Marginalised students from Maharashtra's hostels protest against delayed stipends, lack of facilities

This is a cause which has been advocated for online by the virtual platform for marginalised casts, Bhajuan Lives Matter
Visuals from the protest | (Pic: ASA)
Visuals from the protest | (Pic: ASA)

The Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), Mumbai, Maharashtra have been on a strike for the last twelve days as of today, February 21. A total of 50 to 60 students from Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC), have sat down on an indefinite protest at three hostels, putting forward their 16 demands which include low and irregular stipends, hostel infrastructure, and so on. 

The hostels include Mata Ramabai Ambedkar, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Sant Eknath Hostel. The protestors have 16 demands for the Social Justice & Special Assistance Department Government of Maharashtra, especially for the Minister of Social Justice and Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Eknath Shinde.

Rohini Bhadarge, one of the protesting students EdexLive got in touch with, spoke about her ordeal and how this matter is becoming an issue for students from the reserved category.  She said, “About 440 hostels in Maharashtra have about 40,000 students who are more or less facing problems related to Maharashtra Direct Benefit Transfer (Maha DBT) scholarships, stipend, hostel infrastructure... the list is endless.” 

Shedding light on the hostel facilities provided at the Mata Ramabai Ambedkar Girls Government Hostel, Chembur, she mentioned that most of the girls have fallen ill owing to food poisoning. “When girls from our hostel fell sick, we weren’t provided any medical allowances which were supposed to be given by the government. This plight has been going on for a long time now.”

What does Government Resolution (GR) say:
In line with the GR, the rules and regulations must be revised and regularised every five years as per the current government. However, it is alleged that, after 2011, there have been no amendments to the GR and as a result, students have been receiving the same stipend amount which was decided back in 2011.

ASA students have claimed that they receive a sum of Rs 800 as their monthly stipend, while it should be Rs 2,500. “We are forced to pay our fees in lakhs of rupees because our college authorities demand us to. The Social Justice Department has been ignorant when it comes to providing scholarship grants to colleges, and therefore, we end up paying the fees with no other option,” claims 24-year-old Rohini, who is leading about 30 girls at the protest.

Furthermore, Budhbhushan Rajratna, Executive President of ASA, mentioned that this issue between colleges, students and the state government has been going on for the past two to three years. The hostel construction by Joynest Premises, which was supposed to take place in the year 2011, is still under construction. “In an accommodation where 700 students can stay, over 900 students have been staying. As students have not been provided with basic infrastructure, they are protesting. This ultimately leads to academic loss among the students.”

Highlighting the expected outcome of this protest, which started on February 12, Budhbhushan, a practising Latin Legum Magister (LLM), said, “We just want a date and timeline of the execution of our demands. We have been receiving false assurances for a long time. Shall students always sit down on a protest to get our voices heard and demands fulfilled? These demands are solely dependent on the GR, a GR which is almost 15 years old now.”

One of the 16 demands by the ASA students includes taking legal action against Krystal Integrated Services under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for exploiting marginalised students. Budhbhushan, who is 29 years old, alleged, “An order was passed a couple of months back about centralising the mess facility in the state, and this has brought about a downfall for students as the services have now deteriorated.”

To shed some light on GR clause number 35, it reads, “According to the Article 46 of the Constitution of India, the above mentioned terms 1 to 34 are funded. As it is to be used for the welfare of the caste, during the implementation of this scheme, while awarding the contract or cooperative society and other organisation of the caste. Women’s self-help groups of caste and persons belonging to non-castes should be given first priority."

When this matter reached officials:
The Ambedkar Students’ Association met Sumant Bhange, Secretary of Social Justice and Special Assistance Department on February 14, to put forth their demands and issues. The meeting concluded with Bhange assuring the students that this issue would be taken to the CM of Maharashtra.

Following this, several authorities have been visiting students. Today, February 21, Deputy Director Varsha Gaikwad was expected to meet students and talk to them about the issue. 

In addition to this, when EdexLive reached out to Om Prakash Bakoria, Managing Director of the Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal, he informed that a certain sum has already been released as stipends for students. “On the day of the protest, the authorities met students to listen to their demands. After that, we have taken serious consideration to update the GR.” 

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