“Anti-constitutional”: OBC student association demands withdrawal of UGC’s SEDGs guidelines

According to the AIOBCSA, the new guidelines are unconstitutional and contradict the constitutional definition of OBCs
“Anti-constitutional”: OBC student association demands withdrawal of UGC’s SEDGs guidelines

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has issued Guidelines to Provide Equitable Opportunity for the Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) in the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). These guidelines align with the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which lays emphasis on accessibility, equity, and inclusivity in higher education for socio-economically disadvantaged groups.

Among the various disadvantaged groups, the UGC has categorised the Non-Creamy Layer among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) solely as an educational and economic backward identity, grouping them with Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), students from vernacular medium schools, and first-generation learners. In contrast, the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) have been classified under the Social Backwardness Identity.

"The moment I step into the campus, I am an OBC," says Ritu, the National Coordinator of the All India OBC Students Association (AIOBCSA). "Regardless of my educational or economic background, my social background has always stuck with me. Yet, the UGC chose not to categorise OBC as a socially backward identity," she adds.

According to the AIOBCSA, the new guidelines are unconstitutional and contradict the constitutional definition of OBCs. 

Yesterday, June 17, in a letter to the UGC Chairman Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, Kiran Kumar Gowd, President of AIOBCSA, demanded the withdrawal of the guidelines. He wrote, “The OBCs are recognised as socially and educationally backward classes under Articles 15, 16, 335 and 340 of the Constitution of India. Categorising them solely under an educational and economic identity overlooks the broader socio-educational context that defines their status. This move by UGC not only contradicts constitutional provisions but also undermines the social justice framework envisioned for OBCs.”

The AIOBCSA argues that the guidelines are a significant misstep in defining OBCs, calling for proper consultation before its framing and implementation. "The guidelines were supposed to provide relief and support to minorities, but instead, UGC provided a vague document that is unconstitutional and suggests nothing constructive to aid the minorities," says Kiran Kumar Gowd, President of AIOBCSA. It is worth noting, that as a newly recognised reserved category since 2007, OBCs have often had to justify their need for reservation.

Gowd also points out that the guidelines do not address concerns like caste discrimination, dropouts, suicides or fellowship. "They only mention 'Earn while you learn', but that is an old and unsuccessful programme of the UGC. They also do not provide any financial assistance, especially in light of the new fee structures everywhere. So, where is social justice?" he questions.

Ritu shares her experience, highlighting the lack of OBC representation in academia. "When I was in DU (Delhi University) or JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University), I barely saw any OBC professors. Additionally, my supervisor was a toxic, upper-caste professor who would call my writing trash and dismiss me," she recounts. 

She also points out the biases in academia against works authored by minorities. "Just because of a certain identity, academia has often judged us as lacking knowledge of English, research, writing, or history," she adds.

She further questions the basis for the new categorisation, given the absence of a caste census or research. "On what basis did they carry out this new categorisation? How did they determine that OBCs are not socially backward anymore?" she asks.

Professor Sravan Dasoju, a social justice activist and member of Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), views the new guidelines as an effort by the UGC to withdraw OBC reservations. "This is completely uncalled for," he says, adding, "They can’t play with the lives of OBCs. This is such a big move by UGC, yet there was no discussion in the Parliament or public domain. This is detrimental to constitutional principles. This must be reviewed."

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