SRI LANKA, August 27, 2013 (Tamil Net): After a hundred years of its establishment, the Young Men's Hindu Association (YMHA) of Thirunelveali in Jaffna proposes to do away with gender bias in its membership and name. In a letter to all lovers of Thirunelveali and the YMHA on Sunday, the current president of the YMHA, Mr. S. Muthulingam was seeking their views on enrolling women as members and changing the name of the institution into Hindu Youth's Association. It is high time that we do away with the idea of gender segregation not only in social institutions like the YMHA but also in our educational institutions like the Jaffna Hindu College. The Victorian outlook of religion, society and education that came with British colonialism has long outlived the times, commented social activists in Jaffna.
The Thirunelveali YMHA was founded in 1911. Old records say that the institution was inspired by the thoughts of Swami Vivekananda. Primarily it was a community center. Such community centers were a continuation of the traditional Junction Institutions or roadside mutts, where people gathered and pedestrians and bullock cart travelers took rest.
With the changes in the mode of transportation and the disuse of the roadside mutts, a major transition that was taking place at that time was that such public spaces became community centers and reading rooms.
Thirunelveali was a hub of Saiva revival in the colonial times to conceive a religious shade for a social institution. The term Hindu replacing Saiva was an inspiration coming from the movements in India like that of Vivekananda, but the idea of YMHA has obviously come from the Christian institution YMCA.
Compared to Christian mission educational institutions, most of the native Saiva institutions that were started in Jaffna didn't have gender segregation. The Saiva coeducational institutions were functioning successfully even in rural areas. But Sir P. Ramanathan (Paramesvara and Ramanathan colleges) and Jaffna Hindu College made major exceptions. The idea at that time was perhaps to compete with the elite girl schools of Christian missions and to encourage parents to send more number of girl students to Hindu schools.