Madras University, established in 1857 has a legacy of its own, as an educational institution that has withstood the ravages of time. Only a few colleges were established before the British era in Southern India. Madras University, Madras Christian College and Pachaiyappa’s College were counted as the premier institutions.
Originally Madras University served only as an examining body. However, it was only after the 1970s, thanks to the initiative of doctor Malcolm Sathiyanathan Adiseshiah, degree classes were introduced. “Students were not part of the political activities in those days, which was very different from today’s generation. However, on being instigated they would take to the street to protest the British regime,” says A Chandrashekhar, former professor, Department of History, Madras University. Several political stalwarts of the independent era hailed from these institutes. C Subramanium was an alumnus of Madras University and Dr Radhakrishnan, Dr Kurien, the father of White Revolution and C V Raman were an alumnus of the MCC. Earlier, the student population comprised of certain communities, whose predicament was to study. However, the Justice League Party was increasingly initiating more and more students from the backward communities to step into education. Between 1920 and 1950, they had opened several schools for the non-Dalits,” he explains. It was only post-independence that economic, social and academic status of the backward class got a fillip with leaders like Rettamalai Srinivasan, Dr B R Ambedkar and Jyotirao Phule fighting for their upliftment. He along with B R Ambedkar had established a federation of depressed classes in the then Madras Presidency in 1939, admits Chandrashekhar.
In 1944, during an English class at MCC, an Indian student had submitted an essay stating the French revolution broke out only in France. He was suspended soon after as his British-origin professor was irked by the fact that the student did not acknowledge that the revolution broke out in India!