Father Frazer Mascarenhas SJ
Principal, St. Xavier’s College
In these troubling times, when the mightiest are being bought over, lured, seduced, or silenced, we salute you for your courage and moral clarity in asking your students to choose wisely. By drawing the attention of your students (who would have voted for the first time) to the seamy underbelly of a ‘model’ that is being promoted unabashedly by the corporate media as the panacea of all that which ails India, we believe you acted responsibly and ethically. The purpose of education is to inculcate critical thinking, to provide tools of analysis, and to make students sensitive to social realities – no matter how unpleasant they may be. Far from abusing your position, as the BJP is alleging, we think that your advice is the appropriate way for a teacher, and head of an academic institution, to act.
There is reason, the BJP and its allies, ought to know, why educational institutions, despite being funded fully or partially by the government, are autonomous. This autonomy protects the right of the academic to critique the government, leaders and policies without fear. By rushing to the EC, the BJP has made a frontal attack on this intellectual freedom which is constitutionally guaranteed. Besides, this is very obviously a legally dishonest move: the code of conduct applies only to political parties and not to private individuals or social groups. Surely a party which is pretending to have already formed the government should know this simple rule.
We are amused to read in the papers that local BJP leaders have said that “we are ready to engage with the students in an open debate. But the Principal should have withheld his views till such debate.” This comes only a day after BJP cadres assaulted political opponents on a live TV broadcast from Benaras. So much for open debate!
Your letter has prompted many mainstream media houses to question the propriety of a college principal in writing a letter to students on the eve of polling. We also believe that institutional spaces, while retaining the right to be fiercely critical, should remain non-partisan. Those who are quick to condemn and pillory you however conveniently ignore that you only presented a critique – that incidentally many democratic minded citizens share – without recommending any political party.
Moreover, no questions have been raised about the way in which educational institutions have been used systematically over the last year or so, to build the Supreme Leader’s image among the youth. All TV channels broadcast Modi’s Sri Ram Memorial Oration at Sri Ram College of Commerce (DU) live last year; newspapers carried full-page ads of the SRM University’s convocation ceremony where Modi was the chief guest. Similarly, no channel is aghast at Modi’s plans to take chopper tours of BHU and Kashi Vidyapeeth. This hypocrisy is nauseating.
In an election marked by hyperbole, arrogance, threats and insinuations, your letter, written with remarkable restraint and sagacity will remain an important intervention. NOMOre stands with you wholeheartedly and extends to you our sincerest solidarity.
24th April 2014
(NOMOre is a non-funded, non-party affiliated secular platform. We do not endorse any political party.)