Source: “Sir Subramania Iyer: A Sketch of His Life and Career”, Indian Biography: Vol. 4 (Madras: G.A Natesan & Co.)
Sir Subramania Iyer was born in 1842 in the district of Madura. He began his legal career as a public prosecutor and eventually took up practice at Madura.
In 1870, he was appointed as a municipal commissioner of Madura and a member of its Local Board. He had contributed to the building of a park there, believing that municipalities had to work on infrastructure to cultivate local taste and culture on top of attending to administrative matters so as to elevate standards of living. He was appointed as the first acting Indian Government Pleader in 1888. He went on to serve as Judge in 1895 and Chief Justice of Madras in 1899, 1903 and 1906 before retiring in 1907 due to ill health.
His contributions to Hindu law were aplenty and he generally held a liberal view on the topic of women’s property rights. The judgements of his works also reflect his great interest in the well-being of charities and religious institutions.
The death of his wife in 1884 saw him turn to the Theosophical Society. A religious man, he served as the President of the Dharma Rakshana Sabha since its founding and utilised it as a medium through which to revise the administration of Hindu religious institutions. He further convened a Parishad at Conjeevaram to direct orthodox opinion at India’s social condition.
Politically, he was also actively involved in shaping the Indian National Congress and was nominated as a member of the Legislative Council at Madras for two terms. He held strong views against the Government’s nomination of Divisional officers as Vice-presidents of Taluk Boards, arguing this would reduce the nature of Boards to one in name only. He was an avid supporter of Home Rule, believing it to be “the only solution” in response to the administration, which he deemed corrupt. As President of the Home Rule League, he exhorted the dissemination of propaganda for procuring reforms.
He was also an active social reformer, particularly on the issues of education and the marriage of girls after puberty. Professionally, he served as a Fellow of the Madras University until 1907 and was its first Indian Vice-Chancellor. He urged that the curriculum be reduced and called for less emphasis on exams, among other educational reforms. He also emphasised the need for one to be cultured, as opposed to merely being educated. In the former, he saw the seeds that would guide an individual to becoming a good citizen learned in the art of life. He died in 1924.
Source: “Sir Subramania Iyer: A Sketch of His Life and Career”, Indian Biography: Vol. 4 (Madras: G.A Natesan & Co.), 1-32