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Quiet in its mission

The Maharani's Science College for Women has provided the best of education to women from very different backgrounds, and its academic performance, from the time it was set up in 1938, has been remarkably consistent.



Maharani's College: pioneering women's education — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

SITUATED IN the heart of Bangalore city, and a stone's throw away from the political and commercial hubbub, Maharani's Science College for Women has an aura about itself which is not easily perceived by the casual observer. This college, earlier called Maharani's College for Women, Bangalore, has an illustrious history, interwoven with the annals of higher education for women in Karnataka.

The first two decades of the twentieth century saw women emerging from the domestic sphere. A demand for women to be in higher education was voiced in the two annual meetings of the Mysore State Women's Conference in the early 1930s. An urgent need to establish a residential college for women in Mysore was expressed. A committee headed by E. P. Metcalfe, the then vice chancellor of the University of Mysore, recommended merging of two existing women's colleges - Maharani's College, Mysore, and the Intermediate College For Women, Bangalore. The new college was to offer courses both in arts and science for women. The committee recommended that the college be located in Bangalore to enable it to utilise facilities of the science departments of the Central College.

In 1938, the Maharani's College, Bangalore, was established, as a residential college for women, under the patronage of the Maharajas of Mysore, in a sprawling campus known as Barne Park. The interest and involvement of Sir Mirza Ismail, Dewan of Mysore, and Gopalaswamy Aiengar, the Registrar of the University of Mysore, in this noble project was remarkable.

Although undergraduate courses were being offered for a number of years at Maharani's college, Mysore, the number of women students for these courses was as low as 5 per cent of the total student strength. Education for women was seen more as a means to bring about cultural change than as a means of livelihood. That was why mainly womenfolk of aristocratic and elite background enrolled in the colleges.

Apart from providing facilities for the study of science and arts, the college aimed at providing a pleasant atmosphere where women could acquire "physical culture as well as mental and spiritual growth". The college provided facilities for sports and cultural activities for both students and staff. The campus included tennis and badminton courts. Shree Ramanujam, one of the earliest teachers of Physics, at the college, (now in her nineties) recalls the great interest evinced by Metcalfe in providing facilities such as rest rooms and recreation for students of the college.

It is remarkable that in the very first year of its establishment, the college had more than 190 students on roll. The student strength grew year by year. It was the only institution in Bangalore to offer higher education to women till 1948, when Mount Carmel College was started "to provide additional facilities for women's education and thus relieve the congestion in Maharani's Science College for women in Bangalore". The Maharani's College even then offered a wide range of courses in science such as chemistry, zoology, botany, physics, mathematics, and domestic sciences. Subjects in humanities included philosophy, history, logic, political science, and music. Apart from English, Kannada, and Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian were also offered as languages for study. Over the years, some faculties grew into independent colleges. In the 1960s, the V.H.D. Institute of Home science was carved out of Maharani's College, while in 1975, the faculties of arts and humanities formed the Art's College. The Maharani's Science College continues to function from the same campus in the spacious and elegantly designed building, which was the jail superintendent's residence during the days of the British.

Thousands of women have passed out of the portals of this institution and many of them occupy pre-eminent positions in India as well as abroad. The Minister for Women and Child Development, Motamm, the renowned musician, Shyamala Bhave, cine star Bharathi, T.V. and Radio artist Yamuna Moorthy, the well-known singer, Manjula Gururaj, the entrepreneur, Madhura Chathrapathy, the Joint Director of Collegiate Education, Padmini H. R., the Head of Department, Zoology, Bangalore University, Shakuntala Kathre, the chairperson, Department of Bio-technology of Bangalore University, Geetha Bali, and leading lawyers Indira Jaisingh and Vinoo Jayaram are some of the college's well-known alumni.

But Maharani's could not compete in the market and attract the best of students with privatisation of higher education. By the seventies, the elite tag disappeared and the college began to be identified as an institution serving the hoi polloi. But this did not affect the academic performance of the college.

Today, Maharani's Science College has 1,200 students and a staff strength of around eighty. The college offers degree programmes like PCM, CBZ, and in Psychology, in applied sciences such as biotechnology, microbiology, genetics, bio-chemistry, sericulture, computer science, electronics, economics and statistics. Besides Kannada and English, in order to cater to the needs of the linguistic minorities of the State, the college offers instruction in Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit as second language.

The college has well-equipped laboratories and a library which houses more than 60,000 titles. The library is in the process of being computerised. The college has been identified as a "lead institution" under the Total Quality Management (TQM) programme, which is being implemented throughout Karnataka.

The permission to start M.Sc. in Microbiology was granted in 1994 and this is a landmark in the progress of the college. The college is much sought after for its post-graduate course as the students have been consistently bagging ranks since the introduction of the course. Students also excel in sports and have been representing the state in events including cricket, net ball, swimming, archery, roller skating, and yoga. The college offers facilities such as counselling, career guidance, book bank and remedial courses for students who need extra attention. From this year, the mentor system has been introduced wherein each teacher will be responsible for the welfare of 25 students. The college was the first to be allotted a National Cadet Corps unit in 1954. Major Nagambal, one of the first women of Mysore State to receive the pre-commission training, was instrumental in its foundation. Since its inception, many cadets of this unit have been chosen to participate in the Republic Day Parade and have been awarded medals and prizes.

The college also had a senior girls guide unit till the 1980s. Maharani's Science College for Women has come a long way. Sundari Ammal, the first principal, and all the other principals who followed her in these seven decades, and the innumerable eminent teachers who lit the lamp of knowledge in the minds of thousands of women, are the real architects of this centre of learning. The college is committed to its original objective of imparting education to women and continues in its mission quietly. For other information on the College's history, call 2262796.

SHYLAJA .S
SHARADA JAYAGOVIND

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