Published: 21st May 2019
UGC's irregular disbursement of stipends leave Dalit scholars in distress
Many Dalit scholars across the country who are eligible for the RGNF haven't received their stipends for months
"I haven't received the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship's stipend for the past three years. Can somebody tell me what to do?" R Vinod Kumar, a PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad wrote to us a few days back. This was Vinod's last call for help, a rather desperate one, after writing numerous emails to the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). None of his emails yielded a response.
RGNF is a fellowship formulated and funded by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment and Ministry of Tribal Affairs for the SC and ST students who are pursuing their MPhil and PhD degrees. Under this, a scholar is eligible to receive a stipend of Rs 25,000 per month. But the government bodies' delay in releasing the stipend has left hundreds of Dalit scholars in the country in distress.
"Even though I qualified for RGNF, for the past three years, I have been only receiving the university's non-NET fellowship. This amounts to Rs 8,000," says Vinod. "But survival in a metropolitan city like Hyderabad is almost impossible with this money. Also, this is badly affecting the quality of the research," he adds. The scholars have also informed us that the UGC hasn't called for applications for the fellowship in the past three years. "Many Dalit students haven't been able to pursue their research. The current BJP government is destroying our dreams here," says Vinod.
Parvinder Shekhar, a Computer Science researcher in HCU had yet another poignant story to share. Since December 2018, this 30-year-old hasn't received any money from the UGC. "I do not come from a privileged background. This fellowship is my only source of income. Since I haven't been receiving it for the past five months, I am finding it really hard to survive," he says. Parvinder hasn't paid his mess fee in six months. He tells us that he hasn't brought a new pair of clothes in years. "I cannot ask my parents for any money. Also, I'm not in a position to borrow any more money from my friends," he says. Recently, he had to abandon his plans to go to Canada for a paper presentation, owing to the same financial crunch. "This is definitely killing research," he says.
Maya Pramod, a PhD scholar in the Mahatma Gandhi University tells us that she had pursued research without earning a penny throughout 2018. "The entire amount was credited in January 2019," she says. But this was definitely not a solution to her year-long problems. "As a Dalit student, I had to struggle a lot to reach here. Most of us come from really poor financial backgrounds. We do not have the means to manage a month without any pay. A pending stipend pushes us to a lot of liabilities," she says.
Vinod, Parvinder and Maya also faced another problem — a channel through which they can communicate with the UGC. "There is no way to inquire about our stipends. None of the email IDs work here," says Maya. "RGNF is the only source for Dalit students who haven't received their JRF to pursue research. But here, the government is now using higher education for political gains," she adds.
The grey area
While the RGNF was renewed until the last five-year plan that ended in 2017, this year, it was replaced by the Central Sector Scheme - National Fellowship for Providing Fellowship to Scheduled Caste Students to Pursue MPhil and PhD. This comes with a clause — to avail the fellowship, the student must mandatorily clear the UGC NET. There were multiple protests to remove this clause, the UGC is yet to respond to this, even though there are rumours doing rounds saying that the 'NET clause' was removed.