A SECTION of alumni of the St Xavier’s College came out strongly against the institute’s decision to invite Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray for a press conference on Thursday, held ahead of its sesquicentennial celebrations.
At the press conference, in the presence of alumni, including Thackeray, BJP leader Shaina NC, businesswoman Anu Aga and scientist-industrialist Swati Piramal, the college announced its plan for year-long celebrations.
However, an open letter circulated on Thursday, signed by over 500 alumni, stated: “The alumni of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, stand firmly against the invitation given to A[a]ditya Thackeray as a ‘notable alumni’ for the Press Conference to launch the 150 years celebration of the institution on 4th October, 2018. We believe his presence is antithetical to the principles and values espoused by St Xavier’s College.”
The letter refers to Thackeray’s protest against the inclusion of Rohinton Mistry’s book, Such a Long Journey, in the syllabus of the University of Mumbai in 2010. “His protest against the book stemmed from its alleged portrayal of the Shiv Sena in a negative light. Apart from burning copies of the book in public, his party’s exercise of political muscle and threats of unrest subsequently caused the book to be dropped from the syllabus,” the letter added.
In a letter addressed to the college principal, the alumni members called the inclusion of Thackeray’s name in the list of “notable alumni” as “an unfortunate reflection of the ethical standing and moral integrity of St Xavier’s today”. The Yuva Sena chief had allegedly publicly admitted to not even having read the book at the time and was condemned by Mistry, also an alumnus of the college.
“In enabling him, you are sending out a message that literary freedom and critical thought stand no chance against political pressure tactics. This amnesic attitude towards principles deemed important to our institution is foolish at best and outright dangerous at worst,” the letter stated.
Reacting to the letter, the college management said: “We are glad that our alumni are actively engaging with the college. We are happy that they are concerned about issues which they have raised. We continue to stand for the values that Xavier’s believes in.”
Father Roy Pereira, Vice-principal (Academics) and in-charge of the sesquicentennial celebrations, said: “The alumni invited for the press conference represents a broad spectrum of Xavierites from various areas: scientific endeavours, corporate entrepreneurship, creative fields, sports and those working with the masses. All of them may have different personal ideologies but Xavier’s has always been open to diversity. Xavier’s stands for inclusion of all viewpoints and perspective.”
City historian Simin Patel, a 2005-batch graduate of the college, said: “Aaditya Thackeray was a student when he had launched this protest against the book, without having read it in the first place. The politics and divisive culture of Shiv Sena aside, his act of destruction of a book while he was a student of Xavier’s is disturbing.”