Captain D.V.P.Raja, recounts stories of war, both on the battle field and off it. His love for service continued long after he hung up his uniform, and he set up the prestigious MISS.
I wait in his spacious but spartan office room staring at the black-and-white photo of a soldier in uniform, when Captain Dharma Venketa Perumal Raja walks in. At 77, he is straight as an arrow and elegantly grey. “You have come on a busy day but it’s my duty to answer all your questions,” he smiles.
The captain is the founder of the Madurai Institute of Social Sciences (MISS).
He is a veteran of the 1962 and 1965 wars. Though he had a scholarship to study Social Work in the US, he gave it up in the face of the Chinese aggression in 1962, and joined the Indian Army as a commissioned officer.
Capt.Raja served in the 23 Mountain Division where he saw firsthand the devastating consequences of war as well as instances of valour and sacrifice. His quit the Armed Forces in 1968 and came to Madurai to start an educational institution that has grown into one of the finest institutions of social science in the region.
Speaking of his army days, Captain Raja says, “I clearly remember the battles. The country was not prepared for the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962. Hundreds of our best fighters fell and many more were wounded. But we won the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war despite everything. There was determination and we were better equipped,” he adds. During the two wars his Division shifted from the Assam border to Punjab border and Capt.Raja got a chance to live his dream– to serve the country. His last posting was in Hyderabad.
When he came home in 1967, the captain was disillusioned with his squabbling family members who wanted to contest the general elections. “I told them that instead of fighting for election tickets they should start a college for under-privileged students. They asked me why I couldn’t do it.” So he did.
Capt.Raja set up MISS on October 2, 1969. In the beginning it functioned from a small rented house with just four students and himself as the lone teacher. He also established the College for Arts and Science in Rajapalayam in 1971. In 1973 MISS shifted to its present campus into the 150-year-old building earlier known as the English Club, on Alagar Koil Road. Capt.Raja has occupied the same room since then, its walls hung with photographs of leaders he admires and the shelves cramped with awards he has won.
Over 10,000 students have benefitted from various programmes at MISS so far. “My students visit under-developed villages, slums and strife-torn spots. That is what completes the social work course,” says the captain. His former students who are now spread across the globe are handling projects for the World Bank, Planning Commission, ICDS and several other State Government bodies.
“It is my dream to train as many young men and women in scientific humanism for a better society,” he says.
With patronage and encouragement from eminent educationists such as P. T. Rajan, the first Vice-Chancellor of MK University, T. P. Meenakshisundaram, and the top brass of Madura Coats in those days, MISS has grown into a specialised autonomous institution of the UGC enrolling over 1,000 students every year in nearly two dozen UG, PG, Diploma and research courses. It has recently applied for the National Assessment and Accreditation Council’s certification to be elevated as a deemed university on par with Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
For the last four-and-a-half-decades, Capt.Raja and his team has overhauled the curriculum and also created a dozen information resource centres of excellence for documenting information on health, education, economics, culture, religion, tourism, development and crime. Capt.Raja himself earned a double M.A, Ph.D and D.Litt. The founder-chairman held the senior principal’s post for four decades till 2009.
“But, I am a workaholic and busier than ever before,” he says. He still attends office daily and takes pride in the fact that his urge to serve has not waned in the last five decades. He is fond of his early morning walks at the Walkers Club. He founded this club 36 years ago after battles with authorities and industrialists. “I am happy that we were able to develop and retain this little breathing space inside the city,” he says.
In Line of Duty
With 40 years of experience in PG teaching, Capt.D.V.P Raja also served as Academic Council member of MKU for 27 years
He is a recipient of NEFA Military Service medal (1963-64) and Pakistan War Service Medal (1965)
He was Advisor to the Union Ministry of Welfare for eight years; Executive Committee member in National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development, Delhi, for 20 years.
Was the president of Tamil Nadu Principal’s Association for seven years and Association of Schools of Social Work in India for six years
Served as Board Member of International Association of Schools of Social Work, Vienna, and Member in Inter-University Consortium for International Social Development, USA
He is a member of the sub-group on the Welfare of Beggary for the XII Five Year Plan (2012-2017)