Sunday, January 8, 2017

Dedicated service

Quick, who was the first woman sheriff of Madras? For all I know, she may have been the only woman sheriff of Chennai ever. That is Padma Vibhushan Mary Clubwala Jadhav, one of the city's most revered social workers and an early member of the Guild of Service, which is arguably the country's oldest voluntary service organization. She was born in Ooty in 1909 and died in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1975. The years in between were mostly spent in Madras, where she became the moving spirit and the visible face of the Guild of Service. 

By the time of India's independence, the Guild of Service was an organisation of formidable repute: Rajendra Prasad, India's first President also became the Guild's Patron-in-Chief; over the years, that almost became an ex-officio position. As she tried to move social work from being "time-pass" into a structured, systematic activity. As much as the Guild opened up areas such as refugee rehabilitation, care for the destitute, foundling homes and such like, Mary Clubwala Jadhav also emphasised the need for a feeder system. That was how the Madras School of Social Work came to be established. 

Recognition came regularly; in 1935 she was appointed Honorary Presidency Magistrate for Madras, responsible for the Juvenile Court, a position that she held for the rest of her life, being re-appointed 15 times. In 1946, the Government of Madras nominated her to the Legislative Council, which they did again in 1952 and in 1954. In 1956, she was appointed the Sheriff of Madras, thereby becoming the first woman Sheriff of the city, to go with the honour of having been the first woman to be Honorary Presidency Magistrate. When she received that position, in 1935, she was but 26 years old. But that should not be surprising; though the Guild of Service was founded by Mrs Waller (the wife of Bishop Waller), it is said that Mary "joined hands with her" in starting it. The Guild dates its origin to 1923; it is unlikely that a 14-year old could be instrumental in its inception. Even so, given her dedication to the Guild, it is no wonder that she went on to receive the MBE from the British; the Padma Vibhushan came much later, in 1975, the same year that she passed away - still in service!

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