Karnataka govt shuts down almost 100-year-old Tamil school in Bengaluru citing lack of students
Despite being a heritage building, the government, instead of restoring it, stopped paying the electricity bill, resulting in the school running without power for seven years.
Two weeks ago, the state education department shut down a 91-year-old government Tamil School in Bengaluru, citing a lack of students. Located in the Central Business District (CBD), the Rao Bahadur BV Venakata Naidu School, built in 1930, was one of the few existing Tamil government schools in the state.
Despite being a heritage building, the government, instead of restoring it, stopped paying the electricity bill, resulting in the school running without power for seven years. Last week, 10 students were shifted to a different school, leaving the building unattended.
The government has also made its intentions clear as a proposal by Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to restore the building with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds was turned down by the government in November this year. “We had submitted a Detailed Project Report (DPR) to restore the building. The cost of the proposed project was ₹27 lakh, which the rotary club was ready to fund. However, the department officials turned down the project, saying they didn’t want to restore this building since there were not enough students,” said Meera Iyer, convenor of INTACH, Bengaluru chapter.
Iyer further said that department of public instruction (DPI) commissioner R Vishal asked the INTACH team to invest the same funds in some other schools where there are a substantial number of students.
Doubts have been raised on why the department does not want to restore the building, which has a 15,514 sq ft area in a prime location in Ashok Nagar. “The building has a history of several years, and it is a heritage building. Understandably, the department doesn’t want to run a school with a handful of students, but we can’t understand the rationale behind shutting the school down and abandoning the property. The building could be developed for another purpose by the department,” said ward committee members, who didn’t want to be named.
There is limited literature on the history of the school. It was named after Venkata Naidu, a builder and a part of the Cantonment Municipal Corporation during the British Era. According to officials of the Tamil Sangha in Bengaluru, Naidu was involved in providing education to the Panchama community, which constitutes of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe people.
HISTORY OF TAMIL SCHOOLS
The Tamil schools in Bengaluru have a history of their own. One of the migrations that changed the linguistic character of the city happened during the British India era. After the military engineers found Bengaluru’s topography and proximity to other cities to be good for developing a cantonment, manpower was required.
“When the British started constructing the cantonment area since they had a base in the Madras presidency, they brought in skilled labourers and traders as part of the development of the cantonment. This is one of the reasons why the cantonment area in Bengaluru has a large Tamil speaking population,” said Suresh Moona, a Bengaluru based historian.
The Tamil schools that came up in Bengaluru was a result of this cultural change, but over the years, the number of these Tamil schools have come down, resulting in many schools such as the one in Ashok Nagar shutting down due to lack of students.
Even though reviving the Tamil school is a herculean task due to demand for English medium schools in the state, questions are being raised on why the heritage structure can’t be saved. “For the past six years, we have been working with the school. We have conducted cycle day and other programmes to spread awareness about this heritage school. But since the lockdown, the government has shut down the school,” said Meenakshi Ravikrishna, a ward committee member and a member of the Bangalore Political Action Committee.
Being 91 years old will not help the building’s cause, say activists. In Karnataka, there is no framework at present to apply for the heritage status of a building. According to Moona, Bangalore Urban Art Commission (BUAC) was established in 1976, and it commissioned a survey of the city’s heritage buildings in the mid-1980s. The survey listed over 800 such buildings that were thought to be worthy of protection.
“In 2001, the BUAC was suddenly dissolved. There is still no clear idea why it was done, but we believe the opposition to the rapid urbanisation from the commission led to it. The commission had opposed the construction of Vikas Soudha (a building with an identical design as the historical Vidhan Soudha). Then there were restrictions on construction on major roads like MG Road and others. This could be the reason. Since then, there is no talk of restoring the commission and massive developments continue across the city, unchallenged,” Moona said.
He said that if the beauty and history of the existing heritage buildings have to be preserved, there is a need for another Bengaluru arts commission. “What is important is to make it independent and to appoint experts on heritage in this committee. Ensuring there is government involvement in the committee is very important. But in our current economic race, I don’t know if that could be a reality,” he said.
Adding to the argument, Iyer said that at present a letter can be written to Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), however, it may not result in the building getting heritage status. “In the case of this school, sadly there is no legal framework to ensure a renovation citing its heritage value,” she added.