Mumbai: St Xavier's college alumni oppose invite to Aaditya Thackeray for event

Updated: Oct 07, 2018, 09:17 IST | Dalreen Ramos and Hemal Ashar

Former students cite Sena scion's role in getting an acclaimed book by Rohinton Mistry struck off the syllabus in 2010 after college invites him for 150-year celebrations

Mumbai: St Xavier's college alumni oppose invite to Aaditya Thackeray for event
Aaditya Thackeray attends the press conference organised by St Xavier’s College to launch its celebrations for completing 150 years. Pic/Ashish Raje

St Xavier's College is set to launch its 150th year celebrations, but all hasn't started on a good note. An invitation sent to alumnus Aaditya Thackeray, to be part of a press meet called on Thursday to announce the schedule of events that would start on December 3 and continue till mid-2019, didn't go down well with many at the institute.

Thackeray was seen sharing the dais with many 'notable alumni' of the college at the conference even as a petition posted on social media against the invitation continues to garner signatures.

Copies of Rohinton Mistry's book Such a Long Journey were burned on campus in 2010
Copies of Rohinton Mistry's book Such a Long Journey were burned on campus in 2010

The petition, that is making rounds on Facebook, states, "The alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, stand firmly against the invitation given to Aaditya Thackeray as a 'notable alumni' for the press meet to launch the 150 years celebration of the institution on October 4, 2018. We believe his presence is antithetical to the principles and values espoused by the institute. Thackeray's most notable achievement as a student of the college was an act that was openly condemned by former Principal Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas."

Back in 2010, Thackeray had led a campaign against the inclusion of Rohinton Mistry's Booker Prize-nominated novel 'Such a Long Journey' in the Mumbai University syllabus. The book was a part of the second year BA syllabus. His protest stemmed from the alleged portrayal of Shiv Sena in a wrong light in the book. Apart from burning copies of it in public, his party's attempts to threaten people of unrest had eventually led to the removal of the book from the syllabus.

The petition that has been posted on Facebook
The petition that has been posted on Facebook

The petition adds, "As former students, we remember the letter put up by Fr. Frazer on the college's notice board at that time. He had said, 'It's inconceivable that in the 21st century, a political party will not show the maturity to accept criticism and answer it through its own actions'." The petition goes on to say, "Thackeray's inclusion in the list of alumni to launch the celebrations is an unfortunate reflection of the ethical standing and moral integrity of St. Xavier's. It sends out a message that literary freedom and stand no chance against political pressure tactics."

Refusing to say much on the controversy, Fr. Frazer said, "It will be unethical on my part to comment on whether the college is right or wrong. I had a good run at St Xavier's as principal for 12 years and I have left the college in good hands." When asked about the petition, Thackeray said, "I haven't read it, so how can I comment?"

Speaking to mid-day, Fr. Roy Pereira, co-ordinator of the 150-year celebrations, said, "We are glad that our alumni are so engaged and concerned about the issues they have raised. But we continue to stand for the values that we inculcate in students. Xavier's has always been open to diverse views and stands for the inclusion of all perspectives."

BJP spokesperson Shaina NC shot back by saying, "Why shouldn't Aaditya be invited?" Different ideologies, viewpoints and beliefs should co-exist in Xavier's.'

Vanilla response

The vanilla answers about different viewpoints allowed to exist and diversity seem on the surface of deflection, given that alumni is angry because that is exactly what they accuse Aditya of doing: shutting off Rohinton Mistry’s viewpoint. “While we cannot change the fact that Thackeray is an alumnus, we can ensure that he is allowed to represent the college only if he upholds the values inculcated by it. I suggest, then, that we invite Rohinton Mistry and celebrate his work instead, within the college's walls, in all of its sesquicentennial glory,” said Sukhnidh Kaur, third year BA student.

Petitioner and 2015 alumnus Akshay Shetty added, “We are shocked to see the erosion of liberal and secular values that our college once represented. It is unacceptable that a person that with such low regard for free speech and expression should represent our alumni body at a programme like this.”

Samyukta Rathna Venkatraman, 2017 alumnus, and petitioner said, “His inclusion in the list of notable alumni calls to question the ethical standing and moral integrity of St Xavier’s. In enabling him, you are telling us that freedom of expression has no traction. This is wrong. And I condemn it.”

Inputs by Pallavi Smart

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