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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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  Footprint on the sand  
  Fighting everybody's battle  
  WE at The Searchlight carried prominently the news about the arrest of a school principal. After all, the school concerned was St. Michael's School on the banks of the Ganga at Digha Ghat, established in 1858, a year after the "first war of independence". The principal was a priest belonging to the Society of Jesuits, famous all over the world for running the best educational institutions.

The charge against him was that he sexually assaulted a boy student. What could be more sensational than this in a provincial town? He was arrested on a Friday afternoon so that he won't get bail for the next two days which were holidays. All newspapers flashed the story on their front pages, some of them making it sexier by using the wild imagination of their reporters. Fortunately for the school authorities, the era of 24-hour "breaking news" had not yet dawned.

My colleague Patricia Gough, who doubled as Secretary to Editor R.K. Mukker and Staff Reporter, did not leave the story at that. She dug deeper and got hold of a copy of the First Information Report (FIR)) filed against him. As it transpired, the victim of the "sexual assault" had been suspended by the principal for an act of grave indiscipline. He was belligerent and came from a rich family. One did not have to be a psychologist to know that nobody would choose such a boy for his sexual adventures, more so when he was under suspension. It is the meek and the humble who are often sexually victimized.

The FIR had more serious charges against the Principal. When the boy resisted the Principal's advances, the latter robbed the student of his wrist watch. Not only that, the Jesuit priest also picked his pocket that contained some petty cash. So the Principal was a rapist, a pickpocket and a robber, all rolled into one. A few weeks before the incident, I had a dinner with him at Patricia Gough's residence. Her mother was the Principal's secretary.

It used to be mentioned that "principals would come and go but Mrs Gough would always remain Secretary to the principal". The principal in question came across as a very genteel, knowledgeable and old-fashioned person.

Patricia's painstaking reporting uncovered the fact that the in-charge of the police station concerned had approached the Principal for admission of a student. The Principal had his own reasons for not obliging the police officer. He could have never imagined even in his wildest dream that the police officer could be so vindictive. When the police officer came to know that the boy in question had been suspended, he instigated him to file a complaint against the Principal.

In order to make the FIR "watertight", the police officer used his imagination to include charges like robbery. What he did not anticipate was that The Searchlight would publish the whole FIR which would only expose him. Nobody in his senses would believe that a Jesuit priest would pick the pocket of a student.

I remember writing a strong editorial picking holes in the case against the Principal. Whether it made an impact or not, the case fell flat when it was presented in the court and the priest was absolved of all the charges which were prima facie cooked up. But he had to spend a few days in jail and suffer mental, if not physical, torture.

Principals of "good" schools dread that month of the year when the admission process is on. When demand far exceeds supply, selection becomes very difficult. The problem is compounded when demands for admission come from the Chief Minister of the state down to the police station in-charge. If any of them is not obliged, the school is sure to face harassment.

It is rarely that a principal takes up cudgels against those in power who harass him or her for not obliging them. Rev C.A. Varghese turned out to be an exception. He is the Principal of Christu Kula Mission Higher Secondary School at Satna in Madhya Pradesh which belongs to the Mar Thoma Syrian Church. The school is famous in the region for the results it achieves and for the excellence it maintains in both curricular and extra-curricular activities.

The priest has impeccable credentials as an educationist. For want of space I refrain from listing the awards and recognitions he has won from both secular and Christian organizations. We worked together when he served as "manager" of St. John's School, Masjid Moth, New Delhi, and I as Secretary of the Society that ran the school. He was also the ex-officio vice-president of the society.

The school was in a crisis and we had to take some tough decisions which were not palatable to the staff. Ultimately, our team work stood the school in good stead. After his term as Vicar of the Karol Bagh Mar Thoma Church was over, he was transferred to New York. Soon afterwards, I got an invitation to attend a conference organized by Gegrapha, a global fellowship of journalists, in Washington D.C. I wrote to Rev Varghese about my desire to visit New York with my wife.

Promptly he invited us to be his guests in New York. We found that his heart was larger than his parsonage. He even invited me to deliver the sermon. Afterwards, his parishioners vied with one another in hosting our sightseeing trips, including the one to the casino at Atlanta. When 9/11 happened, I would tell my friends that I was the last Indian journalist to visit the observatory at the World Trade Centre and have meals at the restaurant, managed by an Assamese friend of my friend Sanjoy Hazarika who died when terrorists brought the towers down.

