History & Culture

An age-old institution’s battle for survival

S. Krishnamurthi, the son of Muthulakshmi Reddy, in an article written during Avvai Home’s platinum jubilee year, called the institution an “open house” in Adyar which became a refuge for all women and children who sought education.

What was started by the visionary Dr. Muthulakshmi in 1930 to provide protection to girls from the Devadasi Community, is still going strong despite the many challenges it faces.

The last batch of students from the Teachers Training Institute (TTI) which was started by Dr. Muthulakshmi and Mandakini Krishnamurthi in 1952, for the girls of the home, will pass out this June. The institute had to be closed down as it did not meet the infrastructure norms specified by the National Council for Teacher Education to run a Teacher Training Institute. Most girls who passed out of the TTI were offered jobs in the home’s primary school, and one such person even became the headmistress of Avvai Home’s primary school. “Even today, several come asking for forms for the teacher training course and it is disheartening to tell them that the course has been discontinued. Almost everyone who passed out of it has done well for themselves,” says K. Ratnam who came to Avvai Home from Dharmapuri in the 1970s .

However, V. Susheela, Honorary Secretary and Correspondent, Avvai Home says, “Over the last few years we are dissatisfied with the infrastructure, but since we are caught up with the larger issue of the land, we were not able to meet the specifications.”

The larger issue, she points out, has to do with the land on which the home, and the primary and higher secondary schools are currently functioning. According to Ms. Susheela, Dr. Muthulakshmi had entered into a contract with the Shri Arulmigu Arunachaleswarar Devasthanam for leasing out about 50 grounds belonging to the Devasthanam on Besant Avenue for a period of 50 years following which it could be renewed.

However, when the lease came up for renewal in 1986, the two parties could not reach a consensus, and the Devasthanam went to court seeking a resolution . Since then, several developments have taken place, including the possibility of the Devasthanam taking over the running of the school, but the matter is yet to be resolved.

She said the case has been referred by the Madras High Court to the Tamil Nadu Mediation and Conciliation Centre. The talks, so far, have proven inconclusive.

“Since we are dependent largely on public funds, we have not been able to pay the high rent levied, and our arrears on rent are running into crores of rupees,” she adds.

The government-aided school, she says, provides free education to close to 1,450 children and even finances college education for around 20 girls each year.

Other than government funding, which largely goes towards payment of salaries for government appointed teachers, the management she says bears several expenses. There is an anomaly in the salaries of teachers in the government-aided school, she adds.

“While most of our day scholars come from the immediate neighbourhood, our resident students come from places such as Tindivanam, Villipuram and Periyapalayam and most of them are orphans, destitute children or from economically backward backgrounds,” she adds. When asked about the way ahead, she resiliently says that even with a guillotine hanging on their heads, they continue to function.

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 3:31:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/an-ageold-institutions-battle-for-survival/article3589292.ece

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