Rao Bahadur Ari Gowder’s 48th death anniversary – 28 th June 2019
Rao Bahadur H.B.Ari Gowder
(4-12-1893 to 28-6-1971)
We are celebrating Rao Bahadur Ari Gowder’s 125th birth anniversary this year. Thus, it is with profound sense of gratitude and honour we recall the contribution of this visionary statesman to the society at large and the Badaga community in particular.
The Badagas, a hill tribe of the Nilgiris in Tamilnadu remember with reverence, even forty seven years after his death, Rao Bahadur Ari Gowder, as their greatest leader for his philanthropic service to the society. Particularly he brought the Badaga community out of isolation by his great articulation and arranging visits to all the villages with faithful and committed friends to spread his far reaching vision.
His path breaking social reforms like the importance of education (specially to girl children), elimination of the evil effects of drinks, by successfully pleading with the government to introduce total prohibition in the Nilgiri District during the British Raj in 1924; ensuring that Badaga students would get both free education and hostel facilities at the school established by his father Rao Bahadur Bellie Gowder in Hubbathalai village in late 1920s: and founding the Co-operative Marketing society at Ooty to free the local farmers (growing vegetables, especially, potatoes) from the exploitive middlemen and traders. As the undisputed Nakku Betta leader, his words were respected and considered as final.
The life history of Rao Bahadur Ari Gowder should be understood in the context of the status of Badagas, a primitive tribal group living only in the Nilgiri hills in a few villages (called hattis) tucked among thick forests, a hundred/hundred and fifty years ago. The Badagas are an indigenous tribe living in the hilly region for hundreds of years along with other tribes likeTodhas, Kothas and Kurumas.
The only mode of reaching other Badaga villages called hattis, in those days, was by walk, which, sometimes, that took most of a day to reach from one hatti to another. They were largely unknown to outside world. Some of the early Europeans, mainly missionaries in search of tribes who could be converted to Christianity, missed the Badagas almost completely for a long time. In the mid 1800, when some German missionaries did visit the Badaga Hamlets, the inhabitants would run away and hide themselves in their houses and fields on seeing the strange white skinned Europeans.
But once the British established their foothold and started living in the Nilgiris, things started changing. It may not be out of place to mention that the rail link between Mettupalayam and Ooty and the establishment of Cordite Factory at Aravankadu (both necessities of impending First World War looming large in early 1900) changed the outlook of Badagas, atleast in the villages located around the Cordite Factory and the six railway stations namely Coonoor, Wellington, Aravankadu, Ketti, Lovedale, Fernhill and Ooty.
In Hubbathalai, Bellie Gowder, was the last sibbling and only son among many daughters of one Joghee Gowder and was the favorite child to their parents. Very close to his house, education to the boys was given by a Badaga elder in the front yard (thenai) of his house in the evenings. Bellie Gowder was one of the students. His mother, one evening, was witness to the teacher’s mild caneing of a mischievous student for some prank.
Bellie Gowder’s mother was concerned that her son too would get some corrective caneing, since her only son was very mischievous. She asked the teacher, ” Enna maathiyavu hoodharaiya (will you beat my son also)?”
“yes “, said the teacher, “dhaara kurumbu maadile yu hoolu chikkira (whosover creates mischief, will get a beating (as punishment)”.
Well, that was the last day, Bellie Gowda could go to the school. His mother, mortally scared that her son may get beatings, sent him to graze the buffalos (emmay banda mesodhu). Deeply disappointed at not being able to attend the classes like other boys (girls education was unheard of), Bellie Gowder would ask his friends to teach him what they learnt in the school, and practice them by writing on the earth with the stick that was used to tend the herd.
It is a matter of great ability and intelligence, that he went on to become proficient
in eleven languages, including all the South Indian Dravidian languages like Tamil, Kannada,Telugu & Malayalam, along with English, French, Spanish and of course Toda, Kotha and Kuruma dialects.
And the young Bellie Gowder, took a vow, that he would build a school for the hill tribe pupils and educate his children come what may when he grew up. Remember Hubbathalai, originally known as Ammanalli Hatti, was one of the few Badga hattis, forming the boundary of Porangadu Seemay, surrounded by green fields and thick forests. There was no Cordite factory or Railway Station (Aravankadu) when he was young in the late 1800s.
Ari Gowder was the eldest son of Bellie Gowda and Nanji Hethe born on 4th December, 1983. He had four younger brothers, Haldorai, Bhoja Gowder, Raju Gowder, Joghee Gowder and the youngest sister, Idyammal. The first Badaga woman graduate, Akkama Devi who became a Member of Parliament, was married to his brother Joghee Gowder.
The educational situation at that time in the Nilgiris District was beautifully described in the petition submitted to the Minister of Education,Government of Madras, Hon,Dewan Bahadur S.Kumaraswamy Reddyar, who visted Hubbathalai on 24th June 1932 to Rao Sahib Bellie Gowder Board High School on the occasion of his first visit.
“From time to time, representations were made to the educational authorities inviting their attention to the fact that one of the main causes of the backwardness of the indigenous tribes of the hills was the lack of educational facilities. There had been a few lower elementary schools inadequately serving the needs of a proportionately large population scattered all over the District.”
Petition to the Education Minister of Mardas Government in 1932 by the Hill Tribes of the Nilgiris There were two or three Higher Elementary schools, then, in the whole District. The
demand for a few more such schools became so insistent that a start had to be made somewhere with the result that the school at Hubbathalai was opened by Rao Sahib Bellie Gowder as a private school in 1923 with lower elementary classes to begin with. In 1926 it became higher Elementary school and became a High School in 1932.
The petition mentioned that there was not a single college in the district and hoped that the Rao Bahadur Bellie Gowder school at Hubbathalai would be raised to the status of a College. That remained a dream.
The dream of a college in the hills, materialised much later after many decades, at Ooty (Ootacamund), due to consistent efforts of Rao Bahadur Ari Gowder when he was the President of Nilgiris District Board.
And thus started the story of Ari Gowder becoming the first Badaga graduate. After initial schooling in nearby places of Hubbathalai and Coonoor (upto eighth
standard), he completed the high school studies in Coimbatore and graduation in Madras Christian College at Chennai (then Madras).
Meanwhile, Bellie Gowder became the railway contractor was involved in the laying of Nilgiri Mountain Railways, initially upto Coonoor (completed in 1900) from Mettupalayam and later upto Ooty( completed in 1908). The road bridge (over the railway track) on the road connecting Ooty with Lawrence School and Kundah, near Lovedale railway station, is called Bellie Gowda bridge.
Bellie Gowder in suit and turban
Both Bellie Gowder and Ari Gowder remained as Railway contractors till their death in 1935 and 1971 respectively.
Bellie Gowder was involved in Scouts movement and philanthropic activities in a big way. He united the tribal communities like Todas, Kurumas, Kothas and Irulas of the Nilgiris to preserve their culture and traditions. He organised many functions at his village, Hubbathalai and had even succeeded in many high ranked British dignitaries to preside over the functions. His excellent English articulation and speeches were appreciated and applauded by all.