Shrinking Secular Credentials of Stephenian Mr Ramchandra Guha

Celebrated historian (and obviously a Stephenian) Ramachandra Guha, in his article “The shrinking of St. Stephen’s,” in Hindustan Times claims that,

the galloping Christianisation of [his] old college has hurt its image badly.
He emphasizes ‘concern’ over the increasing numbers of Christians in the institute, especially after the Supreme Court’s judgement, that gave St. Stephen’s the right to admit up to 50% students from its founding community – the Christians. This quite surprises me, coming from a respected intellectual. In what follows, I mention few things why Guha’s opinion downplays certain issues at hand.

First, the minority aided institute’s provision to admit 50% students from the founding community stems from Article 30 in the Indian Constitution which states that “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” This clause in regard to St. Stephen’s had been challenged in the Supreme Court, first in 1980 citing Article 29(2) in the Constitution of India and again in 1984 by the Delhi University Student Union questioning the minority status of the institution. To this, the Supreme Court judged that even if a minority institution receives aid from state funds, it is entitled to accord preference to or reserve seats for candidates belonging to its own community on the basis of religion or language[1]. Article 29(2) in the Constitution of India states that: “No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.” This article applies to both minorities and non-minorities, however it is not intended to and should not limit the scope of Article 30 of the Constitution of India.

To the question of the minority status of the institution, it is clearly mentioned in “The History of the College” published by the college, that the founding fathers of the college, the missionaries from Cambridge along with members of the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) “founded [the college] in order to impart Christian religious instruction and education based on Christian values to Christian students as well as others who may opt for the said education” with a motto “Ad Dei Gloriam” meaning “Glory to God.” However, in its substantial implementation of reservation for Christians, it actually took longer than a hundred years. More than a decade after the Supreme Court’s judgment, only in the year 2008, the cap for Christians actually raised to 50%. So, when Guha mentions that, in his college days, only 5 percent of the students were Christians, it clearly indicates the inaccessibility of the college for the Christians themselves. Isn’t that a reason itself for the capping to be raised?

Guha seems troubled that the college is hiring more Christian teachers. But, why should he be? The very concern of this Christian minority institute, right from the beginning, as highlighted in the Report of 1878 to Cambridge Brotherhood has been that “the students after leaving St. Stephen’s Mission School joined non-Christian Colleges and lost touch with Christian teachings… the case would be otherwise if we were able to send them from our school to a College, where the teachings would be given by Christian professors and be permeated with Christian ideas.[3]” Whether Guha likes it or not, the minority character of the institution is not challenged; and the discretion that the institution has in admission exists in staffing as well.

According to the 2011 Census, Christians constitute 2.3 percent of the country’s total population having dominance in only four states Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Manipur. These Northeastern states are also the most neglected and underdeveloped region in the country. The other states with substantial Christian population include Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Andaman Nicobar Islands. So, St. Stephen’s beside catering to the religious minorities in some way also caters to the underdeveloped region of the country. His claim that “Christians are far more privileged than Dalits or Adivasis” does not make sense at all. This statement assumes that either no Dalits or Adivais are Christians or Dalits or Adivasis who become Christians cease to belong to their community. Far from it, while minority institutions are not bound to reserve seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, St Stephen’s mechanism actually allows more of these communities to be admitted. Even before raising the cap of Christians to 50 percent, already 10 percent of the Christians admitted to the college were Dalit Christians. Within this new capping, in addition to 10 percent set aside for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Physically Handicapped who are not Christians, there is an additional provision for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Physically Handicapped who are Christians. This makes Stephen’s a fairly accessible place for the religious minority as well as the backward communities.

Would Guha equally care if this provision is rolled out in a lesser known college and not in ‘the Stephen’s’? While it is true that Stephen’s has produced some of the best scholars or leaders, it should not necessarily be the case that good scholars or leaders should only come from Stephen’s. Stephen’s hasn’t become any less academically, rather good scholars and teachers are growing in number, hence the other good Delhi University colleges such as Sriram College of Commerce, Hindu College, Lady Sriram College and Miranda House are making their statement in academia. If Stephen’s was and is doing well, Guha must rightly give the credit to the Christian ethos of education from which he benefited from. All in all, Guha’s opinion seem less about the quality of education degrading in St. Stephen’s and more about wanting to maintain the vain elitism of the college which is presented in a tone of anti-minority. St. Stephen’s institutional vision isn’t narrowing down. Much to the contrary, its vision is on a continual reform to best suit the need of the country.

NOTES

[1] AIR 1992, SC 1630

[2] F.F. Monk in “A history of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.” Calcutta, 1935, p. 3

 

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Roderick Wijunamai Written by:

Roderick is an alumnus of TISS, Mumbai. He is currently teaching at the Royal Thimphu College.

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