Monday, March 24, 2014

West Bengal Madrasah Board Honours Calcutta Jesuit

Farhat Banu

Rev. Fr. Dr. Felix Raj S.J. Principal of St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous) Kolkata was awarded with the “Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Award 2013” by The West Bengal Board of Madrasah Education on November 11, 2013- the 125th Birth anniversary of Maulana Azad. The day is celebrated as National Education Day-an annual observance in India to commemorate the birth anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first education minister of independent India.

An educationist and an intellectual leader committed to free and compulsory education for all children of school-going age (which has been formalized by the government recently in its Right to Education Act); the importance of the speedy progress of adult education and women’s education, Azad was committed to humanism, liberalism and secularism. While accepting the award, Fr. Felix Raj in his Jesuit simplicity, announced that the award money would be spent on educational needs of the students from the minority community.

On the occasion Father Felix Raj narrated his experiences in a Muslim village whose surroundings gave him a Muslim formation in his early childhood.  His mother took up a teaching post in Pottagavayal School a thickly populated Muslim village about 25 km from his own village Sengudi in Ramnad district, Tamil Nadu. He had an early exposure to education as virtue and vocation as well as to Islam in the village.

He recalled growing up in a Muslim milieu where they were the only non-Muslim family in the whole village of about 300 families. Their house was just in front of the mosque and he often joined the children of the village and visited the Mosque. “I studied in my ‘mother's school’ as it was known in the village and I grew up there. I developed good childhood friends among the Muslim boys; I still cherish the friendship of some.” His mother was highly respected by all and treated as part and parcel of the village community. She was invited for every function, religious or family.

Fr. Felix Raj recalled endearingly: “Pottagavayal was a school for my education into Muslim religion and doctrine. I got to understand a new religion different from the one I was born in. On the occasions of Eid festivals, we received plenty of food. I liked the coconut rice served in the Mosque as I stood with my little friends in the queue and was served with the delicious coconut rice. I can still smell the coconut milk flavor! Later in life I remember having asked my mother many times to cook coconut rice. We rarely attended Sunday Mass, only when a Priest visited the nearby Church. Whenever we visited my native village, Sengudi for holidays, the young boys and girls always teased me as a 'Muslim boy'.”

This spirit is very much an integral part of his personality. Growing up in a different cultural milieu he found a new family within the local community. As a child and later as an educationist and an administrator the exemplary association with the community has enabled him to gain tremendous respect as well as develop close friendships within the community.

An important aspect of teaching today is battling with divisive, sectarian and regional sentiments. The world in general and India in particular is faced with an arduous task of combating such tendencies. In such a context Fr. Felix Raj is assiduously committed to the attainment of excellence in higher education as well as taking the benefits of education to the poor and the marginalized in society.

Father Felix Raj’s inspiring leadership and his commitment to promote a society based on love, freedom, justice, liberty, and equality has won him respect and admiration in the larger academic community. It is this spirit that has enabled him to develop a close association with many Muslim friends whom he does not want to name, but who are very close to St. Xavier’s College and assist the College in its mission of NIHIL ULTRA.

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