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by FR. FELIX RAJ, SJ, DIRECTOR |  « back

Reclaiming student activism, becoming seeds of peace and harmony and resolving to be the vanguards of the emerging civil society
AICUF HOUSE, CHENNAI, 13-08-2008, 11.00 am

Dear Brothers and Sisters in AICUF,

Good Morning to all of you. I want to thank Fr. Henry Jerome and the NT members for giving me this opportunity to deliver this keynote address at the 20th National Council.

I am happy to be with you this morning and to share with you my views and reflections. I must confess, as I have done it in my book, “Memories of a Movement” that my association with the youth and the University students has kept me active, alive and youthful. I am thankful to many AICUFers, both at the national and state levels, for their generosity, transparency, dynamism and companionship.

All of you have come from different states and regions representing your local AICUF here. National Council has always been an expression of unity in diversity. It is here every year AICUF leaders actively deliberate, deeply discern and thoroughly plan programmes for the future. National Council opens up the minds and hearts of the members, infuses in them the spirit of AICUF and sends them back to their states to carry out the AICUF charism.

Allow me friends, right at the start, to touch upon the personality of a Person who has guided AICUF all these years and walked with us in all we have done. The Person is Jesus Christ. It is in Him and in His life we take inspiration as AICUFers. He is the ideal example of service, activism, harmony and revolution. He was the apostle who promoted communities of fellowship and a society based on love, peace and justice. We owe everything to this Man. And we, as AICUFers continue to carry out His mission in today’s world.

I am reminded of what Swami Vivekananda once said: “If I were to be among the apostles of Jesus, I would have washed his feet with the blood of my heart”. We are His disciples, called to wash one another’s feet and the feet of the world with our blood. As St. Paul proclaimed, When Jesus is with us, nothing can stop us from achieving the mission of establishing a just and new society.

Something made me very happy this year. It was the day of AICUF orientation at SXC. I left the total responsibility to the state team. I did not purposely involve myself in any way in the organization. All that I did was to sit in the front row in the auditorium and observe the programme and say a few words when I was called to. I must tell you that it was superbly organized, very impressive; all who spoke did a fantastic job. I was impressed and the event confirmed my belief further that when students are challenged and given responsibility, they display their talents and dynamism and do a perfect job.

What Jesus said 2000 years ago is very true to us: “You are the light of the world”. We are the light of the world. When I meet students like you, I see sparks in them and I see light in them. They are the ‘Taare Zamin Par’. The world has had many sparks and many lamps in its history – individual persons, groups, NGOs etc. That is why the world continues to exist. I can give you many examples. One of them is what happened 84 years ago. A small SICUF-spark became AICUF-flame. It is a flame that has lit many flames and brought brightness in the lives of many students.

The strength and brightness of the AICUF-flame are found in its preamble with its diverse perspectives. I want to emphasize them. First, AICUFers stand for service and liberation of human persons as Jesus did. This charism of AICUF has transformed hundreds of students over the years under the able and committed leadership of many national and state advisers: Frs Carty, Ceyrac, Beckers, Claude, Tagore, Gabriel, Manu, Amal and Henry and so on. It has challenged them to claim their identity as dynamic activists and vanguards of emerging civil society. Service to humanity is our way to realize the vision of a new and just society.

The second most important aspect in the preamble is the universal perspective of every AICUFer. We belong to the universal family. Our mission is universal. We go beyond socio-economic, political religious and cultural fragmentations. The earth is one, but the world is divided. Forces of division are active. We cannot allow these forces to destroy the earth. We have to resist these forces and take constructive and collective measures to thwart them. We are the bridges to bring unity and heal the wounds of divisions.

It is often said, “Think globally and act locally”. This global – local dimension is brought out in the remaining three perspectives in the preamble, which are identities as Indian, Catholic and University student. These are important identities to realize our universal mission. But we should not be bogged down by these restricted identities and forget the global one. Global and local identities are mutually inter-related. We must understand their richness and take advantage of them to enrich our action.

