Dalit research scholars from Osmania University, Hyderabad Central University and the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) are demanding that the notification for the National Fellowship for Providing Fellowship to Scheduled Caste Students (NFSC) be released immediately. The notification has not been released for three years.
The scholars say that despite giving multiple representations to the Union government and the University Grants Commission, the matter has not been addressed. The fellowship, then called the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship, was launched in 2005 by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to encourage those from SC communities to pursue research (M.Phil, PhD). The fellowship scheme accepts 2,000 students and provides Rs 25,000 per month for a Junior Research Fellowship (JRF).
In 2017, the government changed the name of the scheme to NFSC and made it mandatory for applicants to clear the UGC-NET or the CSIR UGC NET (Council of Industrial and Scientific Research). The scholars said that making UGC-NET mandatory to apply for fellowship endangers the interests of students from marginalised sections who hail from rural backgrounds.
Speaking to TNM, Chandu Gadaraju, the president of the Osmania University Research Scholars Association (RSA), said that the government is neglecting researchers from marginalised sections and depriving them of economic resources.
Chandu, a PhD scholar in the Telugu department of Osmania University, said, “Hundreds of scholars are in distress due to lack of financial assistance for their research. It has been close to three years, and yet, that there is no notification from the UGC regarding the fellowship.”
"We have given multiple representations to officials of the UGC and the Ministry of Social Justice but there has been no response. With the lack of assistance, research is becoming tough. At least 300-400 students from OU and Kakatiya University waits for fellowships every year,” he added.
The OU Research Scholars Association (RSA) recently submitted a memorandum to Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy, seeking the release of the notification.
Chandu said, “Since there are has been no notification for the last three years, the government should release the notification for 6,000 students to admit more students.”
Ramesh Thunga, a PhD scholar at the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusion Policy at the University of Hyderabad, said, “It’s unfortunate that the government has not released the SC students’ fellowship notification for three years. Because of that, many are being forced to leave academics. I have been waiting for the notification for two years. I need to get the fellowship as I don't have any financial backing.”
The students claim that University's BBL (Boarding -Boarding cum Lodging) allowance Rs 5,000 for M.Phil and Rs 8,000 for PhD is not enough, and barely covers rent and mess bills.
“Not granting the fellowships is nothing but discouraging Dalit students from getting into research. The number of Dalit scholars is already very less in research, and with such negligence, the number will only decrease further,” Ramesh added.
Student leaders claim that fellowship notifications for Scheduled Tribe, Other Backward Classes and minority have already been released, barring the Scheduled Castes category.
Kumar Raja Kuchipudi, a research scholar in the Department of English at the University of Hyderabad and Dalit Student Union President said, “Students from the SC category are especially affected as they are first-generation students and come from economically deprived conditions. This deprivation of assistance reflects on their research as their basic needs aren't met with the BBL that university provides.”
“The DSU gave a representation to a member of the National SC Commission, demanding the immediate release of the notification for fellowship. Universities are saying that they have nothing to do with it as the fellowship doesn't come under universities but the UGC, who has to take the decision and release the notification.”
Jayadeep K, a second-year PhD scholar at EFLU, said, “Most of the students come from poor economic conditions. After the age of 25, we can't ask for help from home. Going for fieldwork, workshops and academic paper presentations need money. The amount the university grants is not sufficient.”
"Scholars would be under so much pressure, to an extent where they would even contemplate to drop from academic research,” he says.
According to Jayadeep, there are more than 40 scholars in EFLU who are awaiting the release of the fellowship notification.