Educationists and activists issue letter in support of St. Xavier principal, Father Frazer Mascarenhas, following the BJP attack on him for writing a letter to his students advising them to vote wisely
By Team FI
Ever since Father Frazer Mascarenhas, the principle of Mumbai’s prestigious St Xavier’s College wrote a letter to his students advising them to vote wisely, he has come under attack from Hindu right wing facing threats and verbal abuse.
Father Mascarenhas has not directly named any individual or political party in his letter. He requested his students to” choose well” and exercise a “reasoned choice of individuals and political parties who promise to work for a real quality of life”. The letter speaks about the poor human development indicators in Gujarat, including education and rights of the tribals. The letter which had appeared on the college website and was subsequently forced to be taken down, spoke about the imminent threat that faces India’s secular fabric, “The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy”.
The BJP filed a complaint with the Election commission charging that the college has violated the code of conduct. Following the controversy, several academicians and activists came in forward supporting Father Mascarenhas’s right to free speech.
FeministsIndia is reproducing the full text of the letter issued by the NOMOre Campaign, a non-funded, non-party affiliated secular platform and endorsed by several academicians, activists and feminists in the country as statement of solidarity.
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 Benares. 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.
Issued by NOMOre Campaign, a non-funded, non-party affiliated secular platform. We do not endorse any political party.
Endorsed by academics, activists and educationists across India.