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And deliver us from stupidity, Amen

St Stephen’s old girl Elizabeth Kuruvilla is fervently praying that her alma mater is not turned into a Christian mission at the cost of excellence.
By Elizabeth Kuruvilla | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2008 09:22 PM IST

St Stephen’s College, I was told at the end of my school years, was a great place from which to head out into the world as a Bachelor of Honours. As a member of the minority community of girls in this world, I detected a bias by the Brotherhood in the use of this suffix. Yet, consider the alternatives: Maid of Honours. That sounds distressingly like a career choice at playing grab-the-bride’s bouquet.

The second option, Mistress of Honours, unfortunately could be misread as me lording... sorry, ladying over a string of kitty parties. Hence, I chose to keep my justified horror at the prospect of being a lifelong Bachelor of Arts at bay.

Many years ago, the ‘Brothers’ at St Stephen’s College tried to make amends to the other half of the population by throwing open their gates to girl students. A decade or so ago, they even welcomed the women to live in the college’s residential blocks. These are momentous occasions in the minds of Stephanians who were witnesses to the events, such was the vehemence of the objection to women infiltrating the premises.

But even as the administration of St Stephen’s College continues in its efforts to make women equal citizens within its campus, it’s rendering irreversible dents on its secular image.

St Stephen’s was founded in 1881 by the Cambridge Brotherhood, an Anglican mission from Cambridge in Britain. Its founder and first principal was Reverend Samuel Scott Allnutt. Now, despite its origins and its motto Ad Dei Gloriam — To the glory of God — few, if any, Stephanians consider religion to be a binding factor within the campus. In fact, many Christians often take umbrage to the fact that they have no choice — despite their scores being way above the cut-off announced for the general category — but to be admitted into the college as a Christian (as was my own case). Hence, not surprisingly, these ‘quota-dians’ of Christianity choose not to wear their crosses on their sleeves.

But the Church apparently feels there is no point in being a minority institution unless it is visibly so. So, this academic year, St Stephen’s announced that half the student population gaining admittance would be Christians. Even so, the visionary Bishop of Delhi, Sunil Singh, realised this would really not be enough to improve attendance at the college’s Bible study classes. Take the statistics. Two per cent of India’s population required to provide enough students academically bright enough to fill up 50 per cent of the seats at one of the country’s premier educational institution? But hang on. Now Bishop Singh wants to go one up and has nailed academic excellence to the Cross. Now, his plan is that any Christian will do — Christian applicants, according to him, should have only 60 per cent marks for admission into any course of their choice.

With students nowadays rarely creating much ado about scores of nearabouts 80 per cent in school-leaving examinations, this seems like the Bishop has decided to separate the wheat from the chaff — and select the chaff. Does Bishop Singh really want to be known as the Bachelor to have done the honours of wiping St Stephen’s College off the map of premier educational institutions in the country? I’m fervently praying that this won’t be the case.

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