Friday, September 26, 2008

Hate and anger won't bring votes ... (an open letter from St Joseph's College, Bangalore)


An Open Letter to the Chief Minister of Karnataka from St.Joseph's College, Bangalore

Dear Sir, We write to you as members of the Staff of St.Joseph's College and as secular citizens of the state of Karnataka deeply distressed by the recent attacks on
educational institutions and churches in Mangalore and elsewhere in Karnataka.

We are a college of 126 years, the very first private college of the city with a rich legacy of educating generations of students of different faiths in the ideals of democracy and secularism. Thousands of citizens in the state owe their education into secularism to this college where students have lived and learned as members of one human family. We are also aware of your high esteem for the college. It is due to that high regard for the institution that you had admitted your son here and he had successfully passed out from the portals of the college.

Our contributions to the nation goes right back in time, to those dark and frightful years of British imperialism. We as an institution, perhaps the only one in the state, have participated in the freedom struggle of the country.

The college had protested against British colonialism, raising the National Tricolor as a banner of national revolt on our premises against the British Raj. Our students were hunted and jailed by British Police for participating in the Quit India movement.

The names of Ratnakar Rai and Kripakaran are synonymous with the early struggles while Deendayalu Naidu and P.S. Sundaram Reddy were with the Quit India movement. Several of our students were tortured and repressed in these jails for their struggles for the freedom of the country.

Fr. Ferroli, the Warden was, interned in the jail in Whitfield. and Fr. Boniface D'Souza, was the person who prevented the police from taking students into custody during the last phase of the freedom struggle. That spirit of secularism and nationalism still exists in this campus and we have not deviated from that. It is this love for the nation that prompts and urges us to write to you.

Over the years, we have educated a variety of students, pundits, scientists, activists, journalists, technocrats, bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, sportspersons and women primarily from the state of Karnataka though there have been students from outside the state and the country. We have never imposed a world-view of our own on the students.

Instead we have encouraged critical thinking and learning.

Freedom of thought and expression has always characterized education in St. Joseph's. We can claim with tremendous pride that we have produced stimulating intellectuals, prominent change-makers at the grass root level and provided able administrators to the nation and particularly to the State of Karnataka.

M.P. Ghorpade, Kumara Bangarappa, M.P. Prakash, Bachche Gowda, Narayanaswamy, Allum Veerabhadarappa and a host of bureaucrats are all our former students. Many of our former students work in different fields of life as innovators and policy-framers. Moreover we have enhanced our services these many years to foster the needs and desires of the marginalized.

We continue to admit and provide educational opportunities to a wide community of educationally and socially backward classes, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. We have thus produced sensitive and learned leaders among the Dalit and backward communities. We are extremely proud of students from subaltern communities who have turned into agents of radical social change. Our credentials as a secular and progressive institution concerned about the well-being of all is a truth well known to all.

St. Joseph's College belongs to no party. But we remain concerned with what is taking place in the state. Inculcating social awareness and increasing social concern is one of the main thrusts of the college. As an educational institution with high moral and ethical credentials, we are concerned about the divisive politics that polarizes people on the basis of religion.

Your party has come to power on the plank of development. You have also celebrated with great pride your hundred days in power claiming that nearly 90% of your development manifesto has been fulfilled. We may have different view of that but we will not debate that here. What disturbs us is the mean claim that your party and your cadres make that Christian institutions are involved in forced conversion just to defame and malign.

Every citizen in this country has been given the right to practice, profess and propagate one's religion by the Constitution. In fact, the college is administered on the principles of egalitarianism, concern for the weak and compassion to the suffering -- universal human doctrines which are Christian as well.

If you consider commitment to a set of values as conversion, we are quite proud. That has been our heritage. But when your affiliates attack us on the issue of conversion, we are fully aware that you are being frivolous. You do not believe in it. Nobody else believes in it. You are simply using the community as a tool for political purposes.

In the last 126 years, lakhs have passed out from the institution. The world famous scientist, Raja Ramana, former election commissioner of India Krishna Murthy, large number of cricketers and hockey players who have brought glory to the state have studied here. We also wish to mention here Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living fame and Veerendra Heggade of Dharamastala are our former students. There are some monks of Sri Ramakrishna Mission and Buddhist monastries educated here.

Even today we teach a number of the children of your party functionaries. Your cadres speak of conversion. Such divisive language to defame institutions and the community for political purposes is against the spirit of secularism and we do not appreciate that coming from the head of the government of Karnataka.

In writing to you, we want to make it clear that we have no personal interests. Our concern is the state of Karnataka and its people. This state does not need debates on conversion or terrorism. What the state needs is debate on development, inequalities, peace and harmony.

There has been in the last few days a campaign of hate that has been systematically carried out by your affiliates and sometimes your own cadres. They have victimized innocent citizens, harmed and destroyed people and their lives. They have violated the dignity of women including the cloistered religious nuns recently who spend time in prayer and are out of touch with the rest of the world. They have devastated
neighborhoods and the everyday harmony of human existence.

Is this truly development? How can we build development without peace and harmony? And how can we build peace and harmony without development?

Peace and harmony on the one hand and development and growth on the other are mutual and inter-dependent. We could debate this issue and other issues of marginalization of people, hunger and inequality instead of the trivial issue of conversion.

Instead of encouraging your cadres and your affiliates to burn and destroy churches and create disharmony, can you not encourage them to work for literacy, employment, food, shelter and clothing? Instead of destroying the secular fabric of cultural and religious inter-relationships, can't you stop fanning hatred by not supporting spurious ideas such as forced conversions and terrorism?

Your affiliates may assume, that by all this hate and anger, your party may gain more seats in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections because of the disastrous polarizations between communities. But that may be far from the truth. People always see through such divisive politics.

Only economic development for the masses and the just practice of the secular constitution can promise you votes. So we appeal to you, as an educational institution of higher learning with a history of 126 years, that was a part of the
freedom struggle, to work for secularism, harmony, tolerance, and development so that together we may build a humane and progressive human community in Karnataka.

We as a college community urge you most sincerely to stop hate, stop destruction of Churches and educational institutions and restore peace and harmony in the state. We
assure you of our cooperation in the task of building a secular state in the true spirit of diversity and pluralism.

Of course, we shall continue to dissent in the true democratic spirit of the Constitution when the Constitution of the land is under attack.

Thanking you
Dr. (Fr.) Ambrose Pinto SJ
and 75 staff members.

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