Post-Matric Scholarship and Other Flaws of the Indian Education System: Further Excluding the Already Excluded
Sankul Sonawane and Preeti Koli
“A key central scholarship scheme to help over 60 lakh Scheduled Caste students of classes 11 and 12 to complete their schooling has nearly shut down across more than 14 states after the Centre ended funding to states under a 2017 formula.” (The Economic Times, 2020).
Late last November, the Prime Minister's Office decided to scrap the Post-Matric Scholarship for SC students. Government officials propounded that the reason behind this scrapping was lack of funds. Coronavirus pandemic was held accountable for several changes such as shortage of funds during this year, the decline in allotment under this scheme had begun much before the pandemic.
An Indian Express report in 2018 stated that funds for the Post-Matric Scholarship for SC students had not been released by the Centre. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment revealed that Rs 7,032 crore were pending with the government.
More recently on 23rd December 2020, in a welcome move by the government, changes were declared in the scheme. These changes include an increased investment of Rs.59,058 cr by the Centre for four years, restoring the earlier 60% share.
This is not the first time Dalit students have been made to suffer because of the incompetence of the government. There have been various decisions made by the BJP that have resulted in the hardship of Dalit students. Apart from the Post-Matric Scholarship, the University Grants Commission (UGC) also did not provide the necessary financial aid in various other areas. These non-payments of scholarship money result in Dalit students having to pay for their fees, which are not reimbursed later as they are supposed to.
Education: A Road Ahead
According to the Census, 2011 Dalits constitute 16.6 per cent of the total population of India
(GOI, 2016). As per NCERT’s Position Paper on Problems of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (NCERT, 2005), basic educational needs of the SCs and STs are seriously undermined and are adversely affecting life chances of vast sections of those who are yet to make the shift to first-generation learning. One may see a bit of progress in terms of social mobility of Dalits/Scheduled Caste (SC) that has been made possible due to affirmative actionnn. However, empirical evidence shows that social structure is the same where they still face discrimination and harassment in the society.
A UNICEF survey reported that 51% of Dalit students drop out of elementary schools, compared to 37% of children who belong to non-Dalit and non-Adivasi communities. This glaring disparity brings forth the issue of Dalits being unable to get the luxury of higher education.
After the Post-Matric scholarship was introduced in 2008, it aided students from SC/ST backgrounds to complete their schooling and enroll themselves in colleges. According to the latest AISHE report of 2018-19, there has been a substantial increase in the Gross Enrollment Ratio of SC/ST students. A considerable amount of credit for this declining representation gap deserves to go to the Post-Matric Scholarship which enabled students from poor Dalit backgrounds to finish their Class 11th and 12th without having to worry whether they could afford education, and allowed them to enroll in higher education without being burdened by the pressure of their fees.
Other issues in the SC post-matric scholarship
Apart from the problems surrounding the SC scholarships, Dalit students have been plagued by other issues in their higher education as well. The scholarship for Dalit students had many issues, including but not limited to frequent delays, lack of information, non-reimbursement of fees, etc.
For example, in my college, there is no information on scholarships, apart from a notice in the administration office mentioning a government website with details regarding fee concessions and waivers. This makes it difficult for the Dalit students who depend on financial aid for education, since teaching faculties or college itself does not make it any easier for Dalits to avail the scholarship amount. The process of then filing the form to apply for fee waivers and financial aid is another hurdle, as the college staff is often unsympathetic.
After the lengthy and exhausting job of filling the forms, the financial aid is still delayed or never received. Dalit students are likely come from economically poor households, and when students do not receive their scholarship money on time, it diverts their attention from studying towards finding ways to fund their education. This lack of prompt action by the State causes bright Dalit students to be burdened by debt and drop out of college. Either way, the loss of valuable education is inevitable for Dalit students who are failed by the incompetency of the government and the system.
