Maulana Azad National Fellowship cancellation riles student bodies

Minority students plan protest on Dec 15 against cancellation

Politics

December 14, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Maulana Azad National Fellowship cancellation riles student bodies

Angered over the termination of Maulana Azad National Fellowship, students' organisations have called for a nationwide protest on December 15 (Photo: Twitter)

Angered over discontinuation of Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF), a fellowship for meritorious students from minority communities, students’ organisation, Muslim Students’ Federation (MSF) has called for a nationwide protest on December 15, demanding restoration of fellowship.

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On December 9, 2022, Minister of Minority Affairs, Smriti Irani announced that the government was terminating with immediate effect the Maulana Azad National Fellowship, a bursary for students from minority communities.

“The MANF scheme overlaps with various other fellowship schemes for higher education and minority students are already covered under such schemes,” Irani told Lok Sabha on the first day of the ongoing Winter Session of the Parliament.

Launched in 2009, the Maulana Azad National Fellowship is a five-year fellowship provided by the Centre in the form of financial assistance to students from families with limited financial resources and belonging to six notified minority communities viz Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Parsi and Sikh to pursue M Phil and PhD. The scope of the fellowship is to assist minority students pursuing regular and full-time research within India and includes research projects by assistant professors.

The fellowship covers all universities and institutions recognised by the University Grants Commission (UGC). During the first two years of the fellowship, a student is granted INR 31,000 per month and for the rest of the tenure, INR 35,000. Thus, over a five-year period, the scholarship, along with its contingency fund, amounts to almost INR 2.2 million, a fortune for most Indian families.

The number of fellowships rose from about 756 in 2009 to over 1500 in 2011. However, since the advent of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the number of beneficiary students enrolled each year has fallen dramatically, reaching 756 beneficiaries in 2017-18 and then rising again to 1000 in 2018-19, the last year for which data is available on the ministry’s website. According to back of the palm calculations, about 3800 students have benefitted from the scheme so far.

Students up in arms

Hence, it is no surprise that students, especially from the minority communities that were the beneficiaries of the fellowship are unhappy about the abrupt decision of the government. Nasreen Shah is currently pursuing her Master’s degree at the Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central University in New Delhi. Shah says she was preparing to apply for the fellowship next year, after the completion of her Master’s degree and is distraught by the termination of the scheme.

“The rollback of MANF shows the Centre’s blatant disregard for educational equity. There is a need for mobilisation of conscientious citizens against the attack on education and the dignity of minorities,” Shah tells Media India Group.

Shah is hardly the only student upset over the decision. Various student organisations across India say that terminating the fellowship will affect several Muslim, Sikh, and Christian students who do not come under the other backward classes (OBCs) in various states and hence have no other route to avail of any concession or subsidy to continue their education.

“The attempt to discontinue the MANF must be staunchly resisted by all those who seek to democratize India’s educational system. The decision has come after a series of delays in the disbursal of the fellowship, with scholars recently reporting backlogs of over nine months,” says a statement issued by the Students’ Federation of India (SFI).

“The decision of the Centre to discontinue MANF is an extension of the Modi government’s anti-minority agenda. The Centre has been neglecting the educational sector of minority and backward sections,” N S Abdul Hameed, President of the National Students Union of India (NSUI), Jamia Millia Islamia tells Media India Group.

“The Centre says that minority students are covered under other fellowships. But without MANF, scholars from minority communities who don’t come under Other Backward Classes (OBC), Schedule Castes (SC), or Schedule Tribes (ST) cannot avail of any other fellowships,” Hameed adds.

It is not just the minority community students who are upset about the Centre’s decision. Raman Prasad is a Master’s student of Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Though being a Hindu he did not qualify for the fellowship, Prasad says he is upset about the impact that its cancellation can have on the potential beneficiaries.

“The discontinuation of scholarship is an attack on the education of minority students. The minorities are already lagging behind (in education) and the government does not want them to progress,” Prasad tells Media India Group.

Students also question Irani’s statement that the MANF was cancelled as it overlapped with other schemes. They say in many ways it was the backbone of an underprivileged student’s financial means to pursue higher education.

“It is a support system to the minority communities. The fellowship immensely benefitted many students who come from lower-income families. Though students who are pursuing their doctorates get some funds from the University where they are enrolled, but these funds are very meagre and they are not enough to sustain the doctoral studies,” Arshie Qureshi, a PhD scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University tells Media India Group.

“The discontinuation of MANF will push such students to the wall and some may be forced to discontinue the research in the middle which will affect their career and that is the saddest part,” Qureshi adds.

Like Qureshi, some other minority students say they are worried about the fate of the less-privileged students who were the real beneficiaries of MANF and for whom pursuing higher education would such schemes would not be possible.

“I may be able to support myself financially and that is the privilege but what about my classmates who are underprivileged and belong to the minority communities? The Centre should reconsider the decision without cutting the funds,” Sabah Hussain, a doctoral student at the JMI tells Media India Group.

To mount pressure on the government for restoration of the fellowship, Muslim Students’ Federation (MSF), a students’ body has called for a nationwide protest on December 15 against the discontinuation of MANF. “Across the country, the students will protest in the campuses of colleges, Universities and public spaces. In Delhi, the protest will be held at Jantar Mantar at 11:00 am and we are expecting 1500 students to gather over there,” says Ahmed Saju, President of MSF.

“The main aim of the protest is to demand the revocation of the decision,” Saju adds.

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