As we all know, many student organizations and movements have come and gone. Many have lost their sparks. But AICUF has withstood all storms and has remained firm in its organization, formation of student leaders and service to society. A review of the past brings forth before our eyes the rich and glorious history of AICUF. Allow me review a few of them before you.

A tiny seed planted in the 1920s at SJC has grown into a mighty tree over the decades. The small group of students based on Christian Brotherhood and Catholic principles became a national movement in 1940s with broader vision and mission. In 1950s and 60s AICUF developed a new concept of humanism and formed leaders to influence public life with a sense of truth, service and justice. I remember very fondly Fr. Ceyrac who was the corner stone of the movement during those years. He was a gift to AICUF who shaped hundreds of leaders. He has given his life for AICUF. I pay my deepest respect to this great man for others, a true and committed Jesuit.

1970s saw a radical move towards social action in dialogue with Marxism. The process gave birth to project-know India, Poonamalie declaration, participation in liberation theology movement and so on. I was one of the AICUF beneficiaries during those years. Though some misunderstood and criticized the movement, AICUF was matured enough to handle itself and actively participate in programmes and activities to make its role relevant and meaningful and to liberate the poor and the downtrodden masses.

In the 1980s we realized that we had lost our student or university identity in our zealous and active involvement in the praxis: action – reflection – action. It was a right step taken to rediscover our identity. This led us, through national convention, to evolve and frame a new constitution in 1989 to give a new thrust to the movement.

The new constitution gave us a new direction in 1990s with a clear option for Dalits, Adivasis, Women and Refugees. Being a participant in the process, I always felt that the mind of Jesus was reflected in our ideology and the programmes AICUF undertook reflected the gospel values. I am happy to see that the options continue with the formations of AICUF Commissions for each thrust group at regional, state and national levels. The federal set-up seems to reinforce these commissions to plan and implement programmes for the benefit of these groups.

I want to place before you something that I have often tried to share with students. Committed AICUFers have always been successful students. Study and involvement go together hand in hand. There is a correlation between them. Genuine study of any subject seeks total commitment to society and vice-versa. Students of one track mind become intellectual bogus or burnt out cases. I am reminded of St. Ignatius of Loyola here. After his conversion, he went through two full years of prayer and penance. Then he realized the need for studies and went to Paris University where he met Prof. Francis Xavier. Studies made his mind broader, his heart deeper and his mission more fruitful. I have always tried to give this dimension of approach to AICUFers.

Another message that I have tried to propagate is positive attitude to life. Positive approach bears abundant fruit. It brings satisfaction and peace. It brings smiles amd joys. It brings friends and it gives a heart to love and serve. I say this because today people are career and academic success oriented. Life is becoming more and more competitive. Service attitude or service leadership is disappearing. “Jesus came to serve, not to be served. He served by giving His life as a ransom for people”(Mt.20: 28). Today our leaders do not want to serve but they are served. Values are given less importance. There is a question in every Indian’s mind: where are we heading? I have always been inspired by the words of late Annadurai: I see God on the smiles of the poor.

“India is Shining.” Yes! It is shining for politicians and bureaucrats. It is shining for the rich. But it is not shining for the Dalits, Tribals, women, and refugees. India is not marching towards development as claimed by successive governments and ministers. I don’t need to recall the day-to-day happenings in this country, if you are a regular reader of newspapers. Common people are getting more and more fed up with the administration, with the rampant corruption, with the insufficient infrastructures like clean water, good roads, electricity etc. People are not treated as persons today. The poor and the marginalized are totally neglected.

Even after 60 years of independence, 36 per cent of Indians are not literate. 26 per cent is still below the poverty line. Tell me where is India shining? Our ministers are boasting about the growth rate. But has the 8/9 per cent growth rate made any difference in the lives of common people? The benefits of growth have not trickled down to the rural masses. Our leaders are living in ivory towers.

