Dialogue on ideology-based and bias-free writings:
Dialogue takes place at all levels, particularly in intellectual apostolate, very dear to the Society of Jesus. In the context of pro-Right Wing ideology trying to curb free expressions and the resultant unhappy silencing and murders of writers from the secular front, it becomes necessary for Jesuits to reflect deeply on the attitudes and appropriate actions in this vital apostolate.
Though this was not intended in the first place in the Writers & Researchers Forum of Madurai Province organized every year by me in various places within the province, the discussions after the usual presentations turned out to be more serious and discursive on ideology-based and bias-free writings. It happened after the prelude of critical expositions on the Research Methods in Social Sciences, laying stress on how Qualitative and Quantitative surveys benefit a research by Dr. V. Joseph Xavier SJ from XIMB, Palayamkottai, the triple-L-method of analysis (Life, Livelihood, and Dignity) on the Refugees by Dr, Louie Albert SJ from Berchmans Illam, Loyola College, and the stand of the Jesuit Missionaries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Tamilnadu and how their writings reflected elements of Tamil culture and behaviour by Dr. Anbu Maria Raj from Karumathiur Arul Anandar College.
Can a researcher do the work without any ideological bent or support was the key and challenging question posed to the audience. In short, can a research be value-neutral? While some supported the hard-core objectivity is methods like survey research, which assumed unbiased collection of data, others said that it is not possible to do the work crudely objectively. Some pointed out how Questionnaire itself could be formulated to the desired results. Even focussed group conversations could be concocted to this end. While the soundness of ethics in the latter method is obvious, one’s research could go on in this fashion without sometimes unnoticed with assumptions, presumptions, and even narrow fixity of mind! Researchers need to be doubly careful to reflect on the true nature of things, objective contents, representatives from all types of thinking, etc. if their research is to hold value.
What is obvious in contemporary scenario is the intellectual war between pro-Right and pro-Left wing ideologies and backgrounds. Each claim that their writings are authentic and objective based on surveys and experiences. One could see this in the context of pro-Hindutva ideologies vis-à-vis PUCL, Human Rights Watch, Democratic-Secular Front writings and claims. There cannot be any conclusion in any of their debates if the focus of their writings is not clarified. Some reflect from the rich-corporate points of view and others from the poor-proletariat points of view, from the capitalistic outlook and from the outlook of the vulnerable, in brief, from the developmental and up-liftment points of view. One possible fulcrum for authentic writing could be the Constitutional Preamble perspectives and certain accepted norms and values like inclusivity and harmony, given India’s pluri-contexts. True, that values themselves could be biased in some sense! Hence I am bringing in the Constitutional dimension, popularly and generally accepted by the Indian citizens.
Jesuits have their own vision of the society and its mission focussed on the service to the poor and the marginalized, protection of the environment and not doing harm to it, integral formation of the youth, and promoting peace-loving neighbourhood. Naturally, the results could be challenging to those who do not vouche such attitudes and values but who are bent on selfish motives and act at the cost of others. Jesuits generally subscribe to the service and development formula, paying attention to those who are in need first. Hence their intellectual focus turns to be socially relevant in their creative writings and researches. This is true not only in social sciences but in all aspects of pure sciences like chemistry, physics, and biology. The Jesuit focus is how their science research is useful to the poor and the needy, how their research could add new dimensions to the existing knowledge, and so on. Jesuits are to intrude into areas, not touched by others and to bring them into public space.
Madurai Province Forum for Writers & Researchers was happy to carry on this vital discussion on truth and objectivity, biased and bias-free writings. This is one reason why the Madurai Province young writers and researchers find this Forum inspiring and useful. I am also happy to say that the Province writers and researchers bring out 25 to 30 books in a year, published officially and unofficially, apart from the regular magazines. In all our meetings, there is an array of books displayed, which sooths our sentiments, thanks to the Writers, Publishers, Editors, and Researchers!
Vincent Sekhar SJ