J. N. Tata: A man who made a lot of wealth, and a lot more goodwill

‘Wealth came to him in full measure, but he remained to the last what he was in nature, a simple modest gentleman, seeking neither title nor place, and loving with love that knew no bounds the land that gave him birth.’

– Sir Lawrence Jenkins (chief justice of Bombay High Court, 1905)

Those who know about him would wholeheartedly agree that these words precisely summarize what Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata embodied as a person. A great industrialist and philanthropist, he left his mark on India’s industrial history as well as on the soil of Nagpur by establishing the Empress Mills on January 1, 1877, the same day Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. He also went on to establish the first girls school of the city in the form of JN Tata Parsi Girls’ High School. Tuesday marks the 175th birth anniversary of JN Tata.

“It was in Nagpur with these mills that the foundation of Tata empire, which is now a pride for the entire country, was laid. At its peak, it provided direct employment to 9,000 people, and indirect employment to another 20,000. The city’s economy revolved around the mills,” said businessman Edul Bhagwagar. He said that it was at these mills that the Tatas also extended several provisions to their employees that were never heard of before.

Labour laws didn’t exist then. However, moved by the condition of the mill workers, JN Tata was the first to provide medical aid, free schooling for kids, eight-hour work shifts and many other provisions. The first block of Nagpur University, opposite Maharaj Bagh, which is now the administrative block, was also built from funds provided by the mill authorities.

“Even when the general belief was that girls do not need an education, JN Tata believed that they especially need to be educated. This is the reason he started this school, since the mill workers, who came from Navsari in Gujarat were unable to get their daughters admitted to schools here. It started with less than ten students and has more than 2,000 students today,” said principal of JN Tata Parsi Girls’ High School Meena Devnani. Despite the name of the school, it has been open to boys till class IV for several years. Also, it is open to girls from all communities.