First girls’ school in Malabar celebrates 175th anniversary

BEM Girls’ Higher Secondary School in Kozhikode.

BEM Girls’ Higher Secondary School in Kozhikode.
| Photo Credit: K. Ragesh

In 1848, it was a revolutionary concept. But, the school dedicated to girl students, the first in Malabar, had the support of the erstwhile Zamorin rulers. Celebrating its post-centenary platinum jubilee (175th anniversary) this year, the Basel Evangelical Mission (BEM) Girls’ Higher Secondary School, in the heart of Kozhikode city, has borne witness to a slew of revolutionary ideas since then.

The school was founded by German Missionary J.M. Freetz at a time when casteism and racism ruled Kerala society and education was limited to the upper class, especially men. The school, housed in a small quarters at Kallai initially, with classes up to Standard 5, had G.T. Varughese as its first headmaster. It welcomed students from all strata of society irrespective of caste and class.

Besides being the first school for girls in north Kerala, it also had the first boarding house in the State housing students from as far as Thirukochi and Kasaragod. After shifting to its new premises at Mananchira in 1859, it became a middle school in 1872 and a high school in 1879. It was in 1998 that the school was upgraded to a higher secondary school.

The school has prospered under the management of the CSI Malabar Archdiocese management. “The present management under Rev. Sunil Puthiyattil has brought about several infrastructural developments in the school in recent years. The parent-teacher association headed by Shajal Kakkodi is making the best efforts to improve curricular and extra-curricular activities of the school,” headmistress Jessy Joseph told The Hindu, while highlighting the school’s achievements in the State School Arts Festival and SSLC and Plus Two examinations.

From Mary Kallat, municipal vice chairperson during the Quit India movement, to freedom fighter Narayanikkutti Amma, social activists Sharada teacher, Swarnakumari Ramanunni Menon, and Parukkutti Amma, who was a member of the editorial board of Mathrubhumi daily, the school has an illustrious alumni list. Former principal of Malabar Christian College Victoria Lanslet, former Minister M. Kamalam, former Director of Health Services R.L. Saritha, writers K.P. Sudheera, Arya Gopi, and Soorya Gopi, and actor Durga Krishna are the more recent names in the list.

“BEM School is one place I love to visit even two decades after I passed Plus Two. The school provided a very supportive atmosphere for me, as it did for many others, to nurture my creative talents and balance them well with studies,” said Arya Gopi, poet, recalling how she recited her own poem for a competition and no one criticised her over it. “I was there at a very confusing stage of my life. The support from teachers and the management helped me a lot in clearing up all that,” she added.

Former Health Services Director R.L. Saritha still visits the school often for batch get-togethers. “The discipline, academic orientation, and opportunity to indulge in extra-curricular activities that I got from BEM School has been my energy throughout my career,” she said.

A mega alumni meet titled ‘Nellimarathanalil’ (In the shade of the gooseberry tree) on Saturday marked the beginning of the year-long post-centenary platinum jubilee celebrations. While Mayor Beena Philip inaugurated the celebrations, writer Subhash Chandran was the chief guest. A variety of programmes including a historical exhibition, film festival, and art fest are in the pipeline over the year as part of the celebrations.

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