The division of students on the basis of caste during the admission is yet another barrier which causes humiliation to Dalit students. In a reputed college in Pune, students complained that the college released 2 separate lists for students from oppressed and dominant castes, making it difficult for students from marginalised castes to feel comfortable in their educational surroundings. Along with this comes the aggravating process of acquiring a caste certificate and caste validity. The documents required to gain the caste certificate include the caste certificates and school mark sheets of their parents and grandparents, which is an incredibly difficult ask for students who are mostly first and second-generation learners who come from families that were socio-economically oppressed. Therefore to finish schooling is in itself an achievements for Dalit students, who have to overcome societal intimidation which their parents succumbed to.
The priceless value of a scholarship
The key takeaway from the tussle between the Centre and States was that the students who had to bear the brunt. Students of Class 11th and 12th did not receive their scholarship amount due to this miscommunication. There have been multiple instances of students having to suffer from a delay in their scholarships, and even not receiving their scholarship amount at all. I myself being a Dalit student studying in Class 12th did not receive a scholarship because of the conflict between the Centre and States.
The scholarship amount includes money for the meals, travel, stationery, hostel charges, etc of the students, therefore without it, the students have to sacrifice their most basic human needs to pay their fees. Moreover, the non-allocation by the Centre resulted in students being asked to pay for their fees themselves, which should be paid by the Centre and States.
The priceless value of scholarships is known all too well. It was a scholarship offered by the then ruler of the princely state of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad III, that changed the course for present-day Dalits. That scholarship helped Dr Ambedkar study at the prestigious Columbia University in 1913. He also further studied at London School of Economics obtaining a degree in B.A, M.A, M.Sc, D.Sc, PhD, L.L.D, D.Litt, and Bar-at-law. A more recent example of the proper implementation of reservations and scholarship resulting in a success story would be of Dr Suraj Yengde. Growing up in a poverty-ridden household of 5, he benefited from reservations in India, which he then followed up with a LL.M. degree from the UK and a PhD from South Africa, and is currently a postdoc at Harvard Kennedy School, an achievement that is still a pipe dream for a vast majority of Dalits.
However, the other side of the spectrum, which is the bitter ground reality, is dark and painful. The chilling suicide note of Rohith Vemula still sends shivers down the spines of Dalit students. Not only because of how tragic his death was, but because all Dalits have faced similar targeted abuse and attack by their upper-caste peers, professors and the institute as well. From July 2015, his university stopped paying Rohith his monthly stipend of Rs 25,000. On 17 August, BJP MP and Union Minister called for action against Rohith Vemula and the Ambedkar Students' Association (ASA), as according to him, they had "become a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics." Rohith Vemula was suspended in September, along with 4 others from ASA. Finally, on 17th January of 2017, a month after his suspension was upheld, he died of suicide. In his final letter, he wrote about how his death was a fatal accident.
The death of Rohith Vemula, a state-sponsored murder, is a matter of national shame. Casteism is still rampant in education, be it schools or colleges. Dalits have to endure and overcome the caste prejudice in order to educate themselves, they suffer from the casteism of their kindergarten teacher who would make them sit on the last bench of the classroom to the university professor who would grade them lesser due to their lack of "merit". The scrapping of the Post-Matric Scholarship is another attempt at the erasure of Dalits from higher education, preventing them from reaching the same heights of the upper-caste students, and to keep them confined to their caste occupations.
Dr Suraj Yengde, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Kennedy School and a Dalit intellectual who was recently named in GQ magazine's 25 most influential young Indians, being the only intellectual in the list. Growing up in a poverty-ridden household of 5, he benefited from reservations in India, which he then followed up with a LL.M. degree from the UK and a PhD from South Africa, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, an achievement that is still a pipe dream for a vast majority of Dalits. Even as was awarded with this prestigious title, he could not help but point out how his Dalit identity was a barrier in getting to where he is today. He spoke about how it took him 2 books, 104 articles, over 300 lectures and 4 degrees in 4 different continents to get featured on a magazine like GQ, whereas if he had the right surname, postcode, caste and non-threatening confidence, this feat would've come a lot earlier for him.
