St Stephen’s, the Alma Mater I’m No Longer Proud Of
A St Stephen’s alumnus writes about how free thought and expression is no longer nurtured at his alma mater.
I joined Economics Honours at St Stephen’s college 30 years ago as a nervous 17 year old from Calcutta. I was a product of a string of Catholic Boys schools: St Anthony’s, Don Bosco, St Edmund’s, St Joseph’s, St Columba’s and St James’. I had lived a sheltered, cloistered life where there was no question of any kind of free thought, leave alone expression. I was resigned to the fact that St Stephen’s would be just another Saint like the previous institutions. But how wrong I turned out to be, much to my delight!
Beacon of Freedom of Expression
I soon found that new, out-of-the-book thoughts and iconoclastic beliefs were incubated, nurtured and encouraged by my seniors and the teachers too. Nothing was sacred, no ideology or person was above criticism. In my first year, we did a skit for our freshers’ welcome which subtly caricatured our Economics department’s professors. It was accepted with a hearty laugh and no more than a finger wag – “Malik, you are very naughty!”
Student publications routinely mocked the Principal and staff for things that the students did not agree with. These were accepted with good humour and, often, an engaging dialogue followed. Capitalism, socialism (this was before the wall fell in Berlin), ‘Small is Beautiful’, Michener and Steinbeck were discussed with much intensity into the wee hours of the morning; weed was explored along with the accompanying opening of young minds. All this was gently accepted by our block tutors.
Our Prinicipal, Reverend Hala, was a friend of the students. Many a time I visited his house from the College Residence (Hostel) and several times I, along with others, was called to his office to discuss issues pertaining to the college. He considered us students to be equally involved in the college’s administration and growth. Sometimes, when we did something wrong, he would call us and talk to us like a parent would, explaining why we should avoid such behaviour.
An Alien Place?
I do not recall a single instance of protest against the College Principal or administration, as issues were discussed and sorted out before they became contentious. Now, after 30 years, St Stephen’s seems to be an alien place.
Reading all that is being reported in the Press, especially in The Quint, I get the uncomfortable feeling that it is a place where free thought and expression are no longer nurtured. Where students are not considered to be partners in the college’s development and growth but just school children. Where a student would have to think twice before going against the drift. Where the Principal is an unapproachable King Emperor sitting continents away and any dissent has to be put down with an iron hand, as in Colonial India.
This kind of atmosphere will slowly lead to the strangulation of creativity and it seems that St Stephen’s will now just be another Saint in the list.
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