Presenting Harmony's silvers - sparkling lives, success stories, accounts of endurance, courage, grit and passion


Order, order… in the classroom

Author: admin

A retired judge pays his debt to society by introducing kids in his hometown to the joy of learning, discovers Catherine Gilon

Retired high court judge K Chandru, or ‘People’s Judge’ as he is known in Chennai, was known for his simple approach in court. He didn’t use a mace or ask people to address him as ‘My Lord’. A true gentleman who chose to retire without even a farewell party, he carried forward his down-to-earth attitude to life after retirement—he answered his second calling by accepting an appointment as honorary president at a local school for underprivileged children. A 59 year-old aided school that was seeing enrolment plummet now has a packed playground where boys learn basketball and girls are coached in badminton, and its high-school students, hungry in more ways than one, now get free hot meals and access to a library. There are even the beginnings of an inclusion policy for the physically challenged.

But why did a former high court judge choose to dedicate his time to breathing life back into a flailing institution when he could have gone on to become a Supreme Court lawyer or headed a law school? “I realised that if I was going to effect real change in the education system, it had to be at the grassroots level,” replies Justice Chandru. “During my judgeship, I dealt with hundreds of cases relating to educational institutions. I felt sad that the children of this country were not getting a proper deal, especially because of discrimination. Poverty and caste are the two major factors that decide one’s placement in society, and school.”

So when the trust managing the Savitri Ammal Oriental Higher Secondary School came calling, Justice Chandru readily agreed to help. Their government-aided institution was situated in Mylapore, the retired judge’s hometown. About 95 per cent of the school’s students are from lower-income groups; most are first-generation learners. The school has 14 classrooms and offers instruction from Classes 6 through 12.

When Justice Chandru took over as president in June last year, the first hurdle he encountered was the lack of students, despite the good infrastructure, affordable fees and trained teachers. “Studying the records, I found that the strength of the school had decreased from 1,100 in 2011 to 560 in 2016,” he says. It was the same story in the seven other government-aided schools in the area. Parents felt that private schools offered a better education. “Though their motives are laudable, they are misguided,” says the retired judge. “We had to take steps to change this attitude of the parents in our area. We went from house to house, talking about why parents should choose our school.”

Here again, there were quite a few lessons for Justice Chandru. “Most of the people living in the slum areas and slum housing around the school could barely read the pamphlets we distributed and asked us to explain the text to them.” That was when he decided to show and tell. “I concentrated on the children already in the school. I organised lectures on ethics, self-confidence and science every Friday.”

He’s being modest when he calls these ‘lectures’; they were no less than a window to the world. Drawing on his extensive network, he called upon outstanding personalities from different fields—entrepreneurs, IAS officers and even actors—to visit the school and speak to the students about the opportunities out there. “Chandru Sir, with his rich experience, motivated our students with the right values,” says the school’s former principal, N Sudharsana, who retired in May. “Thanks to his work and great networking skills, he was able to rope in personalities like entrepreneur Nalli Kuppuswamy, IAS officer Irai Anbu and actor Sivakumar to enlighten our students.”

His ‘read-away’ project was also a big hit. “With the help of an NGO, we started a library project at the school where children could take books home and return them after a week,” says Justice Chandru. For the underprivileged students attending the school, this opened up a new world of facts and fantasy. Further, he started choir and yoga classes and constructed a basketball court and a badminton court. “About 100 boys enrolled for basketball training. Similarly, girls were given badminton training. The net result is that the playground is packed with children until 6 pm!” he says, smiling.

Justice Chandru also introduced an Annapoorni scheme, offering free meals to 150 high school students who are not covered by the government’s midday meal scheme. Indeed, from being a people’s judge, he has now become a ‘children’s guide’. When the school hesitated to admit a speech and hearing-impaired child, Justice Chandru stepped in to speak on his behalf. “Now the boy is attending speech therapy sessions too, with the expenses borne by well-wishers. His speech has improved considerably and he is fully integrated with the other children,” he shares..

When you point out that he looks happy, Justice Chandru grins and says that he is. What is the secret to finding joy after retirement? What can other seniors learn from his experience? “Community service is an ideal activity for the pensioner.” Whatever you used to do, do it for free, even if it’s only on a small scale, he advises. “In that way, you not only help the community but get soul satisfaction.” As the kids scream and run around in the playground behind him, you just have to ask: Does he adjudicate their disputes too? What kind of justice does he mete out in this secondary school? He laughs. “I don’t normally interfere in matters of internal administration. But when we did catch hold of a boy who broke our fire extinguisher, I counselled him and let him off with a warning.”

Photo courtesy: Justice K Chandru

July 2017