Dr Yengde's story is one of courage, strength and determination, but one that is largely ignored by upper-caste Indians. However he is not much bothered by that, as his dream is that of Dr Ambedkar and millions of Dalits like him: the annihilation of caste. And for that dream to become a reality, Dr Yengde believes India must send 10,000 students from Dalit and Adivasi backgrounds abroad using the funds that are allocated for their education.
And to the government's credit, it does send Dalit students abroad for post graduate education, however the funds dedicated for the same do not see the light of day. Ravikiran Shinde for the Wire reports on the various flaws in the Maharashtra government's SC overseas scholarship. In May 2020, the Maharashtra government placed an income limit of Rs 6 lakhs on SC students who wished to apply for scholarships to study in the top 100 foreign universities. While this move was stayed after heavy criticism from Dalits, the scholarship has far too many shortcomings which have been in place before the income limit was imposed. The Telegraph reported in 2018 that the SC scholarship for overseas students had been endlessly unsuccessful in providing funds to the overseas SC students for whom the funds have been allocated. There have also been instances of foreign universities such as University of New South Wales in Australia blocking the admission of students of Dalit students due to the pending fees that are not paid in due time by the Maha govt, according to Times of India. Because of this incompetency by the Maharashtra government, Dalit students have been stranded abroad with nowhere to ask for help, and eventually have to give up on the prestigious seat they earned with their merit.
The pattern of the discriminatory nature of scholarships is extended to the overseas scholarship as well. Although the income limit of 6 lakhs was only introduced last year for SC students who are accepted to the top 100 universities in the world, the income limit has always existed for universities ranked 100-300. Compare this to the overseas scholarship offered to upper-caste students and the dichotomy reveals itself. Unlike the SC scholarship for foreign universities which has an income limit of 6 lakhs, the counterpart scholarship for upper-caste students has an income limit of 20 lakhs.
The income limit between an upper-caste scholarship and an SC scholarship is more than double in the case of the post-matric scholarship, and more than triple for the overseas scholarship. Therefore such scholarships inherently are prejudiced in their very structure. And the discrimination in welfare schemes is not limited to scholarships. The Karnataka government has set up a Brahmin development board to uplift Brahmins. Some of their schemes include 550 Brahmin women being awarded 25,000 rs each for marrying within the community, a financial bond of 3 lakhs being given to Brahmin women who marry poor Brahmin men, and there has been an extra Rs 14 crore being earmarked for Brahmin students. And the income limit for availing these benefits is once again, 8 lakhs per annum. Mamata Banerjee too announced last year that Brahmin priests would be provided with a monthly income of 1,000 rs and free housing. This is by means a new phenomenon, as appeasing Brahmins has been a practice that has existed since the beginning of time, as pointed out by scholar Tejas Harad in an article on the same topic. To uplift the already uplifted even in 2021 is adding insult to injury to those who have been systematically oppressed by the system for centuries.
Importance of scholarship: What does it mean to Dalit girls?
Strong gender dynamics in India has already been established by popular discourse shows how it puts all genders except cis-men in a position where they suffer even to get the basic facilities. In the Indian society, parents prefer to educate their boys over girls because the ultimate aim for a girl is to get married.
As Menon (2012) argues, patriarchy is ‘refashioning’ itself in the capitalistic world (as cited in Navani, 2019) women now are ‘allowed’ to participate in the education and employment sector more to contribute equally in the neoliberal regime and their labour and capital is consumed well too.
Looking at the position of Dalit women in this context thus becomes important to study due to the prevailing caste structure as well as existing patriarchy. The category of being a ‘Dalit woman’ puts her on multiple disadvantaged positions rendering her helpless. Ghatak (2015), explains how women from Dalit communities are often referred to as “Dalits among Dalits”. This phrase alone explains the plight of Dalit women in Indian society. Women of Dalit communities are marginalised by two layers, and therefore subjugated to an extent that they have very less or no representation or social mobility in the society.
