Belle Padmavati Vittal Rao: A Legendary Teacher and Great Administrator
By Dr Eugene D’Souza, Moodubelle
Mangalore, Sep 5: The Late Belle Padmavati Vittal Rao who brought far reaching reforms in the field of education had been a household name a few decades ago. With formal education only up to third standard, Padmavati, as a young girl dreamt of acquiring further education and went on to realise her quest for learning by studying privately and appearing for public examinations. Not satisfied with just learning, Padmavati decided to spread the light of knowledge and became an exemplary teacher and had a long span of career in various educational institutions, first as a teacher and later as an administrator.
She went on to become the Member of the Legislative Council for two terms during which she worked for the improvement of the condition of schools, teachers and students. Thus, remembering her on this Teachers’ Day would be the best tribute to the late Belle Padmavati Vittal Rao, a legendary teacher and great administrator. Her life and career is an example of dreams, hard work, perseverance, dedication and service in the promotion of quality education.
Padmavati was born on June 2, 1912 in a small village named Kudupi near Mangalore as the fourth child of Nandalike Deva Rao and Thungamma. Her father, Nandalike Deva Rao was the class mate of the Poet Laureate Kavi Muddanna. Padmavati had formal education only up to third standard. Though she had a great yearning for further studies, the poor financial condition of the family did not permit her to fulfil her dream.
However, her thirst for education was so much that after the completion of the domestic work when every member of the family had gone to sleep, Padmavati used to sit in a corner with a small lamp and study for the sheer pleasure of acquiring knowledge. She used to read books belonging to her elder brother, Nandalike D Krishna Rao, who after completing Indian Civil Service (ICS) examination later became the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh. Her younger brother, Nandalike D Jagannath Rao also had passed the ICS examination and served as district collector in Bihar and later worked as the managing director of Hindusthan Photo Films at Ooty.
In 1929, at the age of 17, Padmavati was married to Belle Vittal Rao, who was a graduate teacher, but who later entered the service of the Indian Bank. After their marriage, realising the dream and desire of his wife, Belle Vittal Rao encouraged Padmavati to pursue education and provided the necessary moral and material support to her. During that period, South Kanara district was under the Madras Province. In order to encourage girls to pursue further education, the then chief minister of Madras, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari had made provision for girls to be educated at home and appear for examinations without the mandatory attendance in educational institutions. Availing this facility, Padmavati pursued education at home and between 1930 and 1936, during a period of six years appeared and cleared SSLC, Intermediate and Bachelor of Oriental Languages (BOL) examinations.
Starting with the alphabet in 1934, Padmavati passed her Hindi Vidvan examination in 1938, and at the age of 26 she started her 34-year-long teaching career as a teacher of Hindi in the Government High School at Mangalore. While teaching and raising a family of three boys - Vasanth, born in 1932; Dinesh, born in 1935 and Ravindranath, born in 1938, Padmavati completed her MA and Kannada Vidvan examination in 1942 with Old Kannada as the elective special paper.
In 1942, Padmavati took study leave and joined Lady Willingdon College in Madras for training herself as the Licensee Teacher (LT). This was the only course she ever did by attending classes after her 3rd standard. That was the year, when there was a mass exodus from Madras for fear of Japanese bombing during the Second World War. However, she had made up her mind and proceeded to Madras. During her study at Madras, her husband, Belle Vittal Rao willingly looked after their three sons. However, the eldest son Vasanth who was ten years old had to bear the brunt of the domestic work and take care of his younger brothers as Vittal Rao had to attend his work in the Indian Bank.
In 1944, after a brief stint of two months in a Coimbatore school, Padmavati returned as headmistress of the Higher Training School at Udupi. It was here that Padmavati introduced certain innovative measures such as self-study groups by providing the students hundreds of relevant books by which they could develop a love for self study and enrich their knowledge. By this experiment, Padmavati succeeded in doing away the habit of the junior students just copying the notes of the senior students and mugging up whatever they had copied down. By this experiment, it was found that all the trainee teachers could score good marks in both theory papers and practicals. The innovative measures introduced by Padmavati had a positive impact. When the zonal lady inspector observed the élan with which her trainee teachers were handling their classes, she openly appreciated their excellence and congratulated Padmavati on her highly creative teaching methods.
Padmavati was a true Gandhian and an intensely committed nationalist. However, the German and Japanese atrocities during the Second World War caused her such revulsion that she wanted to contribute her might to the war effort. At the end of 1944, after a few months of teaching in Udupi, Padmavati applied for a Captain’s post in the Army. Though her relatives opposed this idea, she was strongly supported by her husband Belle Vittal Rao.
When Padmavati went to Madras for her interview in khadi, seeing her, the interviewing officer suggested that she first join the Army as a Civilian School Teacher at Madras to guide and prepare Women’s Auxiliary Corps India (WACI) personnel for their rehabilitation in civilian life and then, she may change from khadi to khaki. Padmavati accepted the challenging newly created job where she designed and determined the nature of her work, with no past precedent. She organised many practical resettlement courses for girls from all over India, which would enable them to settle down in various fields once they returned from army to the civilian life.
After the war, instead of donning khaki, Padmavati came to Bangalore in 1946 as headmistress of a Corporation Urdu School. She got the job on the condition that she learn Urdu in six months. Exactly one month after joining the school, Padmavati requested a respected Urdu scholar, the father of a student, to test her and she passed the written and oral tests with flying colours. The amazed scholar wrote a letter of appreciation about Padmavati to the Commissioner of Bangalore. In order to understand the language better she also studied Arabic and Persian and within a year she passed two Urdu examinations.
