‘Why is Modi govt blocking scholarships meant for SC/ST students?’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 riding on the slogan of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas but in practice his government seems to have done more harm to Dalits and Adivasis than his predecessors. In fact, the atrocities on Dalits have only increased in the last three and half years despite Modi announcing fresh Dalit outreach plans.
While he focuses on unveiling BR Ambedkar's statues or introducing coins in his name, his government is quietly withdrawing financial support to students belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which is depriving these students who are fighting for a better future.
It is in this context that the Congress accused the NDA government of waging a war against Dalit and Adivasi students by withholding Post-Matric Scholarship for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) worth Rs 13,107 crore of the (Rs 10,236 for SCs and Rs 2,871 for STs) for the past three years.
A statement released by the Congress' SC Department Chairman K Raju said, “Consequently, lakhs of Dalits and Adivasis, who depend on scholarships and bursaries in their quest for a better future, have been denied the financial support that is rightfully theirs. Today, a large number of SC scholars have not received their monthly scholarships for over six months. This policy has also deprived minority and needy students of a better future,” read the statement.
One must remember how delay in paying fellowship created a huge political controversy after Rohith Vemula a PhD student at Hyderabad University, committed suicide after the University stopped paying him fellowship of Rs 25,000 per month for indulging in “casteist and anti-national activities”.
In fact, back then Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya wrote to HRD Minister Smriti Irani complaining how Hyderabad University had become “a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics”. Post his letter, Vemula and four of his friends were suspended and barred from entering the hostel after which Vemula committed suicide on 17 January 2016
His suicide led to widespread protests across the country and snowballed into a major political controversy, and was seen as an act of discrimination against students of lower castes in elite institutions.
Meanwhile, highlighting the delay in scholarships of SC/ST students, Raju accused the NDA of portraying itself as a pro-Dalit/Adivasi party but repeatedly doing everything in its power to disempower SCs/STs. He went on to add that young and promising students belonging to these groups are being subjected to unnecessary tribulations and pressures to access what is theirs.
In the statement, he said, “Delaying meagre scholarships to needy SC/ST scholars creates needless hardships and misery for them and diverts their precious attention away from scholarly pursuits to matters of survival. As a nation, how can we rise to ever greater heights if we exclude and disempower our fellow Indians?”
Calling slashing and delaying scholarships, staffing institutes of high learning with under qualified Hindutva cronies and cracking down on students who raise their voices against the government as part of the government's “multi-pronged strategy”, Raju claimed that all this is being done to ensure the atrophy of higher education in India.
“In this light, the NDA's assiduous attack on the Post-Matric Scholarship for Dalits and Adivasis is a dastardly attack on the Constitutional promise of India,” said Raju, who went on to add that Congress stands in solidarity with all SC/ST PhD scholars and demands.
The Grand Old Party demanded that the government should immediately release scholarship arrears while demanding increased scholarship allocations and strong measures to prevent delays in scholarship disbursal in future.
Furthermore, Raju in his statement also highlighted how the Narendra Modi led NDA government has drastically slashed funding for the University Grants Commission (UGC) by 55 per cent (from Rs. 9,315 crore in 2015-’16 to just Rs. 4,286 crore in 2016-’17) which is making higher education inaccessible for students.
“Because of this drastic cut, the UGC has been forced to drastically slash allocations to universities and for the welfare of students. Through this myopic policy, the NDA has made higher education and research inaccessible to students,” he said.
Continuing its attack on the NDA government, Congress alleged how funding has also been slashed for research centers across the country pursuing research on Dalits, Dr BR Ambedkar's philosophy and social justice.
Raju informed how the previous UPA government started 35 centers of studies of social exclusion and inclusive policy with the stated objective of including the socially marginalised sections into mainstream studies in order to give them access to better and more diverse opportunities. “It is a matter of record that these centers have been neglected by the NDA,” alleged Raju.