The position of Dalit girls in such circumstances are left with minimal chance of aspiring to get education or enter employment sector. In most of the cases they are pressured to get married ‘on time’. Even after marriage their struggle doesn’t end and they have to seek to work outside to augment their earning alongwith their husbands. My masters dissertation focussed on one such aspect where I studied poor Dalit girls who were enrolled in a vocational institute that paid no fee for SC candidates. The course was related to apparel i.e., clothing sold in shops. In conversation, I found how they were pursuing the course just to expand their scope of earning, to support their families. The living conditions are such that they serve just the basic amenities. The career aspirations are shaped in the lines of the same occupations related to the lower-caste individuals. Lack of any degree related to higher education makes them struggle in the fields. They are left with fewer choices such as pursuing vocational training courses to acquire a certain set of skills so as to achieve a status a little higher that their parents are lined up to. Their mobility is defined in this term only that keeps them restricted to the same social structure.
The AISHE report of 2018-19 however shows an increase in GER in higher education of SC candidates which has been made possible from the state interventions that work to maintain equity and access standards such as reservation policies, post-matric scholarships, fee-waivers etc. Within this context, one finds that the post-matric scholarship is a bridge that paves the way for higher education for disadvantaged sections and more so for girls hailing from these particular sections. It provides a safety net to Dalit girls to complete their education and to aspire for higher education as well. Thus, it is important to understand how the scrapping of scholarship will affect the aspirations of so many Dalit girls rendering them helpless.
Higher education is only a dream for so many girls hailing from marginalized sections due to which it is observed that there is an under representation of Dalit girls in higher education as recognised by CPRHE report of 2017. The policies of reservation and scholarship schemes may be helpful in the enrollment paving the way for Dalit girls to study in college and universities they have only wished for. So many girls are first generation learners from their families to ever reach this pedestal. Keeping this context in mind, the problems and challenges that Dalit girls face further to complete their education are to be studied in relation to the concept of aspirations.
It should not be assumed that scholarships are fully availed by the girls themselves. The agency of a poor Dalit woman is not of any consideration and hence in most of the cases, the scholarships are used by the patriarchal family itself. Girls have minimal control on this scholarship amount but this is how negotiations happens in the favour of these poor Dalit girls. In the absence of scholarship the girls are in no position to negotiate or stand up for themselves to get the education. They are forced to do what their parents/guardians allow them to. Such a case proves how Dalit girls would be the most affected if the scholarship is no longer be available.
The casteism in the NEP
The National Education Policy of 2020 has made a shift towards privatising education, with an obvious attempt to reduce reservations in higher education. There is almost no mention of caste in the new policy, with a heavy focus on inviting foreign universities to India, which do not have reservations.
Out of the 56 ministers in the PM’s Council of Ministers, 12 have sent their children to prestigious foreign universities. It is quite ironic and sad that the ministers who spend in crores on their children's education are not able to allot a mere amount of Rs 18,000 per year to the children of the poor and marginalized.
One of the most controversial decisions in the NEP is to make regional languages the medium of instruction instead of English until the 5th grade at least, and preferably till the 8th grade. This happens to coincide with the introduction of Sanskrit as the third language. The repercussions this would have on Dalit students has been largely ignored. Many Dalits are still first and second generation English learners, a stark contrast from the upper-caste students who inherit educational qualifications from their ancestors. In a privatised job market where English is a key prerequisite, the removal of English as the medium of instruction will hit Dalit students the hardest.
While the privileged upper-caste children can, and will receive education in English medium private schools, and go on to benefit from it in higher education, Dalits will left behind as they will lack the language skills required to cope in higher education, where the divide between the quality of education exists from kindergarten itself, and goes on till higher education, as the elite buy their way into their degrees, while Dalits fail to make ends meet in a system that is designed to do so, which makes you wonder just how legitimate is the word " merit." The NEP does not try to correct the systemic barriers that exist in education due to caste and class conflict. In fact, it actually boosts that divide and creates a system that will uplift the already uplifted at the cost of the marginalized lower-castes.
