Wednesday, June 13, 2007

KTWV 08 Issue 25: In the eye of a storm: Social Justice

As I blog this, the Officiating Officer in Charge of St. Stephen's College is in a Press Conference.

Revd. Valson Thambu, referred to as Principal (OSD) has just issued this Press Release, 7000 km away from where I sit:


The Revd. Valson Thampu, Principal (OSD)

I. The background

Since taking over the responsibility of administering St. Stephen’s College recently, I have been concerned increasingly by the need to bring the College into harmony with the vision of the founding fathers for the College. It is clear to me that the Cambridge Mission to Delhi, which established the College in 1881, did not want the College to be a ‘brand name’ or to be defined wholly by ‘prestige’.

Authentic Christian education has, throughout history, prioritized social justice and social transformation, brought hope and dignity into the lives of the excluded and the disempowered, equipped the members of the community to serve the nation with devotion and distinction (as the prayer of St. Stephen’s College indicates), and played a catalytic role in promoting national integration. It is obvious, therefore, that a Christian College cannot remain the exclusive preserve of a class or caste, invoking the talisman of ‘academic excellence’. While academic excellence is very important, it is not the sole purpose for which educational institutions are established by the Christian community.

Right up to the forties and fifties of the last century, Principals like Principal S. N. Mukarji, used to visit the villages of the Punjab and adjoining areas to invite young men from rural areas with some potential, bring them to St. Stephen’s College, and educate them. They were urged to go back to their villages and serve as agents of change and hope for others. Somewhere alone the line, St. Stephen’s College lost this soulful emphasis on social justice and social transformation. It needs to be regained.

C. F. Andrews taught in St. Stephen’s College from 1904-1914. He was easily the most distinguished member of the faculty. Yet, the then Principal S. K. Rudra motivated him to join Gandhiji in the Phoenix Settlement in South Africa and strengthen his hands. The College was willing to lose ‘prestige’ for the sake of its wider vision and commitment. This is just one instance of the breadth of vision that underlies the greatness of St. Stephen’s College. The College is duty-bound to remain sensitive and responsive to the unfolding saga of nation building. We note with pride that the Central Government is committed to empowering the SC/ST as well as the economically and socially backward classes of our country. It is a sacred and timely mission which St. Stephen’s College feels urged to endorse and emulate. Even though Article 15(5) exempts all minority educational institutions from the reservation policies of the State, we in St. Stephen’s want to be a part, voluntarily, of this commitment to social justice. St. Stephen’s College cannot, and does not want to, be unmindful of the movement to build the India that Gandhiji dreamt: the “the India of our dreams”.

St. Stephen’s College is a minority educational institution. As a Member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions and the National Integration Council, I am aware, and deeply concerned, about the abuse of minority rights in various parts of this country. Minority rights are a sacred trust the nation reposes in the minority communities. It has to be exercised with profound respect to the shaping vision of the Indian Constitution and its core ideals of socialism, secularism and democracy as well as fundamental values like equality, justice and human dignity that underlie the Constitution. Minority rights are not meant to create a special class of citizens, but to enable numerically handicapped religious collectivities to preserve their script and religious culture in a way harmonious with the ethos of the Indian Constitution, which dreams of a caste-less and class-less society where all people are free to develop and find fulfillment. St. Stephen’s College cannot afford to be blind to this national goal. We have to contribute out mite to the glorious destiny of India. It is our conviction that practicing social justice and pursuing excellence at the same time is the best we can do in this regard.

Finally, St. Stephen’s College has a duty to develop the members of the Christian community and prepare them to participate in nation-building. An under-developed community cannot be an asset to the nation. A nation is only as developed as its least developed community is. The Christian community in the North is at least as under-developed as the Muslims and Neo-Buddists are, though this is not talked about. As a person aware of the ground realities, I cannot remain deaf and blind to the deprivation and destitution of the people on whose behalf St. Stephen’s College enjoys minority rights. As a rule, the allergy to the poor is the loudest sign of corruption. Jesus came to preach the Good News to the poor; and the Good News to the poor is not instant salvation or a pie-in-the sky-when-you-die. It is empowerment through education. St. Stephen’s College cannot hide itself from this reality and the responsibility born of it.

This is the backdrop against which the review of admission policy has been initiated.

II. The Policy

One of my key goals, during my tryst with this great institution, is to promote a culture of collegiality, transparency and accountability. The enunciation of a democratic and dialogic culture is basic to this goal. Open discussions on policy matters have seldom been a feature of St. Stephen’s College. I am convinced that we need to change in this respect. For that to be possible, every member of St. Stephen’s College needs to adhere to the discipline of healthy debate and dialogue. The clash of partisan interests will strangulate the spirit of democratic culture and debate.

A comprehensive process of intra-institutional discussions was initiated soon after I assumed office on 21 May, 2007. I wish to report with immense satisfaction my colleagues have participated in this process with mature responsibility. Several of them avow that this has been a learning process for them, as indeed it has been for me. Based on, and closely following, the broad consensus that emerged, the Supreme Council of the College, which is the highest policy making body, has enunciated the following policy guidelines to guide admissions 2007-2008.

(a) Admissions from the General Category be 40%
(b) Admissions from the Christian Community: 40%, of which 25% [i.e., 10% of the total seats] to be set apart for Dalit Christians.
(c) Admissions from SC/ST, Physically Challenged candidates and wards of war victims be 15% in all.
(d) Sports 5%
The Dalit status of the applicants to be decided on the basis of the certificates issued by the authorities of the Church.

