Where the heart is touched by direct action, there the mind is challenged to change
The ‘Company of Jesus’, better known as The Jesuits, perhaps the oldest non-governmental organisation (ngo) in the world, came to India a couple of years after 1540 when it was founded by a group of young men who met at the University of Paris. One of the first arrivals, the Spanish Jesuit, Francis Xavier, has lent his name to a brand of the best educational institutions in India – from the Xavier Labour Relations Institute (xlri) – Jamshedpur, to the St Xavier’s Colleges in Mumbai, Kolkata, Ranchi, Ahmedabad, Trivandrum and Palayamkottai, and the brand new Xavier Universities in Kolkata and Bhubaneswar; and to innumerable Jesuit Schools named after Xavier. And there are similar Jesuit colleges and schools of excellence named after other Christian saints, with Loyola College Chennai and St Joseph’s College Trichy (of Dr Abdul Kalam fame) bearing mention. If csr is interpreted as the commitment to change society by bringing about a more just and humane world, the Jesuit contribution in India, starting with education, may be singled out for national recognition.
Who are the men behind these csr-like initiatives? The Jesuits are a religious organisation of Catholic priests and brothers, whose main goal is to facilitate a deeper experience of God in the world. Education helps people to develop their God-given talents and so to discover the creator of these talents. Hence the Jesuits took to education, characterised by an all-round development of the human person, an emphasis on cura personalis, caring for the individual needs of each person, instilling a desire to work for social justice and striving for excellence. Inclusion is a word made popular today but it was valued by Jesuits from the beginning, with the most remote areas and backward groups being sought out. The principle applied was, “The greatest good, to the greatest number”. It is for this reason that Jesuit educational ventures in India are still largely funded by the government as grant-in-aid institutions (inspite of increasingly crippling government interference), to enable the recruitment of students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Not one of these established institutions has become a private institution, because of the social inclusion that they highly value, making a conscious option to empower dalits, tribals and other vulnerable groups of Indian society. At a time when education has become a highly profitable business, Jesuit institutions resolutely stand for social responsibility and inclusion, though perhaps, not of the corporate kind!
An important part of Jesuit education is the social involvement with the disadvantaged, which is made a part of the core curriculum in every school and college. “Where the heart is touched by direct action, there the mind is challenged to change,” is how a member of the Jesuit leadership recently put it. And so, Jesuit institutions put students in touch with the under-privileged, in an attempt to give them an experience of solidarity with human suffering and disability. St. Xavier’s College Mumbai has a two credit mandatory requirement of the Social Involvement Programme, which demands 60 hours of fieldwork with a voluntary organisation over two semesters. St Joseph’s College Trichy has the Shepherd Programme and Loyola College Chennai, the School of Service Learning. This perhaps is the training ground for csr and it has often yielded rich fruit, given the testimony of students as they graduate.
The educational impact of the Jesuits finds ample evidence in its alumni who have made a significant contribution to the country in fields as varied as law, science, governance, industry, culture, medicine and almost every other field of human endeavour. Nani Palkhivala, Fali Nariman, Soli Sorabjee – eminent jurists, have acknowledged their debt to their Jesuit alma mater. Sir Dorabjee Tata and Sir Ratan Tata, both alumni of St. Xavier’s College Mumbai, are pioneers in and have an outstanding legacy of corporate social responsibility through their Trusts, beginning in the last century when the term was not even heard of. In contemporary times, Azim Premji, Anu Aga and Adi Godrej, among others, alumni of the Jesuits, continue to show their own commitment to building a better world. An indication of the excellence and commitment of Jesuit alumni can be gauged from the fact that just one Jesuit Institution (St Xavier’s College Mumbai) has more than 25 alumni honoured by the government of India with the national Padma awards. Alumni so honoured from all Jesuit institutions in the country, would run into hundreds. However, the Jesuits equally value the thousands of disadvantaged people empowered by their efforts at education over the last almost 500 years in India. csr can be effective in creating a better quality of life and a more equitable society in India, if we were to take a cue from the Jesuits!
Jesuit alumni have also collaborated with Jesuit institutions in their csr activities. The Lakshmi and Usha Mittal Foundation Building or Academic Block of the new Jesuit University in Kolkata has been funded by Mittal, an alumnus of St Xavier’s College Kolkata. At a time in India’s history, when scientists plan to come out on the streets to protest a lack of Government funding for research, the csr of Foundations associated with Jesuit alumni, try to fill in the widening gaps. The Tata Trusts agreed a few years ago to contribute an amount of R13 crore to St Xavier’s College Mumbai for its research institutes like the internationally known Blatter Herbarium and the Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture, to build up infrastructure and to fund research processes of the social and natural sciences in the college. Very fruitful partnerships indeed!
Working in partnership
Another level of partnership that could be considered astounding is that of the staff who manage Jesuit institutions – drawn from different religious communities and cultures, and from every strata of society, working in partnership with the Jesuits. They bring rich resources and perspectives, and they form a microcosm of Indian society in its plurality. Together with the diverse student body or group of beneficiaries, this partnership is always under construction, attempting a unity of purpose which is focused on contributing to nation building. Many csr-like initiatives arise from this partnership, some of which the Jesuits can hardly claim credit for but are proud of. An example of this is the creative initiative of Dr Sam Taraporewala, a senior professor at and alumnus of St Xavier’s College Mumbai, himself visually challenged, who began the Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (xrcvc), which not only provides the best resources for visually challenged students in Mumbai but has also launched into advocacy for the differently-abled, lobbying with governments at the national and international level and with corporate India, to change laws and to bring in crucial public facilities.
While Jesuit educational institutions in the cities steal the limelight, the more crucial contribution is the service to those on the margins of society, in remote villages and in hidden urban slum settlements. The bulk of Jesuits in India today, numbering about 4,000, work with vulnerable groups like tribals, dalits and the rural population, seeking to empower through community development and local leadership formation, environmental measures like watershed development, training for economic activities, non-formation education and literacy programmes and the strengthening of local culture. Jesuit pioneers in India have been responsible for preparing the scripts and grammar texts of several Indian languages, along with other measures of cultural empowerment. In the tribal belts of Central India and the North East, Jesuit work for and among the adivasis is of
In the present national context, the Jesuits in India have chosen seven areas as their priorities: ecology; migration; entitlements; non-formal education; peace and reconciliation (efforts against fundamentalism and casteism); quality education; and spiritual work among Christians, along with inter-religious dialogue. The Lok Manch: A People’s Advocacy Platform, initiated by the Jesuits and their partners, is a coming together of various organisations across India, working for a more just society through peoples’ empowerment. And at the international level, the Global Ignatian Advocacy Networks (gian) on the issues of peace and human rights, migration, the right to education, ecology and the governance of natural and mineral resources, seek to build on the Jesuit strength of being an international and multicultural body, networking in a fragmented and divided world, in solidarity with those working for the reconciliation of the human community. As an international ngo, the Company of Jesus strives to awaken social responsibility in the conscience of the world; this is nowhere more in evidence than in India, with its urgent need today for equity, justice and peace.