V. Raman to be foundation fellows of Indian Academy of Sciences established in 1934. Coincidentally, the Sahnis’ ancestral home town Bhera, now in Sargodha district, Punjab, Pakistan,  is also Bhatnagar’s birthplace.

Ruchi Ram was in addition a social and religious reformer, science popularizer, text book writer, and author and after retirement an active follower of Mahatma Gandhi.  Product of a liberal composite culture, he learnt Urdu and Gurmukhi besides physics and chemistry and came to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of the Persian language. As Kapurthala Alexandra Scholar at Oriental College, Lahore he delivered lectures on science in Urdu to its students, and even translated a book on conservation of energy from English into Urdu. It is a separate matter that the translation could not be published because of lack of funds.

He was an enthusiastic advocate of Punjabi (and regional languages in general) ‘as a vehicle of scientific ideas’.  He gave public lectures in Punjabi in Lahore, other towns and even remote villages. All his lectures were ‘illustrated with easy experiments, often with simple apparatus which any one could make for himself’. His own estimate was that he gave about 500 popular lectures in all under the auspices of the rather short-lived Punjab Science Institute which he co-founded in 1885. In conjunction with the Institute he set up a workshop as business venture for repairing old instruments and making new ones. A great votary of employment-oriented technical education, he played an important role in the movement that maintained that ‘if Hindu and Sikh youth were provided with suitable means of instruction in technical subjects, many fresh openings could be made for them and the present pressure on agriculture and the services largely diminished’. As a result, Victoria Diamond Jubilee Hindu Technical Institute was set up in Lahore in 1897 and Ruchi Ram given the honour of delivering the inaugural address. The Institute was headed by the famous poet-scientist Puran Singh during 1904 -1906.  Having experienced both opulence and poverty in his childhood, Ruchi Ram was very keen to promote science as a producer of wealth. In 1934, as the President of Northern India Chemical Manufacturers’ Association, he strongly objected to ‘the economic resources of the province’ being ‘mortgaged beforehand to a foreign concern [Imperial Chemical Industries]’, and wanted ‘the interests of indigenous chemical industries’ to be protected.

A life-long adherent of the Brahmo Samaj principles, he held all religions in high esteem. In or after 1945 he wrote Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines, which was later edited by Dr Ganda Singh and published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC). With his characteristic thoroughness, he preserved all the press communiqués on the subject which SGPC had issued from time to time and subsequently presented a complete set to SGPC whose own collection had gaps.

 Ruchi Ram Sahni belonged to the first generation of University students in Punjab who were ‘practically without any guidance from our elders’. Very conscientiously he set out to remedy this deficiency for the coming generations of students.  On a personal level, he sought knowledge and strove to live in accordance with it. As member of the society, he strove even harder to apply his intellect, learning, analytical skills and organizational abilities for the benefit of his countrymen. It is in this context that he continues to be relevant today.

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