After a hundred years of its establishment, the Young Men Hindu Association (YMHA) of Thirunelveali in Jaffna proposes to do away with gender bias in its membership and name. In a letter to all lovers of Thirunelveali and the YMHA on Sunday, the current president of the YMHA, Mr S. Muthulingam was seeking their views on enrolling women as members and changing the name of the institution into Hindu Youth’s Association. It is high time that we do away with the idea of gender segregation not only in social institutions like the YMHA but also in our educational institutions like the Jaffna Hindu College. The Victorian outlook of religion, society and education that came with British colonialism has long outlived the times, commented social activists in Jaffna.
The Thirunelveali YMHA was founded in 1911.
In 1918, when a building was constructed for it at its present site near the Thirunelveali Junction, the members did it by their own hands.
Old records say that the institution was inspired by the thoughts of Swami Vivekananda. But there were several currents operating behind its initiation and functions.
Primarily it was a community centre. Such community centres were a continuation of the traditional Junction Institutions or roadside mutts, where people gathered and pedestrians and bullock cart travellers took rest.
With the changes in the mode of transportation and the disuse of the roadside mutts, a major transition that was taking place at that time was that such public spaces became community centres and reading rooms.
Thirunelveali was a hub of Saiva revival in the colonial times to conceive a religious shade for a social institution. The term Hindu replacing Saiva was an inspiration coming from the movements in India like that of Vivekananda, but the idea of YMHA has obviously come from the Christian institution YMCA.
A feature on the long legacy and contributions of the Thirunelveali YMHA has appeared earlier in the TamilNet.
Mr Muththulingam has made his appeal especially to the diaspora that is now contributing to the new building of the YMHA. As the diaspora has a say in the social, cultural and educational institutions of the homeland, it has to effectively and progressively use its influence in positive transformation of society to suit the needs of the times, said social activists in Jaffna.
* * *
Compared to Christian mission educational institutions, most of the native Saiva institutions that were started in Jaffna didn’t have gender segregation. The Saiva co-educational institutions were functioning successfully even in rural areas. But Sir P. Ramanathan (Paramesvara and Ramanathan colleges) and Jaffna Hindu College made major exceptions.
The idea at that time was perhaps to compete with the elite girl schools of Christian missions and to encourage parents to send more number of girl students to Hindu schools.
Jaffna Hindu College that was started as a common institution in 1890 by Jaffna Saiva Paripaalana Sabai became segregated into Jaffna Hindu College for boys and Jaffna Hindu Ladies College for girls in 1945 by the then management, The Hindu Board of Education.