I want to quote what the SC had observed on Wednesday, August 6 this year about the governments for failing in their duty: ”Even God can’t save this country” (The Statesman, Aug. 6). I want to say that only God can save this damned country, because I believe we still have a future and I pray it is near. The SC once again slammed the Central and the State government officials on August 9 for their “callous and lax approach towards their duty. Describing them as simply insensitive to the sufferings of millions of people across the country, the Apex Court said they need regular huntering to make them work” (The Statesman, Aug. 9).

Some say that AICUF has lost its relevance or it has weakened itself over the years. I do not buy their views. AICUF is as active as before, even more now. We need to learn and take inspiration from our past experiences and march ahead with determination. I agree with Paul Stigliz that the world has failed due to the lack of collective action. AICUF has been able to achieve so much because of collective reflection and action. It has stood firm as a federal movement. This dimension of federal structure and collective action needs to be strengthened and carried forward and shared with other like-minded groups and organizations.

Every college student has the potential, more so if students stand together with one mind and heart to mobilize and organize themselves as a committed body for action and education. University students are privileged members of society. In Many countries student movements have played a central role in their country’s socio-economic and political changes. Paulo Freire always insisted that activism accompanied by critical reflection bears abundant fruit.

Civil society is the source of resistance to what is inhuman and anti-people. More than ever before, when governments are insensitive to people, global forces of liberalization, privatization and globalization are acting beyond boundaries and across territories, we feel the need for a strong civil society. Civil society movement is not very strong in our country. Constructive student participation will help in building this civil society. Civil society organizations and student movements like AICUF should become partners in ushering in the needed transformation in our country.

A student movement must be grassroots-based, democratic and progressive with a clear ideology and organizational structure. There must be a united effort to translate concerns into action by sharing resources, building networks and challenging issues. Otherwise students become vulnerable and they can be used and co-opted by vested and political interests as it is happening in many countries. Many political and religious groups exploit the susceptility of student organization.

Student organizations patronized by political parties disturb the administrative and academic climate of university and college campuses. West Bengal is a clear example for this. There is a need for a review of the nature and functioning of student organizations in India. Political awareness and knowledge is necessary. But party-based political involvement must be discouraged.

I have something interesting to share with you. Our students at SXC, Kolkata have begun a project called: College to Village and Village to College. They have adopted six villages through this project and support around 400 children. Students regularly visit these villages and teach the village children. I was delighted to find a quality improvement among these children. Our students contribute Re 1 a day to help the village children in the education. The village children are also brought to the college for regular camps.

Education is one of the major indicators of progress. It is the key to development. There are 100 million children out of school in India. The second millennium Development Goal is to achieve universal primary education. There are 16,880 colleges in India. If all colleges adopt one village each, it will be an educational revolution, and illiteracy can be radically eradicated.

Age group 18-25 is a vital section of a country. This group is vulnerable, yet dynamic. About 14% of India’s population is in this group. This group enables you to see into the future. It is the key to future resources, force and development of the country. The size and the quality of this group tell upon the future well-being of the country. Remember, 100% of AICUFers are in this group.

Friends, this council begins the preparation for the consultation next year. The 5th National Convention will be held in 2010. It is time that we begin to reclaim the student activism without of course, neglecting the importance of reflection. The praxis we follow will make us torchbearers of peace and harmony. Students are leaders today. They must seriously resolve to be the agents of a just civil society.

We need to further renew the AICUFness in each one and the commitment to the movement. AICUF must spread its wings far and wide and embrace more students and teachers to become agents of change. We need to work with other movements with similar vision and charism. The advisers’ network must be strengthened to facilitate serious reflection among students. National, state and regional ties need to be strengthened. Let us begin with the study of the Constitution to understand the AICUF ideology better. AICUF identity must be deepened in each AICUFer and adviser. AICUFers must be rooted in the movement’s ideology, if we want to change the country and the world. Each AICUFer is a spark. And the spark must be kept alive. Let us not forget we are living in the land of million sparks. “We are born in an unjust world; we are determined not to leave it as we have found it”.

Thank you. May God bless all of you.



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