"Is there no respect for us researchers?": MANF scholars plead gov't for timely disbursement of fellowship  

Currently, there are 1,466 active beneficiaries of the Maulana Azad National Fellowship all over the country who have not been able to avail the fellowship and are in a state of confusion and fear

The discontinuation of the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF), as announced by the Minister of Minority Affairs (MoMA) Smriti Irani in the Parliament on December 7, 2022, is not the only issue with the scholars under its umbrella. Although it was announced that the existing beneficiaries who were awarded fellowships till the end of the financial year 2022-23 will benefit from it, many students have claimed that there has been no monetary inflow since October 2023, which has greatly impacted the projects that PhD scholars from all over the country have undertaken.

Ministry unreachable 
Ruksana Sirach, a MANF scholar pursuing her PhD from the Sardar Patel University, Gujarat, says, "My fellowship from October is not yet credited, the response from the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC) was that there is a lack of funds and it will be disbursed once funds are available. Is this the treatment that researchers should get in the country?"

Although the discontinuation of the scholarship does not affect the scholars availing it, the trailing problems that come with the fellowship are seeing no end. 

Many scholars say that there has been no response from the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) and there seems to be no way to reach the government. The President of the All-India Research Scholar's Association (AIRSA), Lal Chandra Vishwakarma spoke to EdexLive and said that reaching the government seems like a task that can never be achieved. "We could get no access to the ministries. Our emails have been delivered with an automated response that says that the process is under consideration."

He says that this is not the first time the students have experienced a boulder in their paths. During the previous protests for fellowship hikes, the government responded only after eight months of vehement agitation all over the country. "The MANF scholars are meagre in numbers, and most of them fear opting for protests due to this. This is the plight of the minority students of the country, not only their strength is less but they are the ones who are left unheard by the government," says Vishwakarma.

"How long will the discrimination go on?"
"The delay in fellowship is affecting me in numerous ways. Every other fellowship scheme was hiked as per the orders of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the University Grants Commission (UGC). Even in MANF scheme guidelines, it was written that fellowships will be on par with the UGC fellowship. Why hasn't it been followed and for how long will we be discriminated against by others?" says an exasperated Ruksana. Currently, the fellowship rate for the MANF beneficiaries is Rs 31,000 for Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) and 35,000 for Senior Research Fellowship (SRF) but other revised fellowship amounts effective from January 2023 are Rs 37,000 for UGC-JRF and Rs 42,000 for UGC-SRF.

The qualm has been expressed by not only Ruksana but several others who talk about how the irregularity with the scholarship is momentously affecting them. Sani Prince Sarkar enrolled in the PhD programme in March 2023 at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and was selected as a MANF fellow in the year 2022 but has not been receiving funding. "It is just the beginning of my research journey and I am already suffering from the lack of sufficient funds. I chose the MANF fellowship as it was meant for the upliftment of minority community students, but now the ministry has stated that several similar schemes are overlapping and has turned its focus away from this issue, despite announcements that none of the students already enrolled will be affected."

Sani demands that there should be a revision in the existing framework of the fellowship and it should not be discarded as many of the students' future is pegged on it. On the mismanagement of scholarships, the AIRSA president says that there are several other fellowships such as the Dr S Radhakrishnan Post-Doctoral Fellowship being delayed for more than a year, and the results are still awaited.

Another dilemma afflicts students
Kismode Doha, a PhD scholar from the Department of Geography of AMU, laments about how not receiving the fellowship has stunted his mental peace. He says, "I am the sole breadwinner of the family, earlier working in a private college then, I chose to join the MANF scheme with the hope that it will make me able enough to get a job at a government college." Kismode, who also was eligible for the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF), is now left without a scholarship and according to the rules, cannot choose to opt for JRF as he is already availing MANF.

Struggle continues
To amplify their concerns, the students have already approached AIRSA  and have voiced their issues through various platforms including social media, using the hashtag #HikeInMANFtoo on X (formerly Twitter). Furthermore, MANF fellows, through AIRSA, have sent letters from 27 universities to address their collective concerns. The students await a definitive response from the MoMA and are resolute in their demands of

1) Fair and equitable fellowship rates
2) Revision of the fellowship
3) Expedition of the release of the funds and a proper timely addressal of the issue

The MANF fellowship that was initiated by the MoMA, New Delhi has been of crucial support for minority students including Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Parsis, and Sikhs, pursuing their MPhil and PhD.

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