In an exclusionary move that can have a detrimental effect on scholars from marginalised communities, the Narendra Modi government has now made qualification of Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) through the National Eligibility Test (NET) mandatory for Dalit students to avail the special research fellowship.
So far, to get the special fellowship, dalit students did not need to take the NET: they only needed to pass their post-graduate exam and were selected on the basis of their research proposals. Coming from communities that still face caste discrimination across the country, this move by the Modi-led BJP government has been termed as “unjust”, as it will lead to further excluding Dalit students from higher education.
Speaking to Newsclick, Swali, a post-graduate scholar in English from Delhi University, said, “The government through these moves wants to send out a message that the fundamental right to education should rest with the majority. I come from a background where being a woman from the marginalised community, affording to acquire education in the national capital has not been easy, I want to question this government, ki kyun aap dalit aur Muslim scholars ko aage badhne nahi dena chahte?” (I want to ask the government why doesn't it want dalit and Muslim scholars to avail the advantages of higher education).
Most dalit students cannot afford coaching and, left out of the JRF, were using the special fellowship to research topics on social discrimination and social disparity, among others.
Swali added that the move was oriented towards cutting down on the funding for the minority communities.
“This move needs to be viewed in a bigger context of the attacks on higher education. The government wants to restrict, critical expression particularly from these communities. Where the government should be allocating 10% of its budget on education, it manages to spend only 4.4%, which has also come down remarkably under this government to only a 3.7%. This is largely a move intended towards privatising our fundamental right to education,” she said.
Every year, About five lakh candidates take the University Grants Commission-conducted NET and about 30,000 clear it, becoming eligible to teach in colleges. The JRF largely attracts the cream among them. Of the 8,000 JRFs awarded every year, there is a 15% Scheduled Caste quota covering 1,200 seats.
The Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship for dalit students, on the other side, was given to students who skipped or failed the National Eligibility Test (NET). However, students now fear that the special dalit fellowship for 1,000 students, renamed as National Fellowship for Scheduled Caste Students in October, would now in effect be absorbed by the JRF’s Scheduled Caste quota.
Commenting on the ‘doublespeak’ of the government on issues related to discrimination against the dalits, Sanjay Shinde, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Newsclick said, “I have no qualms about saying this but it has become abundantly clear that the BJP government is anti-Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribes. No government in the past has attempted such blatant dilution of the SC/ST rights. On one hand, the central government is indulging in politics of imagery by inaugurating the Ambedkar Bhawan and statues of Ambedkar, on the other, the government is clearly not interested in furthering the well being of the community.”
Shinde said if the Modi government were really serious about discrimination against SCs and STs, “it would do a lot more to alleviate the people out of poverty, more specifically in terms of education, when the students should be encouraged to go further for fellowships, overseas education etc, such exclusionary measures will only deteriorate the situation further.”