Three glorious schools are now in focus

The ASI, in a report in 2012, had mentioned the poor state of the three schools and had noted that immediate action must be taken to restore them.

Updated - December 19, 2014 11:05 pm IST

Published - December 18, 2014 11:37 pm IST

The Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles School (Government Girls French High School). Photo: T. Singaravelou

The Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles School (Government Girls French High School). Photo: T. Singaravelou

> One of the legacies of the French in Puducherry is Article XXII of the 1956 Treaty of Cession between India and France which mentions that French establishments should be allowed to ‘preserve the possibility of imparting French education.’

In the aftermath of the Mairie’s collapse, the government was compelled to turn its attention to three schools which were functioning out of heritage buildings. These were the V.O. Chidambaram Government Higher Secondary School and two schools where education is imparted in French: Calve College Government Higher Secondary School (College Calve Enseignement Secondaire) and the Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles (Government Girls French High School).

As a precautionary measure, students were shifted out to other schools, while teams of experts from the ASI and IIT Madras examined the structures.

What followed were protests by parents and the question why very little had been done to repair and restore these heritage buildings.

The ASI, in a report in 2012, had mentioned the poor state of the three schools and had noted that immediate action must be taken to restore them.

The schools have already once lost a chance of being taken up for restoration through a proposal of the Housing and Urban Development Corporation Limited (HUDCO) as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility programme due to a lack of follow-up.

In this part, we focus on these three schools which have now taken the centrestage in the heritage conservation debate.

Among the people who have walked down the corridors of the V.O.C School are Puducherry’s illustrious poet Bharatidasan who served as a Tamil teacher, say one of the staff members, adding that poet Vanidasan also served briefly as a teacher. Built in 1885, the school has been influenced by the European features of the Calve College and is one of the few European-style buildings in the Tamil town area, says Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) in a report.

The boys’ school (earlier known as the Ecole Primaire de Garons) was renamed after freedom fighter V.O. Chidambaram Pillai. It has been more than five years since the heritage building in the school has been put to regular use, except for two labs and administrative offices. Students of classes XI and XII are housed in an inner building in the premises which is cordoned off from the heritage structure and has its own separate entrance, says Dr. A. Michael Benno, Principal.

The students are aware of the history and its legacy through participation in the school’s history and heritage clubs, he says.

“The identity of the V. O. C School will remain regardless of the building from which we function. Our current focus is the academic well-being of our students and their overall development,” says Mr. Benno, who undertook his teacher training at the school.

INTACH has carried out some repair work in three of the classrooms, and after a study in 2004-05 had given an estimate of Rs. 40 lakh to repair and restore the school building, says A. Arul of INTACH, who has studied in the school.

The opportunity to restore the V. O. C school then was passed up. Now, the cost estimate is around Rs. 4.5 crore.

Grand bequest Dayalane, Deputy Tahsildar and a former student of the Calve College Government Higher Secondary School has fond memories of his school and recounts being taught by Sadasiva Chettiyar, the grandson of Subburaya Chettiyar, who founded the school in 1875. The school gets its name from Calvé Souprayachettiar (Kalavai Subburaya Chettiyar) who belonged to a renowned merchant family. The school was opened for the education of local Hindu and Muslim children. The family’s roots are in Kalavai (Calve) village near Vellore.

Political leaders such as V. Subbiah and M.O.H. Farook were products of the school. The school continues to cater to French education for a small group of 110 students from classes I to X, apart from classes in the State syllabus.

The architectural design features a mix of Indian and colonial styles, says the INTACH report. The report also makes note of structures which were added later that are not in tune with the ‘architectural aesthetic of the building.’

The 2011 Thane cyclone had caused extensive damage to the school and the first floor was heavily damaged. The cost estimate for the school’s renovation is now around Rs. 5.40 crore.

Enviable address Occupying an enviable address on the beachfront is the Pensionnat. Among its distinctions is the fact that it is India’s only French girls’ high school run by the government. Initially run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny around 1858, the school was transferred to the government of French India in 1903. The school holds a special place in Puducherry’s history as it was donated by one Mrs. Smith who expressed a wish that the building must always be used as a school for girls in this town. This was cited in the Lt. Governor’s order when the school faced a danger in the 1980s of being demolished to make space for a government building, according to Professor Murugesan, former Deputy Director of French Education. The estimate for the school’s renovation is now around Rs. 4.60 crore.

“Pensionnat has its own special history. It might be a few years and some of us might not be around, but we hope the school is returned to the students once it is restored for future generations,” says one of the teachers of the school.

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