Monday, July 02, 2007

St. Stephen's Fired

Up, that is. St. Stephen's college has finally contracted Reservationia pestis, after miraculously avoiding it through the whole of last year (Which, in retrospect, should have struck one as odd). Anyway, the brouhaha has started all over again, with two major differences.

One, this is St. Stephen's issue alone, so it's unlikely there's going to be the same level of action. Last year's announcement raised a storm (which was eventually contained in a teacup) - this is probably going to be a light shower. Two, last year's reservation plague was brought about by the Human Resource Desecration/Devastation/Depredation/Denudation/Deprivation/ Depreciation Ministry - this was done by the college's ruling board. The reservation moreover isn't for people of the Backward Castes/Classes but for Christians. (Though there's a major plus if you're additionally from some sort of Backward Caste)

So what's to rant and rave about?

The thing that differentiates the debate in this case from the usual Tooheyian vs. Galtian/Roarkian fights is the point the college board makes (led by some dude named Thampu. Anybody from Gitanjali here?) - the college started as a missionary-backed institute with the aim of educating Christians (and possibly producing more) and uplifting them; them as in 'Ctrl+I' them or simply, them alone. It's the Most Holy Trinity and its believers who back the institute, not the Almighty state or the students. So why shouldn't they decide who they let in or uplift or whatever?

Strange as it may sound, this point seems valid. Given that a college was started with a purpose by a specific group of people, why shouldn't it function for them alone? Sure, you'd wish these chaps would bring their arguments completely out of the closet (Thampu says “Academic excellence in St Stephen’s in recent decades has almost become a smokescreen for masking the privileges of the socio-economic elite” thus smokescreening his own view) but that's to do with the people making the point rather than the point itself. And this isn't restricted to "durrty paalitics"-plagued India. Purdue for instance, is affiliated somehow to the State of Indiana, and has to attract students from Indiana. They offer incentives for Indianans to come here and people are pissed if there're too many people from any place else (India or Illinois, Oregon or Ouagadougou) Same founding logic.

The bizarre dichotomy this reveals is this: Opening up any sort of institution dependent on individual and creative minds to the population at large is important for it to flourish. But at what point do you hold a restriction? I mean, imagine if tomorrow all world class institutes opened up completely, so anyone from anyplace could apply with an equal probability/passage of entry (JEE type stuff). Imagine IIT with a population of 40-60% smart Russians, Chinese, Brazilians, Americans whatever. There'd be an enquiry as to the "Indian" in it. Or what if Harvard were so filled with smart people from all over the place that Alex Worthington, whose dad built the Worthington Drama Hall, just couldn't make it in? The WASPs would unsheath their stings. And be justified in doing so too. So firstly, to what extent do you open up?

Conversely, to what extent is it OK for an institute to close up? To keep St. Stephens for those who frame John 3:16 on their walls or Purdue for people with the "Hoosier" gene or something? Those who started such institutions for their respective communities, do they have the right to render it unviable through such extreme measures?

Quite a conundrum - that's point 1. And two, Barkha Dutt was all bleeding hearts afire for the OBCs and denouncing the protesters's apathy towards OBC conditions and what not (she was justified in denouncing their abusive language though). Now that St. Stephen's going to have seats reserved in it she's gone and written this.

Tells you a lot, don't it?

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