Valson Thampu

One of the strategies used to ‘smoke me out’ of office as Principal of St. Stephen’s College was an avalanche of litigation. If I looked left, there was a case. If I turned right, there was another. My degree resulted in a case. My policies, my routine administrative decisions, even the morning assembly addresses I delivered, all resulted in cases.

It was assumed, given how prohibitively expensive litigation is, that I would not be able to endure and survive, irrespective of my innocence. It is not infrequently, folks, that litigation is used as a forest fire by the powers that be to smoke out those they happen to dislike.

In such cases, winning the case is not the purpose. My adversaries knew they could not win any; for there was no case. They knew the process was the punishment. I wonder how many of my readers know what it means to be caught and scalded in a state of prolonged, relentless litigation.

What complicated the situation in my case was that the fire of litigation was fanned with the storm of media adversity. A day prior to any of my cases being heard in the Delhi High Court, there were massive media write ups about how wicked I was and how defiant of law and natural justice I was. This was done to vitiate the atmosphere and to prejudice the court. 

But all this did, as I now realize, also great good to me. It made me understand a few things that I would not have, otherwise. Consider the following-

I used to think, because of my theological orientation, that if you are innocent you remain unaffected when attacked. I equated legal attacks with physical attacks. My experiences taught me how unlike each other they were.

If you are, say, slapped on the face for an offence you did not commit, it pains you but it does not undermine your faith in yourself. It need not infect you with a sense of guilt. Not so, in the case of litigation, in which you are projected in the eye of the nation -especially because of the malice of the media- as the accused. You can say what you like about the accused ‘not being guilty until proved to be so by the court via a verdict’. That is purely academic. The fact of the matter is that, in public perception you are ‘the accused’. Most people assume, ‘there will be no smoke without a fire’. So, you continue to smoke all the while the hearing lasts. It could take years. It’s no joke to smoke for years!

You will understand what I say if you know the nature of law. Law is a great thing, but it has a serious problem, which I hadn’t understood before. Law, the moment it is invoked against you, infects you with a corrosive feeling that you are, somehow, guilty. Since the process is public -and the media is screaming against you- you, as the defendant, begin to feel -and this is the strange thing- almost as the public does.

May be this is acute now, because public opinion is the decisive force in our society. Our sense of reality is substantially and invasively shaped by what is perceived as public opinion. You, the defendant, is part of that public, whose ‘opinion’ is being aired and hired all around you.

Over a period of time, in an insidious sort of way, you get sucked into the abstract mouth of this adverse public opinion orchestrated relentlessly against you. You begin to believe your adversaries against you. This may not be the case -at least not so crushingly, in the case of litigation not vitiated by media hostility.

Prior to becoming the Principal of St. Stephen’s College, I had thought of myself -rather erroneously, as I learned- as a rational person, not easily vulnerable to emotions. I had been in public life long enough. Had fought many a battle. Had learned to refine even my family sentiments out of my sense of public duty. So, I thought I was emotionally Olympian and invulnerable. 

As days progressed, and the storm of litigation intensified, I began to feel something that took me by surprise. I began to long for love. If only someone, anyone, would even think of me with love!

But love is not a perk that goes with the office. Especially if you are Principal. The teachers think of you as a caste enemy. Students think of you as a spooky abstraction. You are disciplinarian, authoritarian, and so on; but not human. You have no feelings, no needs, no heart, no brain…

So, I ‘discovered’ the value of love. Love is magic, folks. It has the power to wash you clean of the dirt thrown at you and to revive you in your self-respect. I used to, in those days, recite every now and then the biblical verse, “Love covers a multitude of sins”. Law, in contrast, magnifies sins. It invents illusions of sins, in the sort of circumstances that I faced, where none exists. 

Finally, here is another thing that I discovered. It is not only the crude communalist or uneducated, ideologically frenzied rioter alone who can bay for your blood and sink you into an ocean of hate. Well-educated, seemingly cultured and sophisticated individuals are capable of inhumanities that, in comparison, seem less malignant. It is incredible how thick the spite is that hides behind visages of normalcy.

Let me end on love. Our world survives because there is love. The globe spins on its axis, I am told. May be. I don’t care. I know one thing. Life goes on because there is love. The day it dies, our species will enter Eternal Night.

Let’s, therefore, love one another. Let us dare to; for it is not the fashion these days. But, then, you should be a fool to think that you can fix a breakfast out of fashion. As Shakespeare’s Macbeth says, out of crushing exasperation, about the uselessness of medicine, “Throw physic to the dogs! I will have none of it.”

Our adaptation of it is, “Throw fashion to the dogs. Even they will have none of it.” 


Revd. Valson Thampu is an Indian educator, Christian theologian, who was a Principal of St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, Delhi, from 2008 to February 2016.

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