Taraknath Das was an Indian intellectual and reformer who fought tirelessly for the independence of his country. He attended Norwich University from 1908 to 1909 and advocated for more people from India to seek higher education so that they could bring about liberation from the British Empire. In spite of his commitment to a peaceful political process, the British and American governments had concerns about providing military training to such an “agitator,” and he was honorably discharged from Norwich in 1909.
We do not know how Taraknath Das learned about Norwich or why he decided to apply. He corresponded with President Spooner and was admitted in 1908 under the condition that he cease his political activities while he was a cadet.
When he arrived, Das disregarded this request and continued to be vocal in advocating for India’s independence. He published essays and gave talks to any group that would listen. While he was politically outspoken, there was little evidence that he was readying himself for military action against the British government.
Das was well liked at Norwich, and both students and administrators supported his right to an education here. However, the War Department began making inquiries as to his intentions in seeking military training, and concern grew that this could sour the university’s important relationship with the U.S. military.
In the fall of 1909, President Spooner reluctantly asked Das to accept an honorable discharge and leave Norwich after the term’s examinations. He went on to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees at American universities, with letters of recommendation from more than one Norwich trustee, and wrote prolifically on international relations, law, religion, and ethics. He and his wife established a foundation to support Indian graduate students studying in the United States.
Taraknath Das lived to see his country gain independence in 1947. He would always remember Norwich fondly, and Norwich in turn remembers with pride that he embodied the university’s values by fighting with unwavering integrity for what he believed in.
You can learn more about Taraknath Das in the University Archives. Resources include an extensive biographical file that includes copies of correspondence between Norwich administrators and the War Department regarding Das. There are also articles written by and about Das in the Record and Reveille, some of which can be found in the Serials Index of the University Archives.