T. Muthuswamy Iyer
|Sir Thiruvarur Muthuswamy Iyer|
A portrait of T. Muthuswamy Iyer
January 28, 1832|
|Died||January 25, 1895
|Occupation||lawyer, civil servant, administrator|
Sir Thiruvarur Muthuswamy Iyer KCIE (January 28, 1832 – January 25, 1895) was an Indian lawyer who, in 1877, became the first native Indian to be appointed as judge of the Madras High Court. He also acted as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in 1893. Iyer as an orthodox Brahmin has always been criticized for his Brahmin biased judgment. Iyer once made a statement that muslims and dalits must not step inside temples, the controversially casteist remark:
Iyer was born in a poor Brahmin family in Vuchuwadi, Madras Presidency, British India on January 28, 1832. Iyer's father, Venkata Narayana Sastri, died when Muthuswamy was young and he moved with his mother to Thiruvarur to make a living. At Thiruvarur, Iyer found employment as village accountant. However, his mother died soon afterward leaving Iyer with little support. Around this time, Iyer's talents were recognized by the tahsildar Muthuswamy Naicken who arranged for the former to study at Sir Henry Montgomery's school in Madras as a companion to his young nephew, and there he won prizes and scholarships year after year.
In 1854, Iyer won a prize of 500 rupees offered to the students of the Madras presidency by the council of education for the best English essay. This success brought him to the notice of Sir Alexander John Arbuthnot and Mr. Justice Holloway. He was offered help to proceed to England and compete for the civil service, but being a Brahmin and married, he declined to cross the ocean. Instead he entered the subordinate government service, and was employed in such various posts as school-teacher, record-keeper in Tanjore, and in 1856 deputy-inspector of schools.
About this time, the Madras government instituted an examination for pleaders known as "Pleader's Test". In the examination held at Kumbakonam in February 1856, only three succeeded, Iyer and R. Raghunatha Rao emerging first and second. On successfully passing the Pleader's Test, Iyer was appointed District Munsiff of Tranquebar. On July 2, 1859, Iyer was appointed Deputy Collector of Tanjore.On July 9, 1865, Ier was appointed Sub-Judge of South Canara and served till July 1868, when he was appointed District Magistrate of police at Madras.
Iyer commenced his legal career immediately after graduation. He was appointed a judge of the Court of Small Causes in 1871. The very next year, he was made Fellow of Madras University. In 1877, the Madras Government took the controversial decision to appoint him as the first Indian judge of the High Court of Madras.
Appointment to the bench of Madras High Court and controversy
In 1877, Iyer was appointed to the bench of the High Court of Madras. He was the first Indian to be appointed to this prestigious post. However, Muthuswamy's appointment was vehemently condemned by a Madras newspaper called The Native Public Opinion. This prompted a strong reaction from Indian nationalists who founded The Hindu newspaper to voice public opinion against the outrage.
Muthuswami Iyer served as a judge of the Madras High Court from 1877 to 1895. He acted for three months in 1893 as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, the first Indian to do so.
During his early career, Iyer also served as the President of the Malabar Marriage Commission. During his tenure as President of the Commission, he campaigned for the legal recognition of Sambandham and other forms of marriage practised in the Malabar. In 1872, Iyer established the Widow Remarriage Association in Madras and advocated remarriage of Brahmin widows.
In 1878, Muthuswami Iyer was created a Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire. In 1893, he was knighted for his services to the Crown.
A statue of Muthuswami Iyer was erected in the precincts of the Madras High Court campus, making him one of the first Indians to have a statue.
Controversial stand on temple entry
Being a devout Brahmin, Muthuswami Iyer literally interpreted the dharma-shastras and Hindu religious texts and rigorously followed them. As a result, some of his speeches on caste and temple-entry have been controversial.
Muthuswami Iyer once said :
Religious institutions founded, endowed and maintained for the benefit of those sections of the Hindu Community who conform to certain recognized usages as those of the castes for whose benefit the temples are by immemorial usage dedicated as places of worship.
Another remark of his is regarded by the intellectuals of the Dravidar Kazhagam as blatantly casteist:
Hindu temples were neither founded nor are kept up for the benefit of Mahomedans, outcastes and others who are outside the scope of it.
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- Tercentenary Madras staff 1939, p. 454
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- Derrett, Martin; Duncan, John (1977). Essays in Classical and Modern Hindu Law. BRILL. p. 177. ISBN 9004048081.
- Ganesan, A. (1988). The Press in Tamil Nadu and the Struggle for Freedom, 1917-1937. Mittal Publications. p. 6. ISBN 8170990823.
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- Tercentenary Madras staff (1939). Madras Tercentenary Celebration Committee Commemoration Volume. Indian Branch, Oxford Press. p. 454.
- V, Sriram (3 April 2012). "Hundred years of a statue". The Hindu. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
- Yandell, Keith E.; Paul, John J. (2000). Religion and Public Culture: Encounter and Identities in Modern India. Routledge. p. 115. ISBN 0-7007-1101-5.
- Govinda Parameswaran Pillai (1897). Representative Indians. Routledge. pp. 157–172.
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