Friday, July 18, 2014

Early schooling

In 1857, Lady Sybilla Harris, wife of Lord Harris, the Governor of Madras, made a donation of £1,500 to start a school exclusively for Muslims. The recipient of this donation was the Church Missions Society; a seemingly odd decision, but it somehow went through initially. However, it ran into rough weather soon. Lord Harris declared the the "...Christian cause shall no longer be kept in the background, but put forth before the people...". That was proof enough of its proselytic intent and several Muslim and Hindu residents petitioned the Secretary of State for India in London, Lord Stanley, asking for the school to be closed.

That petition did not result in any action. The school, named Harris High School for Muslims, continued to function in Triplicane. But the locals went ahead and ostracised the students and their families. A fatwa was issued to excommunicate the school's supporters. Somehow the school struggled on. The arrival of Edward Sell as the school's principal in 1865 probably cooled tempers for a bit. Sell was only 26, but already had a reputation for his Islamic scholarship and was able to steer the school through until 1881, when he stepped down. 

For several years after that, it seemed to be more an issue of egos; the CMS continued to struggle with running the school. It was only in the 1920s that they began thinking about closing it down. It was then that the Muslim Educational Association of South India (MEASI) stepped in and took over the management of the school. The first thing they did was to rename it. Unlike its contemporary in Royapettah, the Muslim Higher Secondary School in Triplicane makes sure it has nothing to remember its founders by!

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