Published: 12th July 2019
Are St Stephen's applicants being asked about the Bible? : Delhi HC rules that church member remains in interview panel
The St Stephen's College principal's decision to include a member of the church in the interview panel created a lot of hue and cry previously
This year, a few things were different about the interview to select prospective students to St Stephen's College. To begin with, the interview panel had an extra member, who belonged to the Church of North India. Secondly, the type of questions asked to the candidates was also apparently quite unusual. In the previous years, applicants were asked questions about their courses, extracurricular activities and their worldview. But, a faculty member, who was a part of the interview panel tells us that Christian students were asked questions on religion, beliefs and the Holy Bible.
The college always made news for being one of the best academic institutions in the country and its notable alumni. However, a month back, it made it to the headlines for a different reason — the principal John Varghese's decision to include a member of the church in its interview panel. The faculty and the students were against the move. Three faculty members, Nandita Narain, Ashley NP Ashley and Abhishek Singh challenged the decision, but the Delhi High Court on Thursday dismissed the plea. The court had earlier declined the stay for interview processes.
But the academics aren't ready to give up. They are moving forward with the plea for the division bench's hearing now. "We didn't expect anything positive but still, we had to go through it," says Narain. "We clearly argued that as per the TMA Pai Foundation Supreme Court judgment of 2002, if a minority institution receives state aid, the admissions even for the minority students had to be done on merit. So even the Christian students should be interviewed by teachers, and should not be asked questions on Christianity. But we did not get relief from the Single Bench,"
The plea was dismissed by Justice Anu Malhotra, who also denied a stay previously. "We will now appeal before the Division Bench. This is an extremely fundamental matter which will affect the academy integrity of admissions in all minority institutions, especially if they have state aid," says Narain, who thinks that there shouldn't be any difference in the interview panel as well as the sort of questions asked to Christians and non-Christians in the interviews for admissions. "You can't force any student to go for religious instruction. In our college, all Christian students go for Bible studies. This is illegal because the college is government funded. Students can go to the church voluntarily, but you can't force anyone," she adds.
According to the constitution of the college, which is 95 per cent public funded, the Supreme Council does not have the power to judge the merit of candidates to be admitted to the college. The powers of the Council are restricted to deciding the moral and religious instruction of students, matters affecting the religious character of the college and the appointment of Principals. It can only lay down policies, but ought not and cannot take up the role of evaluating candidates or students’ merit.
We have written to the college's principal for a reaction on the same. This copy will be updated once he responds.