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Monday, March 23, 2015

St. Stephen's College leads the way in creating good citizens

My Alma Mater- St Stephen's College, Delhi

A silent revolution is taking place in Delhi. This revolution is being pioneered by my Alma mater, St. Stephen's College by way of the Citizenship and cultural enrichment course and from what I observed closely at the second lecture on family values, last Saturday, the 21st  of March,  this revolution will have far reaching and very positive consequences once the course is completed.

In a first of its kind initiative in India,
Network 18 and St. Stephen's College have joined hands to offer a course that promotes education for all. The citizenship and cultural enrichment course is aimed at harnessing the educational resources of the media fraternity. Under the course, St. Stephen's College will hold weekly classes conducted by its regular faculty and distinguished alumni including top serving and retired judges, bureaucrats and renowned academicians. The lecture content will be hosted across the digital and social media platforms of Network18 ( and St. Stephen's College (

Rev Valson Thampu talks on Family values 

After the second lecture, the focus on which was The Family,  Rev Valson Thampu,  Principal, St. Stephen's College, said, “We are not into learning, in the traditional sense of the term. We are into a process of intervention.  Rather than beat our breasts about how bad the society is or how scary tomorrow will be, we are trying to illumine the outline of a different and saner attitude to life. Society is the aggregation of individuals and families. If we can cultivate higher and nobler tastes at these levels –individual and family- society will improve. Not, otherwise. Law is necessary, but it is not the solution. Law-enforcing agencies can do little. But you and I can do much. You can be the agent of hope and regeneration. It is with that spirit that we are coming together week after week. We are not “doing a course”. We are equipping ourselves to be agents of hope and healing, to be embodiments of sanity and finer sensibility. “
Taking Questions after the talk

Springtime glory in college

All things bright and beautiful

 Tea and a chat with Rev Valson Thampu  

At home

After the talk, Rev Valson invited me for tea at his residence and I was happy to have the opportunity to have a ‘tete a tete’ with him. The walk to the Principal’s cottage was a sheer delight, the chapel looked even more beautiful than I remembered, Easter lilies were in full bloom with their inviting delightful fragrance  and the whole place had a very special feel. Not surprising, as I was going down this path after well over two decades. It was wonderful to meet Rev Valson’s family, in particular, a newly born grandson, who is clearly the focus of attention these days.  Sitting over a delicious ‘masala’ tea on that  beautiful spring evening,  I had an opportunity to understand how exactly how these silent revolutions are created and how the immediate, as well as potential spin offs from those revolutions, can go a very long way in creating a change with far reaching impact - something which every country needs if it has to make the best  use of its untapped resources.

At home with Rev Valson Thampu

To my question of how exactly this course on Good Citizenship was created, Dr. Rev Valson Thampu spoke straight from the heart.“Elitism breeds a psychology  of insecurity which inhibits innovation along with enforcing mindless conformity which I believe is the death of education. The very  purpose of education is to liberate the spirit of innovation.So I thought of  interrogating this  dogma of elitism and my conviction  in  2007 was that what we had cobbled together at St. Stephen's College over a period was social elitism.

Accordingly, my first challenge in 2007 was that I had to shift the foundation from social elitism to intellectual elitism and to  have a large component of innovation create ‘out of the box as well as lateral thinking.

I was convinced that this spirit cannot be nurtured in a homogenised element and that is what I had to break. The student community had become extremely homogenized - coming from the privileged  and economically powerful group only and that is what I broke.

You may be surprised to know that in St. Stephen's College today we have 25-30 children whose parents are daily wage earners with a monthly income of  less than Rs. 7, 000. Many of them are getting free education.  Additionally we have 20-25 blind students getting free education. This has created diversity and college is a far more vibrant place now with a culture of dynamism. People don’t know this as a whole world  of prejudice was created about the institution.

Elaborating, Rev Valson told me that "Institutions have a tendency to become ends in themselves.In fact, the more prestigious and popular an institution  is, the more we can see this. And sadly, at St. Stephen's, we are an institution that many love to hate. This hostility is further sustained by some who have their noses in the air- This is something that has left me deeply disturbed and I am bent on correcting this misguided notion."

"The founding fathers of the college had an entirely different vision and as far back as
1908, SK Rudra had the sheer audacity to say that “The real genius of India lies in the villages,” and that is what I firmly believe in myself. He was also a great believer commitment of excellence and spiritual values and I too am convinced about that.I have also been deeply influenced by the ideals of C F Andrews- and so started the CF Andrews awards- which of course landed me in hot water but that is a different story.(Laughs) Kudos and hats off of CF Andrews who was sent off to sent to S Africa during the troubled times there ,so there is a connection between what happens in S Africa and what happens in India simultaneously."

"An  educational institution without social responsibility  is a contradiction in terms and so I have coined the term, ISR-Institutional Social Responsibility in which the accent is on returning to society. I want to bring back that large vision that takes College way beyond merely education."

He then went on to explain it in statistical terms. “Every institution is sleeping on a large amount of intellectual assets. These assets can be made available to society. eg. There are 36, 000 colleges in the country. If each of them was to  train 200 citizens, we  are looking at 7.2 million citizens being trained without spending any money! This is lifelong education, sustained education and St. Stephen's will show the way. All we have is a one  time registration fee of Rs 1,000 for tea, and at the end of the year, there will be a shared meal in the dining hall and a convocation where a  certificate will be presented to each of the participants. The only other expenditure incurred is an honorarium  of Rs 2000 each to people who will be teaching."

To my question of how Network 18 got involved, Rev. Valson told me that one of the alumni, Rohit Bansal who is on the board of Network 18, connected college to the editorial department and it all evolved seamlessly. Umesh Upadhyay, President News, at Network 18 was extremely passionate about the whole idea ( even though he is not from College)and what makes it even more meaningful is that this programme merits attention of approximately 5 million visitors on their sites. IBN Live is now the recording and Indian Express is the print partner. As he put it, "Take the right step with humility  and  faith and the right intentions and great results will be achieved."

Rev Valson is convinced that for its own good, St. Stephen's college really must grow out of itself- and that would really be institutional renewal. Excitement about this project has overflowed and it has already created an impact on people all around.For him too, at a personal level its an opportunity to share and exchange.

To conclude, I’m really glad I went to College that afternoon, as seeing is really believing! To that I must add, St. Stephen's College is now sending out a different  signal and Stephanians must feel proud of what college is doing. The simple fact is that we are not merely talking, we are demonstrating on the ground. Great things can actually be done without spending any money. At present, St Stephen's College is the only institution in the country doing such path breaking work and that is what the pioneering spirit of the college founders was really about! 

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Indrani said...

That is a great initiative! Well done.
(btw our IB posts are starting with the same name: St. Stephen's :))

Sunaina Serna Ahluwalia said...

Many thanks Indrani. It really is a remarkable initiative and very well received.

Checked out your post too, loved it!

Shweta Dave said...

That's a great initiative indeed!

Shweta Dave said...

That's a great initiative indeed!

Sunaina Serna Ahluwalia said...

It really is Shweta and will carry on steadfastly...set an unique precedent in our country