August 15, 2015
It’s that time of the year when we recall the sacrifices made by Tyagis during the Indian freedom struggle. Tirupur Subrahmanya Avinashilingam Chettiar was truly multifaceted – a lawyer, politician, freedom fighter, and Gandhian – all these descriptions were applicable to him. He not only assisted Mahatma Gandhi during the latter’s visit to Coimbatore by mobilising funds for Harijan welfare, but also donated Rs.2.50 lakhs as his personal contribution for the cause.
After completing his degree in law, Avinashilingam practised under his uncle Ramalingam Chettiar before getting involved in the Indian freedom movement. Drawn by the Gandhian philosophies, he joined the Indian National Congress, and served as the President of the Coimbatore District Congress Committee. Avinashilingam took active participation in the Civil Disobedience movement and the Quit India movement. He was arrested four times in 1930, 1932, 1941 and 1942.
When his final prison term came to an end in 1944, he entered provincial politics and was elected to the Madras Legislative Council in 1946. He was also a member of the Imperial Legislative Council from 1935 to 1945.
According to the Vice Chancellor of Avinashilingam University, TSK Meenakshisundaram, Avinashilingam had foot the bill for Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to South India in 1934 to collect funds for the welfare of Harijans. He accompanied Mahatma Gandhi during the entire trip. Post Independence, Avinashilingam devoted his life for the upliftment of the downtrodden people.
His tenure as Education Minister of Madras Presidency from 1946 to
1949 under the leadership of Tanguturi Prakasam and OP Ramaswamy Reddiyar is still remembered for the introduction of Tamil as the medium of instruction in secondary schools all over Madras Presidency. Moreover, he established the Tamil Valarchi Kazhagam, or Tamil Academy, in 1946 which created a 10-part Encyclopaedia, the first in Tamil, between 1954 and 1968. He was also a proponent of the empowerment of women and introduced education for senior citizens and reforms in libraries.
TS Avinashilingam was also the one who had nationalised the compositions of Subrahmanya Bharathi and created the professorship for Tamil and other Indian languages at the University of Madras. Thirukkural was introduced as a part of the curriculum from the 6th grade onwards.
Later, Avinashilingam was elected to the Lok Sabha from Tiruppur and served as a Member of the Parliament from 1952 to 1957. He was also the Member of the Rajya Sabha from 1958 to 1964.
Following his retirement from politics, Avinashilingam served as the chairman of the committee which brought out a 10-part Children’s Encyclopaedia in Tamil in 1975.
A devout Hindu, Avinashilingam came under the influence of Swami Shivananda and Swami Brahmananda of the Ramakrishna Mission early in life. Inspired by the patriarchs of the mission, Avinashilingam founded the Ramakrishna Vidyalaya School at Race Course, Coimbatore in 1930. Later, he moved the school to a 300-acre (1.2 km) piece of land in Perianaickenpalaiyam.
Avinashilingam also worked for the upliftment of the untouchables and campaigned for widow remarriage. While Dalits and low caste Hindus were not permitted to study in those days, Avinashilingam admitted children of all castes in his school. He also started a Home Science College in Coimbatore which later became a deemed university.
TS Avinashilingam breathed his last on November 21, 1991, at the age of 88.
Photo: Tyagi TS Avinashilingam