Cotton College no doubt opened the doors of higher education in the province of Assam in the year 1901. But, it was not until 27 years later that the college started to further the cause of women’s education. And even so, until the 1940s, enrolment of women in Cotton College was quite a rarity. For many in a traditional-bound society the idea of women studying in the same class or college with men was just not acceptable.

Women’s education got a boost after Mahatma Gandhi gave a clarion call for the emancipation of women. Soon after Gandhi’s visit to Assam, a branch of the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) was set up in the town. In 1937-38, its secretary, Rajabala Das, who was then the headmistress of Panbazar Girls’ High School, placed a proposal for the establishment of a college for women in the Brahmaputra Valley. At the Guwahati meeting of the AIWC that was organized soon thereafter, the matter was discussed threadbare. However, the proposal did not fructify because of resource constraints and lukewarm attitude of a section of society.

But Rajabala Das was a true visionary and did not give up hope. She mobilized funds through the AIWC for construction of the first-ever hostel for women students of Cotton College. Thereafter she took up the task of establishing a girl’s college with alacrity. Das was greatly inspired by the success of Lady Keane Girl’s School, Shillong - which had been elevated to a college in 1935, and Netaji Subhas Bose’s ideas about the role of women in nation-building which was expressed during his visit to Guwahati in 1938. Bose is said to have told Das, “Somebody, somewhere has to come forward. 

Women have to shoulder equal responsibility of nation-building and therefore their education is not only necessary, but a must. Women must kindle the spark within.”Immediately thereafter, Das sought the permission of the Panbazar Girls’ High School managing committee to open a college for women. Everyone agreed, except the then Deputy Commissioner who felt “it was too premature to open a girls’ college”. After some persuasion however the DC also accorded his permission.

Classes were to begin in the premises of the Panbazar Girls’ School itself. A governing body was set up with advocate Holiram Das as president of the Gauhati Girls’ College, as it was named. Rajabala Das was appointed its principal, sans salary. Then started the Herculean task of recruiting students. Das and other members of the governing body had to practically knock every door to convince girls to join the college.


Hemaprabha Das, Bisweswar Sarmah and Nalini Dasgupta tried to mobilize public opinion for women’s education, but only two students - Bani Barua and Basanti Lahiri - could be finally enrolled in the Intermediate Arts (IA) class of 1939. The next year the number of students rose to eight and in the third year 34 students enrolled in the college. In 1940 the college was affiliated to the Calcutta University.

Birth pangs over, efforts were made to mobilize funds by printing one, five and ten-rupee donation coupons. Radhakanta Handique, a noted tea planter and philosopher, came forward at Dr JC Das and SK Bhuyan’s request to donate a sum of Rs 10,000. He also promised a sum of Rs 45,000 for construction of the college building.

After money was assured, acquiring land for the college became an urgent necessity. Meanwhile, World War II had started and most of the town’s schools, including the Panbazar Girls’ School, had been requisitioned. Rajabala Das quick to realize that closure of college classes at a nascent stage could spell doom. So she requested St Mary’s School authorities for space to hold classes, to which the authorities agreed. In 1942, for about a month, the college was shifted to St Mary’s School. But when St Mary’s too was served a notice of requisition, the college was shifted to private house in Panbazar.

Das then pleaded with RK Choudhury, the then education Minister of Assam, for a permanent plot of land for the college. Very soon, a plot of six bighas facing the picturesque Dighalipukhuri was arranged. The money promised by Radhakanta Handique came, and the college that came up was rechristened the RK Handique Girls’ College. In 11945 the college was given the same status as Cotton College, but in 1947 the Indian National Congress government in Assam disapproved and the next year converted it into a government-aided college.

The Handique Girls’ College literally opened the floodgates of women’s higher education in the Brahmaputra valley -- largely due to the significant efforts of founder-principal Rajabala Das. When Das retired in 1965 the college had an average of 1200 students on its rolls. On this day it has 4000 students, including those of the postgraduate classes, and a 100-member strong faculty.