I arrived in Asia on June 3rd for Lucas Chan’s memorial and burial.   I left Hong Kong on the 10th, saying farewell to that city, but not to my friend who was born and raised there. 

I arrived in Pune (the Indian spelling of what the English called Poona until Indian Independence in 1947) by the invitation of one other of my doctoral students, John Karuvelil, S.J.

Pune is the nation’s center of higher education, commonly referred to as, the “Oxford of the East.”  

In 1942 the Jesuits opened its residence, De Nobili College (DNC), for the formation of Jesuit scholastics.  By 1955, the Pontifical Athenaeum for diocesan seminarians came to the campus where the DNC was, and became the school for all students living on the campus.  By 1972 the Athenaeum was renamed Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth.

Today over 850 students are doing graduate degree programs in theology and philosophy at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth. Among its students, over 70 are women, and that group is growing.  Moreover,160 Jesuit students, living with 30 other Jesuit faculty and administrators under one roof, make De Nobili College the largest Jesuit community in the world.

I live here with my host John Karuvelil, who is, I think, a perfect representative of what moral theologians in India are doing today.

He finished his dissertation in 2010, on how the Catholic social justice tradition could positively influence the enormous Indian health care industry.  Karuvelil emphasized how the tradition and its teachings on the common good, option for the poor, subsidiarity, equity, participation, and solidarity, could guide the enormously developing genetics industry in India a segment of its ever-growing pharmaceutical industry.

India now ranks third in the world in volume production of pharmaceuticals and is predicted to move from a $12 billion revenue-producer in 2013 to $55 billion in 2020.  Major institutional ethical guidelines for such growth is precisely Karuvelil’s interest who has written on the overall review of Indian health care often focusing on the problems of both corruption and the failure to enforce existing laws and protocols.  He has also written very specific articles on genetic medicine and stem cell therapies, while also advocating for participation as the path for greater equitable and sustainable development in the contemporary Indian health system.

Like most Indian male theologians he too has addressed urgent matters that affect the treatment of women.  In 2012 he delivered a paper on female feticide.  He noted that though sex-selective prenatal determination tests are banned in India, there are more than 40,000 ultrasound clinics.  An estimated 557,000 female fetuses are aborted each year.  Karuvelil explained that the abortions highlight how poorly women fare in India, which ranks 113th out of 130 on gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum.   At one point, after remarking that India has prohibited the practice of dowry, passing laws in 1961, 1983 and 1985, he explained how dowry, still a common practice, only exacerbates the poor status of women and often prompts parents to abort female fetuses.  Since then he has written on gender justice and seminary formation offering ways that seminarians might become more aware of, and agents of change in the face of gender inequity here.

Karuvelil is like most Catholic Indian ethicists interested in institutional development and structural change.  As we will see in my next entry, contemporary Indian moral theologians see how evidently their country is becoming a world leader but they scrutinize this progress specifically through the lens of our common ethical tradition.

James F. Keenan, SJ, is Canisius Professor at Boston College. His most recent book is University Ethics: How Colleges Can Build and Benefit from a Culture of Ethics (Rowman and Littlefield).

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