Providing for a 10% intake without relaxing the cut off will be a mocking illusion for such candidates. In this context, relying on the precedence for admissions to Sanskrit (Hons.), the Supreme Council rules that the cut off for Dalit Christians be on par with the cut-off for Sanskrit (Hons.), candidates.

Christian candidates who qualify on the basis of Sports Quota will not be counted against the 40% seats set apart for candidates from the community, as they are admitted not because they are Christians but because they are sportsmen.

It is clarified that all admissions will be based on inter-se merit, as stipulated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

I wish to close by thanking the Members of the Supreme Council, especially its Chairman, Rt. Rev. Karam Masih, who is the Bishop in Delhi of the Church of North India, of which St. Stephen’s College is a part. But for their assured support and encouragement this historic exercise would not have been possible within such a short span of time.

“Ad Dei Gloriam”

There has been much discussion in India under the title "Heated Debate" where several issues have been raised. I was fowarded an email which made many accusations. What distressed me about that email was that it was written by an anonymous source.

Any person who cannot put his name to the document he writes does not deserve to be heard.

I remember my grandfather, a humble Christian school teacher who fought for many social issues and social justice, had to spend many years in prison in British India. But the issues he fought for were won. With Indian Independence, the Christian Community in Kerala was raised from being a persecuted minority to the one which led to the State having the highest literacy rate in Free India.

But it was not institutions in Kerala alone that played a role. The Madras Christian College at Tambaram among many others were primary institutions that helped members of the Christian Community rise to the levels that they have reached today.

The family that controls MRF and Malayala Manorama enterprises are equated today of being among the rich Christians.

Nothing could be further from the truth as the philosophy of the late K. C. Mammen MNappilai, the founder of the MM Group, was that the money did not belong to his family, but was something that belonged to the people and the custodians had a responsibility to ensure that it was wisely and justly used to help society.

Many from this family have passed through the sacred halls of St. Stephen's College as this institution taught that secularity was the predominant aspect of life in India.

It is not sufficient to have a reservation policy for admission to the college based of class and caste. What is important, as has been stated by Revd. Thambu, is the importance of Social Justice.

What Revd. Thambu has to acknowledge is that a large proportion of those who have graduated from St. Stephen's College were busy in the professional lives ensuring that the values that they learnt while in College were used in their daily lives. They may not have been involved in helping to administer the College, as that was not their professional skill - that would have been a direct case of the the truth of the Peter Principle.

By all means have an admission policy which gives a chance to the broad cross-section of the disempowered to earn an EDUCATION. The College should not be bogged down with considering aspects of admission, but of ensuring that the students who graduate from the College are Educated.

The alumni have an important part to play in ensuring that the College continues to produce the people who will lead the world. For that to occur, it is not just the students that are admitted that play a role, but an ENLIGHTENED FACULTY.

For the College to be considered a Centre of Excellence, it is the faculty that makes a difference. Without a faculty which teaches the students the meaning of true education, the institution can be considered worthless - immaterial of what admission criteria are accepted.

My sincere advice to Revd. Thambu is to ensure that St. Stephen's College is a Centre of Excellence in Education of ALL Communities, Classes and Castes. The more the better!

Jesus did not only preach to the Jews - he educated the world!

Only then will the word reach through every spectrum of Indian Society. Stephanians will then make their mark in driving India and the world along a path of Social Justice, what appears to be the primary focus of Revd. Thambu.

I pray that the Good Lord will help Revd. Thambu just as HE has guided many of those who have preceded Rev. Thambu in this task.


John Mathai said...

In the midst of all the polemics and chest thumping by Rev Thampu let us not lose sight of the fact that the basic issue is of creating another category of quota called "Dalit Christians". There is a case in the Supreme Court whether or not such a category can be a reservation category. The matter is still to be decided. St Stephen's should have waited for the decision. Not doing so just goes to show the kind of respect this College and by implication the Church has for the highest court of law in India.

Moreover, let us not forget that there is no viable way for certifying who is a Dalit Christian and who is a non-Dalit Charistian. If one looks at this closely one can realise that this new quota is merely a quota for bishops who will have the power to give dalit certifications. Thus it a programme for back door entry.

Let us also note that though the church is expected to give 5% of expenditure to St Stephen's and 95 % comes from the government, actually the church gives nothing at all. If we are so keen to assert our rights should we not first fulfill our obligations?

Moreover this move will have serious repurcussions on the Christians themselves. So far in Christian colleges, as per law, minority seats are meant for ALL christians regardless of whether they are Catholics or Protestants or Baptists. Now, the door has been opened for a Catholic Christian College from having seats for Catholic only and keep protestants out and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

People like these, the author of this blog, Thampo and many others are hypocrites and fundamentalist same as Mr Modi! For them interest and well being of their own community is important. Hell with the interest and well being of people of other communities.

Anonymous said...

And it's so easy to ask the other people to shut their mouth saying that they have a agenda...blah..blah..which this person Jacob is very good at. And, behaves as if he is the only true stephania around and all others who differ with him don't have character and dignity as he has...a stephania thing! Perhaps time for him to take some time out from writing so many blogs and introspect what he writes and have a life of his own.

Jacob Matthan said...

Do I sense a tinge of jealousy that Kooler Talk (Web Version) has survived over 10 years and has a readership far in excess of any other Stephanian publication and of Stephanians of all religions, all levels of our society. and of all ages from past to present?

If you have anything serious to say, other than bad mouthing me, please start a blog and draw your audience and say what is on your your mind.

I speak MY mind in my blog and I have the right to do so in my own way. I have never talked as an official of any institution.

If you want to read my blog, you are welcome. If you do not like it, stop reading it!

The reason for your anonymous comments show that you are not willing to show what is your true agenda.

My agenda is simple - Nostalgia!