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St.Stephen's quotas for Christians attacked

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  • SOCM News Bureau
    St.Stephen s quotas for Christians. CNN-IBN s Sagarika Ghose makes a mountain of an molehill St. Stephen s college recently hiked the quotas for Christians
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 17, 2008
      St.Stephen's quotas for Christians.

      CNN-IBN's Sagarika Ghose makes a mountain of an molehill

      St. Stephen's college recently hiked the quotas for Christians .The only special constitutional right the minorities have is to establish , run and administer their educational institutions . CNN-IBN on its 'Face the Nation' made it appear that it was the death of secularism , merit and quality when it introduced higher quotas for Christians.

      Ramachandra Guha said that the Christians are just 2 % of the population and they have 50% reservation .

      How wonderfully Hindutva propaganda is carried out on the channel. The bias of the moderator was obvious.

      The SMS poll was ridiculous .Wonder whether any Christian actually watched this show.

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      Is this the death of brand St Stephen's? One of India's most prestigious colleges has introduced a 50 per cent quota for Christian applicants on the basis that it is a Christian minority institute. But there is a criticism that the college too may soon join the long list of centres of excellence whose standards have been irreversibly lowered by those practising the politics of religion or ideology on campus.


      On Face the Nation, a CNN-IBN panel � comprising actor Kabir Bedi, historian Ramachandra Guha, Prof Nandita Narain and Former JNU Student Union President Albeena Shakil debated if quotas will destroy elite educational institutions.

      Incidentally, Bedi, Guha and Narain were Stephanians and so was the moderator of the show, Sagarika Ghose.

      A typical Devil�s Advocate argument for the pro-quota lobby would be: St Stephen�s was not built by Christians. It was founded by missionaries all right, but it has become an institution to reckon with because of the diversity that Indians � and not necessarily Christians � brought to it.

      Narain kickstarted the debate by disagreeing with the argument. She argued there nothing wrong with the idea of quota and the General Category students have little reason to feel bad. �No one is above the law. And the law in 1992 clearly stated St Stephen�s was a minority institute. The number of Christian students kept increasing from that year � and there�s no denying it � till it reached 40 pc last year. But the General category quota has been kept to 40 per cent. So there�s no reason for General students to feel disappointed and let down,� she said, pointing out was a 2003 TMA Pai judgement that upheld the minority status of St Stephens, empowering it to admit more than 50 pc Christian students.

      In the argument against quota in St Stephen�s, more often than not, elitism is confused with excellence. Narain warned against this line of thought and said dilution of elitism does not necessarily mean dilution of excellence.

      The argument sounds a striking parallel with what the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena Chief Raj Thackeray has been insisting. Thackeray cites Article 331 (that applies to both linguistic and religious minorities) and says Maharashtrian institutions of the state must admit only Maharashtrians people since they are a minority in that state.

      Owe and Awe: Indebted to Christians?

      But Narain did not take kindly to the comparison and said there was a difference between Raj Thackeray and the Supreme Court. �Sagarika, you and I are Stephanians. We owe the college for what we are today. The college, for 120 years, catered to us like foster mother,� she said. Narain also said we owed a lot to the Christian community. �Christian community has made significant contribution to education and health and we owe it to them, �she said.

      Therefore, the question that most from the pro-quota are asking is: should we grudge if Stephen�s tries to help its own community?

      Ramchandra Guha joined the debate on a very crucial note. He pointed out the difference between religion-based quota and �integrity-based� quota. Guha, a Stephanian himself, also pointed out the quotas in Stephen�s was different from quotas in IITs and IIMs. �The SC says that a minority institution may hike quote to 50 per cent. It does not say �must�. There�s a huge difference between the two. If it�s a religious purpose, it�s being read as �must� but for integrity purposes , it becomes may,� he said.

      Guha also pointed out the fallacy of not being able to differentiate between �may� and �must�. �St Stephen�s, like the IIM, is funded by the state and two per cent of the population gets 50 per cent of the seats. This is because of the shoddy interpretation of the law,� he said.

      Hence, the real winners in this process are the communalists, he said.

      Standard deduction: Elite is excellent?

