A scholarship serves as a crucial lifeline to poor minority children to access education, at par with the other privileged communities and classes of India. Not only has the Government shrugged the responsibility of making education accessible universally, but, on December 9, 2022, the Union government announced the union government’s decision to discontinue the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF), a scholarship for students from minority communities, from this academic year.
During the ongoing Winter Session of the Parliament, Lok Sabha Member of Parliament T. N. Prathapan had the Ministry of Home Affairs whether they have data of fellowships distributed among minority students for higher education, and to provide the details regarding the same, year-wise since 2012.
In response to his question, Union Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani informed the Lok Sabha that “the Government provides fellowship for higher education through various Schemes, including the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) Scheme, which are implemented by different Ministries/Departments. All these Schemes, except MANF, are open for candidates of all communities including minorities but the data of fellowship distributed among minority students is captured only under the MANF Scheme.”
When further asked to provide the details of the number of student beneficiaries of various minority scholarships/ fellowships since 2012 as well as the details of Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) including funds distributed and number of beneficiaries since 2014, Smriti Irani provided that “The number of beneficiaries covered under the 3 Scholarship Schemes of Ministry of Minority Affairs namely Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme, Post Matric Scholarship Scheme and Merit-cum-Means based Scholarship Scheme since 2012-13 is given at Annexure. The MANF Scheme was implemented by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and as per the data provided by UGC 6722 candidates were selected under the Scheme between 2014-15 and 2021-22 and fellowships to the tune of ₹ 738.85 crore were distributed during the same period.”
Post this, the Union Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani informed the Lok Sabha that the Union government has decided to discontinue the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) from 2022-23 for minorities as according to them, the scheme overlaps with various other fellowship schemes for higher education.
“Since the MANF Scheme overlaps with various other fellowship Schemes for higher education being implemented by the Government and minority students are already covered under such Schemes, hence the Government has decided to discontinue the MANF Scheme from 2022-23.”
Smriti Irani provided the above mentioned information in a written reply to questions put forth by Congress MP TN Prathapan.
However, Prathapan informed that he would bring up the matter in Parliament, as he deemed this move to be unfair, as reported by the Hindu. By taking this action, many researchers will lose their opportunity to continue their research, he further declared. National Students Union’s Jamia Millia Islamia president NS Abdul Hameed said that the decision may negatively affect Muslim, Sikh, and Christian students, who are not regarded as Other Backward Classes in some states,
According to Hameed, who spoke to The Hindu, “the scholarships for minorities, OBCs, Dalits, and Adivasis used to be overlapped as the applicants may be from the same socioeconomic or religious backgrounds. We have been requesting that the Center fix the problems. They completely stopped the scholarship rather than fixing the errors.”
The entire answer may be read here:
Brief about the Maulana Azad National Fellowship
The Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) was launched in 2009. It provided financial assistance to students from six notified minority communities – Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Parsis and Sikhs – to pursue MPhil and PhD. The MANF for minority students is a five year scholarship for minority doctoral candidates, so as to enable them to finish pursuing higher education and find employment in academic and educational institutes. Only CBSE-NET or CSIR-NET qualified minority scholars are eligible. The student must be enrolled in a full time course and will not be eligible for any other government support after becoming a recipient of this fellowship. All the above schemes have a 30% reservation of seats for female candidates. In all the scholarship schemes, preference is given to poor and senior students and even in renewals the merit does not play a major role. It is only in the case of a tie that merit of the students is called upon to decide who will be the beneficiary.
Sanctions to scholarships by the Centre
As much as ₹ 15,785.36 cr worth scholarships were sanctioned under Pre-Matric, Post-Matric, Merit-cum-Means and Begum Hazrat Mahal scholarship programmes, the Minority Affairs Ministry had said on March 31, 2022.
Congress MP Dean Kuriakose asked Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi about funds sanctioned and disbursed under the four schemes, one of which is implemented by Maulana Azad Education Foundation. In response, the Ministry provided state-wise figures of aggregate funds sanctioned from 2014-15 to 2021-22.
Over the years, Uttar Pradesh received the highest sanctions at a total of ₹2,610.33 cr. The lowest sanctions were for Arunachal Pradesh at ₹ 0.03 cr in total. In a separate answer to Congress MP Mohammad Jawed and VCK MP Ravikumar D. the Ministry said that the total expenditure on Scholarships sanctioned to Muslim beneficiaries under Pre-Matric, Post-Matric and Merit-cum-Means based scholarship scheme during 2018-19 to 2020-21 was ₹ 4,796.64 cr.
When Kuraikose asked about government proposals to increase the amount disbursed per student in these programmes, Naqvi said that all aspects including raising the number and amount of scholarships are looked into by the Ministry during scheme revision.
Similarly, regarding proposals to increase allocation as per the higher Gross Enrolment Rates achieved by states, he said, “The budget allocation for educational empowerment of minority communities which was ₹ 1,888.50 cr in 2013-14 has been increased to ₹ 2,515 cr in BE 2022-23. The distribution of scholarships among states/UTs is made on the basis of population of minorities in the state/UT as per the Census. It was based on Census 2001 up to 2017-18 and thereafter, it is based on Census 2011.”
The gradual removal of minorities from access to academic spaces
An Exclusive Study conducted was by SabrangIndia focusing on the doom that has been hanging over the Scholarships for Minority Students since the Modi government came to power. Based on the analysis conducted by SabrangIndia, an overall decline in pre-matric, post-matric and MCM scholarship was shown to have declined beyond the year 2014-15. While the financial disbursement to the MCM scholarship generally had increased substantially over the period, the MCM scholarship for minority students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels and of the pre-matric and the post-matric scholarships had declined and the reduction in eligible students at that level has shown a lag.
Based on another exclusive study conducted by SabrangIndia on the increasingly diminishing funds of the minorities, even the Buddhists, under the Modi Regime, it found that all the larger minorities namely Muslims, Sikhs and Christians have experienced a decline in the outreach of the scholarships while Buddhists have seen a massive decline in states where their population is significant.
This situation of the Centre deliberately making it difficult for the minority communities to access higher education shows the priorities of our government. This is not, and will not, be the first instance where the rights of the minorities are cut short. The said erroneous decision by the Centre depicts that the Modi-led government has neglected the educational sector and especially the educational infrastructure pertaining to minorities. While the centre has justified the act by saying that other overlapping scholarships exist, this decision will only lead to exclusion of the already under-represented minority communities in academic spaces.