Minority students stare at an uncertain future as Centre scraps Maulana Azad fellowship

Students demand the government to fix anomalies rather than discontinuing the five-year fellowship for students from minority communities.

ByAjay Tomar

Published Dec 10, 2022 | 11:01 PMUpdatedDec 11, 2022 | 4:53 PM

According to the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, ₹738.85 crore was provided to 6,722 candidates between 2014-15 and 2021-22 under the MANF scheme. (Supplied)

The central government’s decision to discontinue the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) has left students confused and angry.

In a media statement dated 8 December, Minister for Minority Affairs Smriti Irani said the government had decided to stop the scheme from 2022-23 since it overlapped with other similar scholarships.

The statement was issued after the minister replied to Thrissur MP TN Pratapan in the Lok Sabha.

Students who have been receiving the fellowship said they were not getting the scholarship since September this year. Earlier, they received it after a nine-month delay.

Students already receiving the fellowship said they were not sure if they would get the scholarship for the remaining period.

Students protest

After Minister Irani’s announcement in Parliament, several students took out demonstrations on the premises of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) and the University of Hyderabad (UOH) on Friday, 9 December.

They demanded the Union government to reinstate the fellowship.

Member of Parliament from Hyderabad and AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi said the Union government’s decision to withdraw the fellowship amounted to “punishing Muslims for their poverty”.

“Maulana Azad Fellowship for minorities has been discontinued. This is Narendra Modi’s sabka saath, vikas. Govt’s data shows that Muslims want to educate their children but extreme poverty prevents them. This is punishing Muslims for their poverty,” he posted on social media.

MANF: Inclusion of minorities

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) started the MANF scheme for students belonging to the minority communities in 2009, based on Sachar Committee’s recommendations.

According to the University Grants Commission (UGC)’s website, the scheme supported Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Parsis and Sikhs to pursue MPhil and PhD.

The fellowship covered all UGC-recognised institutions and the Ministry for Minority Affairs provided the funds.

Students protest against the MANF scrapping at the UOH.

Students protest against the scrapping of MANF at the UOH. (Supplied)

Syed, a research scholar in the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at the MANUU, likened the MANF to a five-year contractual employment.

“It is offered to minority students who clear the NET (National Eligibility Test). A student will get ₹41,000 per month for the first two years, and ₹45,900 for the remaining period,” Syed, who did not wish to be identified by his full name, told South First.

“I missed the JRF (Junior Research Fellowship) by a few marks but I did not retry since I had MANF. It provided me a financial cushion, enabling me to continue my research,” he added.

“The MANF is important for the inclusion of minority students in higher education. Most of us come from normal agricultural families. So it was important not just for me but for my family also. It will be hard for us to research if the government has scrapped the fellowship,” Basil Benny, a native of Wayanad in Kerala, told South First.

“The government is targeting students from the marginalised communities for whom reaching these educational institutions itself is a big deal,” Loni Das, a member of the All India Students Association (AISA) and a second year post-graduate student of Media Studies told South First.

‘Minister’s statement untrue’

Syed said the minister’s argument that the MANF overlapped other similar schemes was not true since others were not at the doctorate level.

MANF protests at the UOH.

MANF protests at the UOH. (Supplied)

“The lawmakers are confused that this scheme overlaps other schemes for minority students. Those schemes apply to pre-matric and post-metric students, and the scholarship amounts are less. They do not meet the MANF scholarship standards,” he explained.

Alleging that the Union minister was lying about the overlapping of schemes, Das pointed out: “If there is a overlap of fellowships for two categories — say single girl child and EWS — they’ll choose one. That has always been the case.”

Meanwhile, Osama Naseem, a research scholar & Azad United Students Federation (AUSF) leader opined that the government should initiate a common fellowship for all PhD scholars and “keep only one criteria just like PhD enrollment”.

Impact on research quality and knowledge creation

Minister Irani’s media statement said ₹738.85 crore was provided to 6,722 candidates for eight years under the MANF.

Students burning Minister Smriti Irani in effigy at the UOH. (Supplied)

Students burning Minister Smriti Irani in effigy at the UOH. (Supplied)

Noting that discontinuation of the MANF would lead to significant dip in funds, Syed said it would subsequently affect the quality of research.

“The research fellow will now be paid only ₹8,000 for his work. This will take away their financial security, and compel them to look for other means to earn,” he said.

“It will affect their focus, contribution and efficiency on research. Research scholars are not consuming education but are helping in knowledge creation,” he added.

He felt that the scheme was more than a welfare measure in a country with a high unemployment rate.

“It is a necessity. Snatching it away will affect the quality of research and knowledge creation, and automatically reduce the number of researchers from the minority communities,” he pointed out.

Delay in the scholarship amount

Students at the MANUU protest against discontinuation of the MANF.

Students at the MANUU protest against the discontinuation of the MANF. (Supplied)

While demanding the Union government to reinstate the fellowship and regularise payment, Syed said that the current scholarship has been pending for the past three months.

“The government is shifting hats. Earlier, the UGC used to give the fellowship, now it is the ministry. The entire machinery — from the government to the bureaucracy — is lethargic. It is their duty,” Syed said.

No shortcut to fixing anomalies

Das alleged that the Union government decided to discontinue the whole scheme instead of fixing the anomalies.

“If you have a leg injury, will you get it sutured or will you amputate the entire leg,” she asked.

“Any government that wishes to develop the country should provide education, proper funding and encouragement to scholars, so that they can research independently,” Gopi Swamy, General Secretary of the UOH Students Union told South First.