      Actor Kabir Bedi � also a St Stephen�s alumni � on Monday said the quotas will not lead to a fall in the standards of the college. Bedi took on Guha�s argument and said St Stephen�s had the right to implement quota, regardless of it being an oversight in interpreting laws. He insisted the quality won�t suffer if quota was for the brightest students in the community. �Experience of IITs and IIMs has been that minority students there have a hard time in the beginning but in the end, their results are at par with others. In these competitive situations, the difference between getting and not getting through is narrow. So St Stpehen�s would rather have the brightest representatives from their community and there�s nothing wrong in that,� he explained.

      The Sachar Committee says those wanting reservation for minorities were playing politics. Many Muslim intellectuals like Irfan Habib have argued that places like the Aligarh Muslim University should not be declared a minority institute.

      However, Albeena Shakil disagreed and vouched for the rights of minorities. �In India, minorities enjoy only one right � to build their own educational institutions and administer them. Today, when Christians are coming under attack from all quarters, it�s okay to give them 50 per cent reservation,� she said.

      Shakil also said the argument about merit being diluted was a prejudiced argument. She cited the example of southern states where minority institutes have quota up to 59-60 per cent and they are better educationally and fare better on the Human Development Index.

      Shakil also said JNU too had a similar record. She wrapped up her argument on a rather strong point. �Quota will make educational institutes better.�

      Guha responded to Shakil�s argument and said in southern states, backward castes formed a majority of the population and so it was natural for them to be featured prominently on toppers� list. �Christians are 2 pc of population, only elite Christians get the benefits and Dalit Christians are not recognised by the government. So St Stephen�s is again going against the Constitution,� he said countering Narain�s earlier argument.

      Major vs minor: Who's the winner?

      An emotionally charged Guha also said T F Andrews, the founder of St Stephen�s ethos, will be �turning in his grave� at the �narrow communalism by those who run the college today�.

      So is the St Stephen�s pro-quota lobby inadvertently strengthening the hand of majority chauvinists? Narain disagreed and put the onus on the media which, she alleged, was encouraging the Hindu Right where most of the backlash came from.

      Shakil also took on Guha and said since St Stephen�s was a government-funded institute, it adhered to all UGC norms regarding teachers and syllabus. �Therefore, unlike other minority institutes that are not aided, St Stephen�s will stick to its quality,� she argued.

      In fact, Shakil�s argument gains credit because there are no statistics to show that minority institutes or institutes implementing quota showed a decline in standards. Guha retorted, citing the example of Jamia Milia which had a world-class mass communication centre with representation from across communities without going the whole hog (50 per cent).

      Hoever, he seemed to have forgot that even Jamia has a 25 pc reservation for admission to the Mass Communication Research Centre (MCRC).

      Bedi returned to the debate and made an interesting point. �The reservation issue has been decided by Supreme Court and by debates in Parliament. Let�s admit that we owe the Christian community for their schools and colleges and if they now choose to help members of their community in this competitive world, I see no harm in it,� he said, adding it was St Stephen�s responsibility to assure secularism as well.

      Narain too agreed a balance needed to be maintained. �50 pc is okay but if you increase it, there�ll be a dis-balance. I am not for the ghettoisation of Christian community either because it will be counter productive,� she said. The prof also warned the right to free speech and expression also get hampered if the rights of minorities are misused to promote totalitarian systems.

      So are quotas the only way to create rational, sensitive individuals? Guha insisted there had to be a balance in numbers. �Jamia reserves 25 per cent for Muslims � who are 50 per cent of the population � it�s just twice their number. St Stephen�s wants 50 per cent quota for two per cent of the population which is 25 times their number and that�s what is unfair,� he said.

      However, none of the other panelists agreed with Guha and said he was making a flawed argument. The debate remained open ended with most among the panel � except Guha � approving of the college�s decision.

      Final results of Web/SMS poll:

      QOTD: Will quotas destroy elite educational institutions?

      Yes: 89 per cent
      No: 11 per cent

      http://www.ibnlive.com/news/even-stephens-college-quota-a-minor-issue/67324-3.html
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