Published: 20th February 2018
St Joseph's alumni rally around online petition to save heritage school building. Will it work?
According to social activist Aysha Mahmood, the school that is a pioneer in girls education on the Malabar Coast is a treasure trove of memories for several generations of women
The St Joseph's Anglo-Indian Girls Higher Secondary School (AIGHSS), Calicut, stands proud and magnificent in the heart of Kozhikode. A history of young girls laughing, books clutched tightly at a time when education for girls was still a rare feat, still echoes down the hallways. The current school management and parents view the slowly dilapidating space as a safety hazard. To many others, it is a structure that allowed them to savour the sweet taste of education.
The heritage structure that is now partially renovated to meet modern demands was the first school for girl children on the Malabar Coast. Yet, its left and right wings that house the nuns' convent, chapel and several offices, classrooms and the Principal's office have already set the cranes rolling.
Mellow Yellow: It was started in 1862 by Mother Veronica, who is also the founder of the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel that is working for female education
The school is also one of the few heritage structures that still catches the eye and is a distinct charm to Kozhikode's magnificent flavours, says social activist and alumnus Aysha Mahmood. Aysha is petitioning for the school to restore it or strengthen it instead of breaking it down.
"My petition was met with a counter-petition by one of the members of the PTA," says Aysha. She adds however that "If the building is in any way a danger to its students, it must be taken down if it has to be taken down. I just want them to consider giving it a healthy restoration if possible, not tear it down," she adds nostalgically.
The school management had raised concerns over the building three years ago, but after discussions with alumni and experienced architects, including Abdul Hamid, took a step back. The school management has now applied to pull down the structure by March. Aysha's petition, however, spread like wildfire and several people - many alum and local architects - expressed their support and offered to help. Aysha has several members from NIT, INTACH and some local architects and alumni rallying for the same cause.
Shuffling between Taiwan and India, Aysha says the alumni kept her informed of decisions and steps that were taken in this regard. A meeting commenced between Calicut district collector UV Jose and senior architect Abdul Hamid - whose daughter is also an alum of the school, and management. A meeting will soon commence between the INTACH - Kozhikode chapter head Dinakaran, Abdul Hamid, National Convenor K L Gupta and experienced architects to decide whether demolishing the remaining structure is the only way forward.
Race for space: Aysha agrees though that with little room for space in certain classrooms and having stood strong for 150 years, the change is deemed necessary
"I never wrote it as a petition. It was meant to showcase or rather explain to people what the structure means to us. The school is linked to memories of people from generations even before mine. It will be extremely sad if the building is pulled down," she said but added that "nothing is worth the child's safety. If it can be restored without walls being chipped, then so be it." She said that two former teachers of hers had called and expressed their happiness and support for her petition.
Aysha says another alum and architect Lakshmi Manohar, also an alumnus of SJC AIGHSS has offered to begin restoration efforts free of cost along with former students of St Josephs' who are architects. "Calicut has very few buildings we can be proud of," Aysha added.
A meeting between members of INTACH, Gupta and a few other alumnus and concerned parties was scheduled to take place on Monday evening, informed Aysha. While there have been no further comments on the decision, Aysha hopes the end result will be one where both parties reach a middle-ground with little violence to the building and its remaining heritage.
You can reach out and access the petition HERE