T S Avinashilingam Chettiar, A Visionary With A Mission
T.S.Avinashilingam Chettiar (Ayya) was born in the May of 1903. He came under the influence of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi. These influences led him to lead a life of dedication and service. He spearheaded the freedom movement in Tamilnadu from the year 1930 and was repeatedly incarcerated (1930, 1932 , 1941 and 1942). Ayya was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly in 1934. It was 1946 when he was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly and he became the First Minister for Education in the Madras Presidency. Ayya introduced basic education and reorganized secondary education. The Libraries Act introduced by him ushered in the library movement in this part of the country. Ayya revitalized moral and spiritual education in schools by introducing the study of Thirukkural.
Ayya was elected to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and he had served on many National Policy making bodies like the Central Advisory Board of Education, All India Council of Technical Education, National Committee on Agricultural Education of the ICAR and National Council for Community Development and many others. He was the Founder of Sri Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya, Avinashilingam Institutions in Coimbatore. Ayya was responsible for the Tamil Encyclopedia. He was invited by the US Government under the Leadership Exchange programme in 1963. The Union Government awarded him the Padma Bhushan in the year 1970. He was given the Nehru Literacy Award in 1974 and the Tamilnadu Government honoured him with the award ‘Senthamizh Chelvar’ (1978). Thanjavur Tamil University gave him a Doctorate in 1984 and he was conferred the Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Rural Development too (1985).
Ayya brought an educational policy which changed the face of education in the south. His interest in Tamil, our culture and the empowerment of the poor are legendary. The education system of today has deviated from the principles of Ayya and has resulted in stress for the society at large. Let us use this oppourtunity to understand the good principles and approach of Ayya T.S.Avinashilingam Chettiar.
Excerpts from the speech of Ayya at the Legislature , “ In moving the demand for education, I would like to say in brief a few words about our educational reorganization schemes. Many of us are familiar with the faults……It has been said it was merely bookish, that it trained people merely to be clerks, and that it did not develop leadership and confidence in our children….When taking up the re-organization of education, care must also be taken to see that we have a comprehensive view of education as a whole, instead of dealing with it in parts…Unless the curricula in our girls schools are reorganized to suit the necessities of life…..it cannot be said to train them for life. The four factors are, viz, training for a living, cultivation of a social sense, equipping children with knowledge and practice of the rights and duties of citizenship and training our women for their duties and responsibilities, above all, a cultural view of life based on purity, devotion and character – these are the essential needs of any modern society……”
Thereafter the Education Administration Report of the Government of Madras for 1947 – 48 gave out some salient points. They were, introduction of crafts as basic activities in schools, Citizenship training, Study of Social Studies as one part, homecraft for girls, bifurcation of courses in high school classes so that pupils may take the programmes of their choice. Adult education was also the focus. Visual Education, NCC, Appointment of Asthana Kavis or Poet Laureates for various languages, publication of a quarterly magazine ‘New Education’, purchasing the copyright of the works of National Poet Subramanya Bharathi equalizing the pay of Tamil teachers with the others, establishment of Professorship in Tamil and other languages in Madras University, the sanction and formation of National Cadet Corps of the Junior Division and setting up of rural colleges.
The citizenship training envisaged in the adult education programme also gave scope for young men and women to channelize their enthusiasm. The syllabus provided a rural approach to the problem and gave basic grounding for rural workers. Ayya enlightened everyone with his ideas and approach. Its time to understand that the real foundation for education was laid by him and he is the Father of Modern Education post freedom…..” The possibilities of utilizing the radio for purpose of education of children in schools as well as adults are also being explored. The House may be aware of the steps taken by the Government to develop and enrich the various regional languages in the province. Poet Laureateships have been offered in all the four regional languages and Sanskrit….Provision has been made for the publication of original works on various subjects from amongst ancient manuscripts… Provision for the education of defective children…..a school for mentally defective children is proposed to be opened…. Now I come to religious instruction. One of the very important matter has been raised in the course of discussions and that is the matter of religious instruction. I am one of those who believe that real religion represents the highest culture of man…. it is felt that the fundamental basis of all religions is the same and that we should evolve a system of ethics based on these fundamentals…. I believe Sir, such an education of ethics and higher life, accepting the brotherhood of man and inculcating qualities of love, devotion and character to all children will not be against the provision in the Constitution of India. … I believe when the history of education of this province comes to be written, these years will be considered as years in which boldness, initiative and vision have been shown in the educational reforms of the province.”
Ayya T.S.Avinashilingam Chettiar was the first and the path breaking Education Minister of the Madras Presidency which occupied most of South India. The work of Ayya and his team were pathbreaking. They did not hesitate to deviate from the useless colonial past. He felt that our culture and religion would help our people to live ethically. He sought to do so in spite of the barriers created legally through the Constitution of our country. However he did so in a peaceful manner by exercising a lot of tact. Tamilnadu is today doing really well today because of the strong educational policy brought out by Ayya T.S.Avinashilingam Chettiar. His thought process and intent have brought in gender equality in education, reduced illiteracy largely and created a large number of skilled professionals over the years. Our nation owes a lot to him. Let us salute him on the occasion of his birthday.
Coimbatore is a blessed city and Tamilnadu is fortunate to have had Ayya T.S.Avinashilingam at the helm of path during the early days of implementing the educational policy. The grateful citizens have really benefited from the good work of this wise leader.