Blog by St Xavier's student on anti-Modi email controversy

Published: April 23, 2014 19:22 IST
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(Meghnad Bose is about to complete his graduation in mass media at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. He is deeply interested in two realms of perennial controversy - politics and journalism - and is likely to choose the latter as his profession.)

The Principal of St. Xavier's College, Mumbai has landed himself in the eye of a storm. The letter, as the media has already told you, sharply criticizes the Gujarat model of development. It also takes a positive stand on the Food Security Act and the Rojgar Yojana, schemes implemented under the decade-long rule of the Congress-led UPA. It should be noted that the email also speaks against the UPA government for its role in not tackling environmental degradation. (Also read: BJP takes on St. Xavier's principal for email to students about voting)

But I am no expert on politics and I will leave the pros and cons of political schemes as matters best judged by you, the voter. My fundamental grouse today is the intense criticism my Principal has drawn, including a complaint against him by the BJP to the Election Commission, and the intolerance to free speech that such behaviour is an indicator of.

The college is a partly government-funded educational institution.  Thus, one might argue that the principal should have refrained from making such "politically coloured" statements. In response, I'd request you to ponder over the following train of thought.

Father Frazer Mascarenhas has questioned the paradigms of development that political parties are highlighting in their election campaigns. Anyone with a reading list that goes beyond niticentral.com will tell you that Gujarat hasn't been the best performer on social indicators. Similarly, anyone who hasn't been living under a rock over the past year or two will tell you that the questionable change of guard at the Environment Ministry resulted in a slew of clearances in favour of industrial development in decisions that are likely to harm our ecology.

Without getting into either of the debates, I will ask you one question instead. As an educator, does Father Frazer have the authority to ask his students to keep these factors in mind as he encourages them to go out to vote? Tomorrow, if a party has a clear policy against the safety or interests of women and is basing its poll plank on the same, will Father be within his rights to question that?

Superficial neutrality is a major drawback of our education system. We graduate from the best schools and colleges without reading a single word about the anti-Sikh riots of '84 or about Gujarat in 2002 in our textbooks. Or about the realities of Dalit discrimination across our country. Most of us are ignorant of the religious violence that engulfed Kandhamal in 2007/08. Why? Because, we are told, these are political matters that are best kept away from our minds.

But here is why Xavierites are defending a Principal  who they have had  differences with over a dress code and other issues of autonomy.

The college has always provided space for debate and discussion. Opposing viewpoints have clashed in the canteen in as much measure as they did in the classroom.  Analytical reasoning and critical thinking have been encouraged. As the Economics students who have been taught by a particularly left-leaning professor would testify, neither have they been reprimanded nor marked down for having and expressing viewpoints which contradict the professor's at right angles. Instead, those arguments have been the starting points of many a riveting conversation about the state of our economy and our politics.

We haven't been indoctrinated against the establishment or any political party; our faculty has encouraged us to view different perspectives before coming to reasoned conclusions.

In the age of media bombardment, are we really "influenced" as much as they claim? If you disagree, I'd suggest you find out yourself by signing up to Facebook or Twitter. Though Father Frazer might consider starting a blogspot instead of using the official college website next time.

 
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