The NEP also has plans to include evaluation by classmates and requiring students to do part-time jobs at places of work to gain vocational skills, such as wood-work, electrical works, gardening, pottery, etc. These are occupations mainly performed by the lower-caste students. So while the urban, upper-caste children can afford to be marked by their peers and be placed at part-time jobs with their parents' caste connections, Dalit students who have trouble fitting in with their upper-caste peers and do not possess social capital will be forced to labour at menial jobs from a young age under the guise of hands-on experience, which might hinder their academic progresss. In a country where a child's occupation is determined by his parents' occupation, as much as his educational qualifications, the NEP encourages this class and caste divide by introducing vocational courses to young children. The vocational courses all but ensure the Dalit students being trapped in the caste occupations of their parents, which reservations were meant to terminate. Social capital is an obstacle for Dalit students who do not possess the same caste connections are their upper-caste classmates, therefore by making vocational courses mandatory, the NEP further enhances the divide caused by caste.
Another key takeaway from the NEP is the missing keyword of "reservation". The only mention of reservation is to remark that private institutions need not follow the representation policy, and the NEP has hinted towards the introduction of new private colleges, both Indian and foreign. What this means for Dalit students is the lack of representation in future premier private institutes, which is already significant in the existing ones. Colleges like Ashoka and Jindal take pride in their holistic approach, which in other words is a barrier to keep out Dalit students who are deemed to have lack of merit by these colleges. The abysmal lack of students from lower castes should be an indication of what to expect from the foreign private colleges that are soon to step foot in India.
Inclusion in the form of reservation policies, scholarships and fee waivers are only the tip of the iceberg. It should be considered that there is a rapid increase in higher education institutes which are mostly private in nature (Sengupta, 2020). Navani (2019) noted as greater numbers of women from the most disadvantaged sections of communities reach the portals of higher education, they will find fewer public institutions to sustain and support them through their educational journeys. The expansion of higher education is supposed to decrease the inequalities, on the contrary, it is further aggravating the unequal distribution. The scholarships that are supporting the poor Dalit students are only important in providing them access to the higher education but the road ahead is again difficult for them where they struggle each day to accommodate. Scholarships are the bare minimum in maintaining the equity standards and the focus should be beyond access and enrollment to real inclusion.
NEP 2020 talks about honoring diversity in its principles. On the contrary the policy has categorized all the diverse and marginalized categories in an umbrella term called Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs). Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi groups forms a significant part of the society. Hence, the policy is disrespecting the diverse groups instead of upholding the various diverse and marginalized constitutional categories by assuming them to be homogeneous. There is no consideration of the categories being different from one another. What about the diversity of experiences of existing students?
The important questions one needs to ask and reflect upon in regard to the above discussion are: How are we going to make up for the loss when we get back to the normalcy post-pandemic? Would this loss in addition to already existing loss be even concerned and talked about? As we are moving forward with New Education Policy (2020), with its well laid theoretical model that assures us to address the concerns to be taken into consideration in future, how are we really going to cope with the worse situations that are already there in the present world?
While the Central government has announced that the funding of the scholarship will be reverted back to the 60:40 ratio between the Centre and the States respectively, it still poses many questions for both the governments on how they plan on implementing the above. It is important to note that the Centre has still avoided the burden of paying the full scholarship funding, and has only agreed to pay a little over half of it, leaving us wondering why the Centre is hesitant to make education affordable to Dalit students, especially considering the other extravagant waste of tax-payers money by the Centre. The scholarship amount has not been reimbursed to students for the past few years, so does the government plan on paying back the fees of the Dalit students who had to pay their fees out of their own pockets, even when it was the responsibility of the government? Does the government also have solutions for the excrutiating process of the solutions which makes it all the more difficult for Dalit students to avail the scholarship. And most importantly, does the government have any plans on reforming the systemic casteism that exists in Indian education?
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Preeti Koli is a PhD Scholar in Education Studies at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University, Delhi. She writes about political issues from A Dalit feminist point of view.
Sankul Sonawane is a 17-year-old student from Pune, India. He has a keen interest in talking about caste in contemporary and urban India. Find him ranting on Twitter at @sankul333.