Madras Miscellany History & Culture

A footnote in rail heritage soon?

Unless the protests of its employees, who are parents of children in its schools, are heard favourably, the Southern Railway was to close all the schools it runs in the South. This will include the first one, the Railway Mixed Higher Secondary School in Perambur, which, dating to 1891 was set up for the wards of the employees of Madras Railways. The School was later run by the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway (M&SM) after it had been formed. That the Railways today — loss-making even though they may be — cannot afford to run half a dozen schools, stretches my imagination too far. And that it would close a heritage institution makes it even more unbelievable and callous. In the days of the M&SM and the South Indian Railway, now merged as Southern Railway, there was often more understanding of the need to provide education to the children of their employees.

A footnote in rail heritage soon?

I’ve already written about the School in Perambur (Miscellany August 28, 2017) where M&SM had its workshops, so a word here about one of those railway companies that pioneered rail transport in India. M&SM had its roots in the Madras Railway Company founded in 1845 and running its first trains from Royapuram to Arcot in 1856. By 1879, it had a line running from Madras (Royapuram) to Bangalore. Whereupon the Maharajah of Mysore decided to establish the Mysore State Railway to link Bangalore with Mysore. In 1886 he got the Southern Mahratta Railway to manage his company after the first section on this route was opened in 1881 and work was underway on other sections.

The Southern Mahratta Railway Company was itself started in 1882 to cover northern Mysore and southern Maharashtra with headquarters in Dharwar. It opened its first line between Bellary and Hospet in 1884, then began spreading, reaching Poona in 1890. The Poona-Bombay link was provided by the Great Indian Peninsular Railway.

By 1905, the Southern Mahratta Railway had a route length of about 1,700 miles (including Mysore Railway’s track) and Madras Railways had about 1,400 miles of track, about 900 westwards. In1908, all these companies merged and the Madras & Southern Mahratta Railway Company was formed, with headquarters in Royapuram and its major workshops in Perambur.

FOOTNOTE: From the 1920s to the 1940s, when Anglo-Indians powered Madras hockey and ruled the roost, one of their best teams was the M&SM team, for which the Perambur school was a feeder. In fact, the school was established by Anglo-Indians who worked in the Railway workshops (established in 1856) and the nearby mills, but students come from all communities. It was then taken over by Madras Railway.

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Setting me straight

An irate G Ram Mohan sends me a four-page, single-spaced letter, four times the length of this column to tell me how wrong I was about Sir Sankaran Nair (Miscellany, April 30) and asking that it be published to set the record straight. Sorry, Ram Mohan, I’ll stick to the two key points in your letter and leave out your library and the Jallianwala history you’ve drawn from it.

Ram Mohan writes, “there are, in my view, two erroneous statements in your article.” I publish his ‘corrections’.

    The first is that Sir C. Sankaran Nair ‘as a member of the Secretary of State for India’s Council moved to England, and campaigned for a Royal Commission of Enquiry’ on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. I presume that you refer to the ‘Disorders Inquiry Committee 1919-1920’ appointed by the British Government to enquire into ‘Disturbances in Bombay, Delhi and the Punjab.’

    You have implied that Sir Sankaran Nair, through his campaigns in England, was instrumental in the appointment of the Hunter Commission. That was not the case at all. The Hunter Commission was appointed because of the outburst of strong emotions created in India and in Britain over the massacre and other atrocities. Englishmen like B.G. Horniman and Rev C F Andrews agitated for this to be brought to light and enquired into. On May 1, 1919, the then Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, saw the reality, wired the Viceroy of the need for a proper enquiry and informed the House of Commons that one would be held. The Viceroy and his Council had no role to play in the appointment of the Commission.

    The 9-member Hunter Commission started its sittings in India in October 1919. It held 46 sittings and submitted its report to the Government of India on March 8, 1920. Sir Sankaran Nair would have been of no consequence whatsoever in this context. Even in Sir Sankaran’s biography (by K P S Menon) it is stated that Sir Sankaran was on board the ship to England when the Hunter Commission started holding sittings in India. Sir Sankaran had no influence in the appointment of the Commission, its functioning, or its final report.

      “The next error is that the “Royal Commission of Inquiry... led to several civil and military officials being punished for what happened in 1919.” I have made a study of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in some depth.

    Only Dyer himself faced the Hunter Commission to answer many inconvenient questions. Based on the Commission’s Report, the Commander-in-Chief directed Dyer to resign. Dyer appealed to the Army Council and it decided that no disciplinary action should be taken against Dyer, that he should only resign his appointment. Among the civil servants and police officials, none was punished, either through legal action or by departmental actions.

    But 1,799 Indians in Amritsar were summarily tried in camera and 181 sentenced to death, 264 to transportation for life and others to confiscation of property and imprisonment. But under public pressure, all were released on December 28, 1919, by a Royal Amnesty.”

    Duly clarified, Ram Mohan, I leave it to readers to make up their minds.

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    Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 3:25:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/a-footnote-in-rail-heritage-soon/article24011545.ece

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