Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jesuit Alumni Congress - 2007

A side view of the Laurie Baker designed Loyola School auditorium where the Congress was held .

(Top) - A Panel discussion in progress.
(Below) - Mr.Alphonse Kannamthanam speaking at the inaugural function. Seen on the dais are Mr.T.P.Srinivasan, senior diplomat and Fr.Hector D'Souza S.J., Provincial of the Jesuit Order for South Asia.

'Chilanka', The Vth National Congress of the 'Jesuit Alumni Associations of India'- 2007, was held at my alma mater, Loyola School, Trivandrum, from 7-9th,September. The Jesuits are an order of Catholic priests founded by St.Ignatius Loyola in 1534. Their wordwide renown is for the high standards in the educational institutions they have established and which they manage successfully. In India, Jesuits manage 38 colleges, 5 business schools and 155 secondary Schools in places as far off as Kohima and Surat. Some of the Jesuit insiituions like XLRI jamshedpur, XIM Bhubaneswar have won international recognition. Jesuit colleges like the St.Xavier's colleges at Mumbai, Calcutta, Ahmedabad,Jaipur, and Trivandrum, the St.Joseph's colleges at Bangalore, Trichy and Tirunelveli, St Aloysius College at Mangalore and Loyola College in Chennai have a rich tradition behind them. Equally, if not more famous are the Jesuit run secondary schools of St.Xaviers at Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi, St.Stanislaus at Bandra, Campion in Colaba, St.Vincent in Pune,North Point in Darjeeling and Loyola schools in Jamshedpur and Trivandrum.
The theme of the Vth Congress was 'The role of Jesuit alumni in resurgent India'. The concept paper, circulated in advance among alumni associations, referred to the current status of education,ecology,good governanace,economy,health care and culture in the country and the responsibility of jesuit alumni in enabling their progress and meeting its challenges. The resurgence in India, its commencement and the direction it is taking were also to be discussed.
Almost 500 delegates, representing various Jesuit alumni associations, were present on the evening of Sep 7th at the Loyola school auditorium, renamed the Fr.Joe Lawrence Hall, to witness the inaugural function. The auditorium, a simple red brick building, was designed in 1971, by the world renowned architect, Laurie Baker. The Congress was inaugurated by Fr.Hector D'Souza S.J. the provincial of the Jesuit order in South Asia. Mr.T.P.Srinivasan IFS, formerly India's permanent representative to the United Nations and a senior diplomat spoke on 'Can India make an impact in the global arena?' Referring to contemporary debates, he pointed out that India had been the victim of nuclear apartheid ever since it conducted atomic tests in 1974 and the 123 agreement with USA is the only opportunity for us to escape from this situation. He said that USA represented all nuclear states that had signed the NPT and were members of the Nuclear suppliers group. This agreement enables India to enter in to nuclear collaboration with all these countries.
Mr.Alphonse Kannamthanam, an IAS officer turned MLA, spoke on 'Clean Public Life, Can we dream of it in India'. He drew examples from his personal experiences as a bureaucrat. Politicans are produced by the society of which they are a part and the decadence affecting society has affected political processes too, was his contention. The seeds of change lie inside us and not elsewhere, he stated. Mr.Srinivasan and Mr.Alphonse referred to their early education in government run schools and childhood in villages were electricity hadn't yet reached.
The first session on Sep 8th was a talk on 'Women in Resurgent India' by Mrs. Lyda Jacob IAS. She pointed out that South India had achieved remarkable levels of social develoment which were not visible in other parts of the country. This, she said, was due to effective implementation of various programmes in health care, child care, nutrition and primary education. Mrs. Jacob referred to the high levels of female infancticide in many parts of India and warned of the effects of a decline in the sex ration. When questioned as to how she felt being in an audience consisting overwhelmingly of men, she replied that she was comfortable as four generations of men in her family, from her grandfather to her son, were jesuit alumni.
The next session on 'Science and technology in a resurgent India' had two different points of view,both eloquently stated by Fr.Vincent Braganza S.J., a P.hd in biotechnology from Loyola University, Chicago, now working at St.Xavier's, Ahmedabad and Prof.Joe Peter, ex- Director of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and alumnus of XLRI, Jamshedpur. Fr.Vincent spoke of the two India's existing within one nation and drew attention to the problems of the villages. He also pointed out to the dangers of the haphazard urbanisation taking place. Fr.Vincent was of the view that science and technology was now capable of finding a solution to most problems of scarcity and want facing us but lamented that the political will was lacking. Prof.Joe Peter requested the audience to see the glass as half-full, not half-empty. He said that globalisation had been made inevitiable by the massive developments in communications, information technology and transport. The 9% growth in India, to him, was going to be a sustained one and only two other countries, China and Vietnam were growing at this rate. This could lead to India emerging as a world power in a few decades. Prof.Peter also wondered as to what was in the Jesuits that led them to command the ferocious loyalty of their alumni.
Mr.K.Jayakumar IAS, spoke on 'In a fast changing world, can moral values erode'. The speed of change, he said, was relative from one generation to the other. Erosion in moral values, to him, was the result of man's crazy and reckless drive to succed at any cost. In this mad race, we don't mind our success being at the cost of another's failure. All problems, he said, are ultimately moral problems and an education distanced from moral values fails the individual in his moment of reckoning.
'Role of Jesuit Institutions in a resurgent India' saw open dissent between two Jesuit priests, Fr.Casmir Raj S.J., Director, XLRI, Jamshedpur and Fr.P.C. Mathew S.J., Principal, St.Xavier's College, Kolkatta. Fr.Casmir Raj regretted the fact that Jesuits had refrained from entering the field of technical education. The Jesuits do not manage engineering or medical colleges in an age when utmost importance is being accorded to professional education. With their credentials and institution building experience it was easy for Jesuits to make a mark in this sector, said Fr.Raj. He blamed this on a refusal to think out of the box. Rebutting this Fr.P.C. Mathew emphasised that most of the Jesuit run arts and science colleges had introduced new graduate and post graduate programmes with an emphasis on technology.
The speeches were carefully listened to by the delegates who asked questions and actively participated in the discussions. It was never a one-way affair. The different alumni associations also made power point presentations on their activities.
Justice M.C.Chagla, jurist, diplomat, statesman and a jesuit alumnus once spoke of the 'aristocracy of the mind'. This was evident at the Congress. I felt proud to be a jesuit alumnus.