A few weeks back when some friends of Rev Varghese invited me to a function in Delhi where he was to be felicitated on his 60th birthday, I gladly accepted it, though I had to skip another professionally important function. I was astonished to find the CNI church at Delhi Cantonment full, though it was a working day. It was natural that I compared the function to another meeting I attended recently where there were more people on the dais than in the audience.

As I heard speaker after speaker speak about the virtues of Rev Varghese, I realized that everyone who attended the meeting had something connected with him to narrate. It could be an anecdote or it could be about his qualities of head and heart. When I was asked to speak, I remembered the days when I used to write a column in the Indian Express which elicited a lot of hate mail from the usual suspects.

Every time my article appeared, I was sure to get a call from Rev Varghese who gave me his frank opinion. His calls made me realize that only a large-hearted person can praise another person's work. One of the speakers revealed that when the priest was posted at Satna, he was initially given a house which leaked like a sieve.

When the meeting was on, I saw him attending to some calls on his mobile. While delivering his thanks-giving message, Rev Varghese mentioned that managing a school was not a bed of roses as some people thought. He did not elaborate on the kind of problems he faced at the grassroots level. He merely disclosed the fact that he was forced to approach the High Court at Jabalpur and "a few minutes ago" he was told by his lawyer that he had won the case.

Later, during a chit-chat over dinner, he told me that while the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh was bent upon harassing minority-run institutions, the BJP's local leaders pressurized principals like him to give admission to their wards. In other words, they want to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Because Christu Kula Mission Higher Secondary School enjoys considerable reputation in the region, a large number of students seek admission there.

The school holds an entrance test which all those seeking admission have to appear for and clear. The government wanted the school to scrap the entrance test and introduce a lottery system, instead. Manipulation would, perhaps, be easier for the government functionaries if the lottery system was followed. The District Education Officer wanted his nominee in the school's management committee. He quoted a government circular recently issued by the state government.

Rev Varghese found both these demands unacceptable, for they violated the Constitutional guarantee given to the minority communities that they can run and manage their own educational institutions. It is a different matter that, over the years, the state has been whittling down minority rights on one pretext or another. The task becomes easier when those entrusted with protecting minority rights like the National Minorities Commission become handmaidens of the government.

Instead of taking things lying down, Rev Varghese went to the High Court challenging the District Education Officer's right to interfere in his school's functioning. That the DEO does not bother about the countless roofless and teacher-less government schools in his own area of jurisdiction but finds time to needle principals like him is a different matter.

The court found merit in Rev Varghese's petition and ordered the government to keep away from such schools. The judgment is applicable to all the minority educational institutions in the state and they are, therefore, grateful to the gutsy priest. This is the second time the High Court has come to the rescue of minority institutions in the state.

Earlier, Victoria College, run by a Muslim organization, challenged the government order specifying that 50 per cent of the seats should be reserved for Muslim students. If there are not enough Muslim students to fill up the seats, they should not be filled with students from the general category, i.e., Hindus. Otherwise, the college will lose its minority status.

Take the case of Christians, who constitute less than one per cent of the state's population. They will never be able to fill 50 per cent of seats in their institutions with Christians. So if they have to maintain their minority status, they will have to run the institutions with just 50 per cent students. This is a clear case of harassment.

In a state which is woefully short of educational facilities and where the Supreme Court order that mid-day meals be given in all government schools is violated with impunity, this is how the government promotes education. Fortunately, the High Court gave relief to Victoria College which can now fill their vacant seats with students from the general category. The benefit will accrue to all minority institutions in the state.

As I conclude this column, I am tempted to quote Dr George Jacob, who was Chairman of the University Grants Commission. He was the first person I interviewed as a journalist. During the course of the long interview conducted nearly four decades ago, the educationist, who was Vice-Chancellor of the undivided Kerala University, told me, "A good man is a useless man, unless he is able to assert his goodness". And that is precisely what Rev C.A. Varghese did: he asserted his goodness. (Courtesy: Indian Currents)
Photo caption: Rev C.A. Varghese with Bishop Abraham Mar Paulos - Photo by A.J. Philip
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  By  A.J. Philip  
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