The assets bequeathed in his will (1895) were worth ₹30 lakh, higher than the assets bequeathed in 1893 by Sir Dorabji Tata to the House of Tatas. Whatever ₹30 lakh may amount to in 2017, Dyal Singh Majithia’s lasting legacies are several colleges in India and Pakistan, newspaper The Tribune and several public libraries in Delhi and Lahore.
In Pakistan, he is still remembered as a ‘proud son of Punjab’ and the college in Lahore continues to bear his name. But in India, the governing body of the Dyal Singh College in Delhi under the chairmanship of BJP leader and lawyer Amitabh Sinha, decided that the Dyal Singh (Evening) College would be renamed ‘Vande Mataram Mahavidyalaya’.
In Pakistan, in sharp contrast, the faculty and the civil society resisted attempts made in 1987 to rename Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and Dyal Singh College in Pakistan. Describing these buildings as part of cultural heritage, Lahore High Court upheld that the institutions must continue to be known by their original names.
The unimaginative, insensitive and casual decision by the governing body of the college in Delhi has triggered protests with people pointing out that it was an insult to a great nation-builder and nationalist. Dyal Singh Majithia (1848-1898) died young but is remembered for his pioneering efforts. What is more, he left strict instructions that no member of his family should benefit from the Trusts.
He had donated all of his self-earned assets including buildings in Lahore and land in Amritsar, Lahore and Gurdaspur districts for the promotion of education and welfare of people. While he willed his vast wealth for setting up an education trust for a truly secular college, Dyal Singh College was established at Lahore in 1910. “After the partition of India, the college was established in Karnal and in Delhi. It started functioning in the capital as a constituent college of the University of Delhi in 1959 and was taken over by the University of Delhi in 1978,” maintains the college website.
A Pakistani website on Lahore city gives this account of the great philanthropist: “Dyal Singh College was founded in accordance with the will of Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia, one of the greatest sons of Punjab, in Lahore. The college, run by an educational trust, originally consisted of Dyal Singh College, Dayal Singh Library, Dayal Singh Majithia Hall and Dyal Singh Mansions located at the Mall, adjacent to Lahore High Court.”
“The complex owes its existence to the public-spirited Sardar Dyal Singh Majithi. He had bequeathed his fortune to set up an educational trust which set up a college and library at Lahore and Delhi respectively and a college in Karnal… in 1895, he recorded a will with the Lahore Registrar, in which he gave most of his property for the construction of libraries, reading rooms and colleges to be administered by a trust.”
“His relatives contested the will after his death. The litigation ended in 1907, however, and the Dyal Singh Reading Room and Library was opened at his former haveli. Dyal Singh College was formally inaugurated on May 3, 1910.”
After partition, The Tribune shifted first to Shimla, then to Ambala, before moving its head office to Chandigarh. With no one from his family in the board of trustees, it is the only independent media trust in the country. It remains the only newspaper to have residential quarters for employees, a school for their children and a dispensary in Chandigarh.
Dyal Singh was born into a family, three generations of which had provided generals to Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army. Dyal Singh’s father, Lehna Singh, was the head of the kingdom’s ordnance. A connoisseur of precious stones and a real estate businessman, Dyal Singh earned a fortune in his lifetime. He was also one of the founders of the Punjab National Bank.