A Discussion with Neil Maheshwari, Undergraduate Student, St. Xavier's College, Mumbai, India
Background: As part of the Education and Global Social Justice Project, in May 2011, undergraduate student Deven Comen interviewed Neil Maheshwari, undergraduate student at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, India, studying Political Science, and serving as president of the Social Service League (SSL), a student-run NGO based within the College. In this interview, Neil Maheshwari discusses the Christian values present in the education at St. Xavier’s, in particular the importance of awareness and social consciousness.
Interview Conducted on May 22, 2011
What is your educational background?
I have been to three schools before Xavier’s, two of them secular. But the school in which I passed my tenth, where I spent the most time, was Christian. Here I think the Jesuit influence is very subtle. You can’t be overt about it. Even professors who are Jesuit priests don’t really talk about Christianity. Besides our Principal and certain professors being Jesuits and the crucifixes in the classrooms, it is not immediately obvious. However, fifty percent of the seats are reserved for Christians. Everyone has Christian friends. As far as the Jesuit values though, they are not really overt and we don’t know what they are. For example, since I am not a Christian, I know they place emphasis on education and justice, but how it is incorporated into the curriculum, I can’t pinpoint it.
What is your opinion of the Social Involvement Program (SIP)?
I don’t think the program should exist. Not because it is compulsory, which is the main student concern. I understand the idea of bringing in an extracurricular dimension to our studies. But I think because the service is enforced and monitored, you lose some of the charm of social service. All of the 800 members of SSL gripe about SIP because you don’t want to be forced to do something good. I have done over 300 hours with my SSL involvement. There are a lot of problems with the social involvement program. The guidelines on what constitutes SIP work are strict and administrative work doesn’t count. Sometimes the organization doesn’t have fieldwork and you end up working without earning hours. I know another common frustration is the limited hours one can earn for attending a 10-day camp. When you work 7 hours a day for 7 days, it should be 77 hours, not 25.
What are the core values that St. Xavier’s tries to promote?
One of them is definitely justice and also equality. The other thing is just by the College motto and anthem, I would say that ambition is one of them. The school motto, “Provocans Ad Volandvm” means “provoking to flying” with the symbol of the mother eagle pushing the baby eagles out of the nest.
Mumbai’s population is a huge problem. All the other problems of sanitation, water, and traffic stem from the massive amount of people living here. The spoilage of landscape through the city’s expansion is vast. The main kind of waste is not industrial, but from people. A lot of shops have dustbins but then they throw them out into the road. It is just an awareness thing. We need to spread the message that recycling is not a burden and that burning waste is harmful to the environment. For India, the problems stem from the government system. We have an old system with laws established in 1885. Because the constitution is so large, we haven’t realized how outdated the system is.
The agricultural foundation is not necessary anymore. We don’t need 70% of the country farming. The subsistence farmers aren’t contributing to the country and are hardly contributing to themselves.
Especially if you go to other colleges that aren’t as elite, you will find a low level of awareness about basic issues. For example, one outside student presented a paper about the positive aspects of globalization and was really surprised to find there were any benefits to globalization. For us, we have been studying the positive and negative aspects of globalization for years. We are churning out students, not to be pretentious, of a whole different league than the 40 or 50 other colleges of Mumbai. Through SSL, Mahar, SIP, Xavier’s gives exposure to students. Because there is so much integration and interaction with other students, even students of different courses, they become more aware of the big picture. Xavier’s students have their specialty but they know also a lot about how the world works. The perspective gained from interaction with all kinds of students ensures students do not leave with a narrow view. Partly that is the contribution of the teachers, but I think the Jesuits also help us take a step back and try and expand our perspectives.