For the next 26 years, as headmistress of a number of large Bangalore Corporation Schools, in spite of limited resources and meagre budget of the education department of the Corporation, Padmavati developed and nurtured her schools into some of the finest in Bangalore. She was proud of her staff and students who worked with her. Her Schools had reputations better than those of the neighbouring convent schools. She created a symbol callsd “Arch of Success” for the parent-teacher association and “Star of Life” for teachers-students-parents with the meaning of truth, honesty, love, friendliness, fearlessness, politeness, clarity, kindness and work. As Padmavati's reputation as a fine teacher and an administrator began to draw more and more children, most of her schools had to change over to two shifts.
When the Commissioner of Bangalore found that the condition of the Tasker Town High School was deteriorating with the local rowdies controlling the school premises for illicit and illegal activities after school hours and no headmaster could control the vagrant smoking and drinking students and the mostly absentee teachers and the violent rowdies, he decided to appoint Padmavati as the headmistress of this exclusive boys' school. On the first evening, after the school rooms were closed, Padmavati put a chair inside the gate and sat down with the headmistress’s stick in her hand daring any rowdy to come into the compound. None of the anti-social elements dared to come near the school and by the end of the week, she had the teachers and students under control. Within a month, the school was right on its desired track.
The second son of Padmavati, Dinesh, who was on a long term assignment in the United Kingdom (UK), requested her to visit him on a holiday in 1960. However, she agreed to visit UK on the condition that he should get a seat in a college for her, which Dinesh arranged in the University of Durham where she obtained a Diploma in Education. Her special paper was “Comparison between the British and the Indian Education Systems”. Padmavati found that the British Education System was broad based and not text book oriented. Discussions between the teachers and students and between the students themselves formed a major portion of the educational programme. Original thinking, practical experimentation and intelligent deduction were emphasized in the British system of education.
One unique feature that Padmavati observed in the UK was that, if a student remained absent from school for over two days, the school counsellor would either telephone the parents or visit their homes and try to understand the problems of the student and accordingly guide both the students and their parents. On the Indian Teachers’ Day, Padmavati addressed around 1000 staff and students of Durham University and spoke to them on “Education in Developing Countries.” After returning to India, Padmavati adapted and introduced a number of new ideas in her schools as headmistress and later as education officer of the Corporation of Bangalore.
On persuasion of her friends and well-wishers, in 1972, Padmavati resigned from the post of the education officer of the Corporation and contested the Vidhan Parishad (Legislative Council) elections from Bangalore-Tumkur Teachers Constituency and was elected as the Member of the Legislative Council (MLC). Once again, after the end of the six-year term, Padmavati was re-elected for the second time as MLC in 1978 with the support of the legislators and teachers.
As a member of the Legislative Council, Padmavati drafted and presented a number of Legislative Bills to tackle the varied long standing problems of the students, teachers and schools. Direct salary, terminal benefits, pension, etc to the teachers in grant-in-aid schools flowed from these legislative efforts. When a large number of teachers were removed from service under a dubious scheme, Padmavati took the problem directly to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Delhi during the Emergency period and secured directives that after three years of service, no teacher should be relieved on the plea of selections. It was chiefly due to the efforts of Padmavati that the teachers of the government schools and aided schools were granted equal pay and allowances.
In order to organise the women teachers, Padmavati founded the Karnataka Women Teachers’ Association and the Federation of Karnataka Teachers’ Association in 1984, which have been rendering great service to the lady teachers. Under the guidance of national stalwarts like Lakshmi Menon and Susheela Nair, founders of the All India Committee for Eradication of Illiteracy Among Women, Padmavati dedicated and committed herself as a social worker to render service in the field of eradication of illiteracy among women, particularly among the downtrodden, poor and the dalits.
Rear Admiral (Retd) B R Vasanth
B Ravindranath Rao
Padmavati served on many committees of regional and national importance and won the appreciation of one and all for her dedicated, upright and selfless service. Her life was spent in helping the causes of the voiceless, the poor and the neglected. It is only because of her that the teachers of all private schools and colleges of Karnataka have been getting salaries and pensions on par with government teachers. She was highly respected by the teachers, students, parents, social workers and the public at large.
Padmavati’s dedicated and supportive husband, Belle Vittal Rao passed away in February 1967 at the age of 60 years. Thereafter, Padmavati continued her work while her three sons, who, after acquiring higher education joined their respective professions. After making a name as a great teacher and administrator, Belle Padmavati Vittal Rao passed away on June 14, 1998 at the age of 86 years.
All the three sons of the late Belle Padmavati Vittal Rao achieved great heights in their respective fields. The eldest son, B R Vasanth (78 years) joined the Indian Navy and retired as the Rear Admiral. Later he worked as chief managing director of three software firms. He also worked as adviser to government of Karnataka on Computer Aided Management as additional chief secretary. He started most of the computerisation projects of Karnataka including the first computerised CET in 1984.
The second son, B R Dinesh (75 years), after working for 21 years as an engineer in automobile component manufacturing company in the UK retired as its chief engineer and is presently engaged in hi-tech farming in Bangalore. The third son, B Ravindranath Rao (72 years), has retired as the general manager of MICO and presently renders his service as consultant to many leading industries.
In order to perpetuate the memory of their great mother, the sons of late Belle Padmavati Vittal Rao have established a charitable trust in her name that has been promoting the interest of students right from nursery to the college level by awarding them scholarships, organising various cultural and artistic activities, competitions, conferences, exhibitions, study tours, etc. The Trust also encourages learning process by establishing libraries, laboratories and museums. Besides these activities related to students, the Trust has been promoting the training of teachers, organising adult learning centres for the eradication of illiteracy especially among the women and presenting annual awards in the name of Srimati Belle Padmavati Vittal Rao for excellent teachers, social workers and institutions.