Sunday, July 01, 2007

The debate about St.Stephen's mission

Remember Ram Guha's angry outburst two weeks ago? A brief summary: Guha is appalled by St.Stephen's new admission policy that 'reserves' 40% of its seats for Christians -- notwithstanding that a quarter of this quota going to Dalit Christians. He sees this policy as a first step towards 'Christianizing' the college: it's students today, but it's only a matter of time before it's extended to faculty. He also questions the ethics of using public money -- he claims 95% of the college's funding is from the government -- for favouring the Christian community. [Outlook readers' letters in response to Guha's piece are here].

Rev. Valson Thampu, the new principal at St.Stephen's, has responded through a ToI op-ed. He brushes aside the stuff about creeping sectarianism with something like: "oh, we were always a 'mission' institution!" On the charge that the new policy goes against the legendary "St. Stephen's tradition", here's his response:

Academic excellence in St Stephen's in recent decades has almost become a smokescreen for masking the privileges of the socio-economic elite. Vis-a-vis St Stephen's, 'merit', for those who are clamouring about it, is anything but 'academic excellence'.

In other words, he accuses his critics of elitism! Thus, we have critics like Guha harping on 30 percent reservation for non-Dalit Christians, and we have Thampu urging us to keep the focus on the 10 percent quota for Dalit Christians!


  1. Pratik . said...

    simple isnt it? keep the 10% quota for dalit christians and remove the 30% quota for non-dalit christians [:D]

  2. barbarindian said...

    This year only six Dalit Christian applications have been received. The Dalit status is being decided by the Church. Also, there is another key change. Earlier they would allow a grace of up to 15% marks but no more. Thus, the Christian quota was never filled. The new rules say that the Christian quota must be filled. It is not clear whether the same rules apply to the Dalit Christian quota, i.e. if unfilled, whether they will be diverted to the Christian quota or made available to all students.

    I also found another very disturbing theme in Thampu's rebuttal. As far as I know, no one had alleged any sort of foul play in the admission process (which also consists of an interview), so far. But Thampu says:

    I have not had a single phone call or letter request has been couched in considerations other than 'academic excellence'.

    The best we can do to bolster academic excellence is to preserve transparency in admissions.

  3. Anonymous said...

    I don't see what the problem is. All Thampu needs to do is stop taking money from the taxpayer and he can admit whoever he wants.

  4. John Mathai said...

    It is important to remember that the issue is not about admission of Christian students but of creating another category of quota called "Dalit Christians" There is a case in the Supreme Court whther 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. If Christians in India are still dubbed as "foreigners" it is people like Thampu who are to blame.

    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 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 fiulfill 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.