The first half of the twentieth century threw up many stalwarts in our community. In these pages we have already referred to a few. The Pereiras and the D’Mells who did very well in business in Srilanka; the Mascarenhases who did well as Tamil poets; the Rodriguezes who were part of Madurai Tamil sangam and specialized in Chithira kavis; and the Moraises who championed the labourers; the innumerable priests and nuns who adorned the firmament of catholic church, the Lobos who excelled as teachers – all these have been alluded to in this site somewhere in some context. But one personality who stands out like a Colossus by his public service, philanthropy, generosity, love and affection for the people , determination and perseverance to achieve the goals set, is CRUZ FERNANDEZ of Tuticorin who was elected to the chairmanship of TUTICORIN MUNICIPALITY not once but five times, between 1909 and 1927; who was awrded the title of RAOBAHADUR by the Government; and who was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly.
Born in a middle class family on 15th November 1869. and educated up to the school finals in St. Xaviers in Tuticorin CRUZ FERNANDEZ joined the Walcot company as a clerk under Manager Selviger, and rose up to be his personal secretary by dint of hard work ,sincerity and loyalty to the company. Having done well in Walcot, in his desire to move further up , he left Walcot and joined the Ralieh company as an Accountant. The proprietors of the Ralieh, impressed by the honesty,truthfulness and impartiality, considered fit to offer Cruz Fernandez the broker ship of the company; and he in turn brought many shareholders to the company and made it bigger than what he found when he joined as an Accountant. The efforts he put in to add to the strength and number of shareholders of the company impressed the top brass of the company so much that he was readily offered the Sub Agentship of the company. What a rise to a School Finalist In a private firm!
The position he held opened up many opportunities for him to interact with people of different caste, religion, language, colour or location. To all, he exuded unbounded affection, love, kindness and unlimited service, clothed in an unparelled simplicity and honesty expecting nothing and this in turn won the hearts of all those not only who came in contact with him but also those who heard about him. He became so popular that people desired that he should stand for the elections to be the Chairman of the municipality and he became the chairman on 12th December 1909 and stepped down at the expiry of the term on 22nd july 1910. In deference to the desires of common people he again donned the mantle of Chairmanship on 6th September 1910 and continued till 5th September 1912. He rose again to the Chair on 12th November 1912 and served till 11th November1914. For the fourth time he ascended to the seat of Chairmanship 0n 27th May 1919 and served the town till 17 th November 1921. He had his last tenure from 2nd November 1925 to 1st November 1926. Judging from today’s standard is it not an achievement to have sat in position of responsibility to serve – not once but five times – that too without much break ?! Is there any one today among us who can command such popularity with common people and move into slots of this kind.?
The present generation may not remember the contribution of Cruz Fernandez as earlier generation closer to the times of Cruz Fernandez would, despite the Statues and Pillar and buildings in his name in Tuticorin. It is good to delve on his following six contribution for the sake of our generation.
1. The Tuticorin Drinking Water Scheme.
2. The Saturday Market.
3. The Educational Trust.
4. Attention to Health and Hygiene.
5. Attention to the sick in the hospital.
6. Organization of Cruzpuram. Co-operative bank.Baby home.
Tuticorin from time memorial had only unprotecected water supply which chronically caused Cholera and other deadly diseases. Saddened by the fate of people who had to take only such unprotected water, first he sternly advised people to take only hot water. One can imagine how much he must have struggled to convince people to take hot water in Tuticorin which has hot climate. Secondly he brought water for cooking from Kadambur and Ceylon and rationed and distributed .Thirdly he conceived and designed a system of water supply from Tambraparani and ensured protected water supply to the town. He was criticized for the tax he imposed for the water supply. He was let down by other municipalities which promised monetary contribution to execute the scheme but he was undeterred and gave what he wanted to give to Tuticorin – the protected water supply.
Cruz Fernandez noticed that sellers and buyers of food stuff and other stuff did not have a market place where they could assemble and sell their goods hygienically and collectively . He organized the Saturday Market, the present day Periya Market by removing thorny bushes and cleaning the space ensuring hygiene. Initially there was much reluctance to go to this market. But Cruz Fernandez remained steadfast and established the market.
Collecting the sample cotton from different mills and disposing them for a cost , Cruz Fernandez built a FUND, from which he sanctioned scholarships to poor children who were good at studies.He showed no partiality, in granting the scholarship, nor did he accept unmerited recommendations.
Daily he visited the municipal hospital and saw the patients and enquired from Doctors about their progress and ensured steady supply of medicines and diet.
Cruz Fernandez went on rounds in his phaeton everyday without fail and made field inspection of Tuticorin town and got first – hand knowledge on cleanliness, garbage removal, hawkers, etc.it is said that he used to be intolerant on those who violate cleanliness and hygiene and thereby breed flies and insects that bred diseases. It seems once when he was on such a round he saw a widow selling home – made cookies in an open plate near a gutter. The chairman saw a swarm of flies on the cookies. He got down from his phaeton abused the widow, confiscated the cookies along with the plate and left the widow in the lurch and returned home. After some time it is said the old widow approached the chairman’s house and represented to his staff about her poverty and upraided the chairman for his act and left the house, wailing. The chairman who had come to know of the poverty of the widow sent to her house a glass case seller box and Rs twenty. The glass case seller box for selling the cookies without swarming flies and Rs 20 for having caused loss to her by confiscating her selling stuff. An example of strictness and benevolence.
Cruz Fernandez was the chairman of the Big mosque trust and oversaw the receipts and expenditures of the mosque. How much he must have been friendly to be trusted by another community to run the affairs of place of their worship! He was the founder president of THOOTHUKUDI Co-operative bank started with the sole aim of looking after the financial needs of the poor. The Cruzpuram residents could get loans from this bank to construct their residences. He was also responsible for building Baby Home for new babies. He took steps to form the huge Graveyard which serves Twelve communities. Though a very important leader of Tuticorin he desired to be buried in the common grave yard, and as he desired he was buried on 29 th March 1930.
He had the solid support of the British administration in all his endeavors. He was particularly supported by Collector ASH whose memory, when he was shot dead by Vanchi, at Maniyatchi was commemorated by Cruz Fernandez by erecting ASH MEMORIAL opposite to the old port in Beach road.
The good that he rendered to the public was recognized by the British government by the award of the title RAO BAHADUR and the grateful public of Tuticorin elected him to the MADRAS LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY.
What is that we have to learn from him?
1. Commitment to the cause,
2. Align with powers.
3. Love people.
4. Be honest.
5. Avoid isolation. Mix with others.
6. Cultivate a mind unruffled by adversity and criticism.
(Prof. REGHU ANTHONY , V.O.C.COLLEGE, TUTICORIN sent a copy of the souvenir from which material for this article was culled. The writer of this article thanks professor and all writers in the Souvenir.)