Saturday, March 31, 2012

St. Stephen's under Rev. Valson Thampu

Mayank Austen Soofi's cover story in today's Lounge [the weekend supplement of Mint] on how "the college of the elites" has changed under the leadership of Rev. Valson Thampu who came under fire from famous alumni [see this post for links] outraged by his decision to increase to 40% the quota for Christians (and to carve out a sub-quota for Dalit Christians).


Update: Check out The Unofficial Guide to Mission College, a 30-minute film about St. Stephen's made by Aditya Basu.

* * *

The exclusivity that marked Stephen’s is now being challenged. The old bastions of privilege are crumbling. Thampu, a man with decided views—he talks against the growing materialism and the pitfalls of globalization in his morning assemblies—says: “The disarray among hegemonistic political parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party is on the increase. More people from low castes and communities are entering the corridors of power. In social terms, the mushrooming of merit in mofussil towns is seriously challenging the dominance of metropolitan cities.”


Thampu says the number of students from extremely poor backgrounds has gone up threefold in the last five years. Today, there are about 50 such students, up from 10 about two decades ago.


Thampu admits that the interview round in the college’s admission process favoured English-speaking candidates, who had better communication skills than students from a vernacular background. “Those more comfortable in Indian languages felt intimidated by the ambience of the interview, a feeling aggravated by the awe the college inspires,” he says. “Since 2007, depending on the candidate, our interviews also take place in Hindi, and that’s why you find more people coming from the towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.” This segment, however, still forms less than one-tenth of the college’s total student strength of 1,200, according to Thampu.