Scholarship, Society and State: An Analysis
For the historically oppressed communities, government sponsored scholarship schemes are important mechanisms that enable them to access higher education- a basic and yet an expensive right. The centrally sponsored Post Matric Scholarship that aims to provide financial assistance to SC students in the post matriculation stage is one such scheme. Reimbursement of the compulsory non-refundable fees, maintenance allowance, and book allowance are covered under the scheme, among other things. Despite its limitations, this scholarship scheme has played an instrumental role in facilitating higher education in families which could not have afforded it otherwise. Unfortunately, however, while the process of privatization of education is accelerating already, resulting in massive fee hikes on the one hand; students are not able to access the scholarship funds that they are entitled to, on the other.
A recent report by The Economic Times revealed that the scholarships of over 60 lakh high school SC students are pending in over 14 states of the country, leading to a near shut-down of the scheme. Such a situation occurred as a result of the massively declined central share in the funding of the scholarship scheme from 60% to less than 10%. The report informed that the issue had been awaiting cabinet approval for about a year and was taken up in the Prime Minister Office recently, where meetings were held and the matter was discussed at length even with the Prime Minister.
More recently on 23rd December 2020, in a welcome move by the government, changes were declared in the scheme. These declared changes included an increased investment of Rs. 59,058 crore for the next 5 year, of which Rs 35,534 crore is to be the Centre’s share.
A closer look at the issue
Starting with the financial year 2017-18, the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, GOI revised the guidelines pertaining to the centrally sponsored ‘Post Matric Scholarship to Students belonging to Scheduled Castes (PMS-SC)’ for three years. Moving away from a 60-40 share between the center and state, the central government resorted to a new fund-share formula under these new guidelines. It meant that the total amount of the demand on the State as well as the central Government which is the highest in any particular year of the previous Plan period/ Finance Commission cycle will be the ‘committed liability’ of the States/UTs. The center, on the other hand, would pay only the amount over and above this committed liability. Almost all the financial responsibility of the scheme was transferred to the States by the central government- which then started funding only about a 10% share of the incurred expenditure in many states, and even none in those that were unable to shell out the ‘committed liability’ amount.
What happened as a result of this modification was that the states gradually started discontinuing the scholarship or running it on a very limited scale. Also, the budget allocation for the scheme came down to around 3000 crores. The resulting pending scholarships were also certainly the reason why the actual amount released by the central govt to the ‘Post Matric Scholarship’ scheme dropped to a mere Rs 406.01 crore in the financial year 2019-20.
The recently announced government’s decision to replace the ‘committed liabilities’ system to increase the monetary investment and restoring the 60-40 share formula is surely a step forward towards social justice. According to this declaration, the central government has to allocate Rs. 35,534 for 5 years to the scheme. However, the newly introduced budget, presented in the parliament on 1st of February, 2021 is a huge disappointment in this manner. According to the Annual Dalit Adivasi Budget Analysis by National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), Rs. 3,416 crores have been allocated to PMS scheme for SC students, not meeting the commitment of allocating Rs. 7000 crores.
While the numbers are being analyzed, there is also a need to see the matter in a larger schema of state’s attitudes and policies, and a larger context of structural processes. These nuances are briefly touched upon in the sections that follow.
Structural issues and the importance of education
All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) report 2018-19 reveals that the gross enrollment ratio (calculated for ages 18-23) for Scheduled castes was only 23%, which is lower than the national average 26.3%.; while only 11% of the students enrolled in higher education were SCs. Moreover, in 2017-18, the gross enrolment ratio (GER) for the SCs was half (21%) of that for the higher castes (41.7%). The GER for poor SCs was 7.1 per cent, about four times less than the country’s average of 26 per cent. It is important to remember that these scary and extremely concerning numbers are a result of a long historical process beginning with the Vedic society in ancient India. The process gradually led to Manu’s code of law that degraded the untouchables to the worst possible conditions, denying them any right to education. Being in the position of power, Brahmins were able to set up systems and structures that privilege the so-called upper castes in all aspects till date. More importantly, this privilege comes at the expense of those who are ranked lower in the hierarchy. Thus, the importance of education for the Dalit communities cannot be expressed in words. Dr. Ambedkar realized this at the core, which is what must have led him to demand financial aid for the education of untouchables from the British government. As mentioned by Prof. Thorat in an article in The Tribune, the two scholarships i.e., overseas and post-matric scholarships are a legacy of Ambedkar himself.
While we get to judge the numbers concerning the various scholarships’ funding, what the numbers fail to convey is the plight of Dalit students carrying the financial as well as the emotional burden due to scholarship delays. In a paper published in IJDTSW, Tatad (2018) laid out the subjective experiences of students availing PMS which ranged from pending or inadequate amount forcing students to borrow money or even dropping out, to the complex mechanism or rude behavior and apathy of the administration. He pointed out that the principals or chairpersons of colleges are reported to have threatened the students and have not allowed them to attend classes in case of scholarships not getting sanctioned.
There is, hence, also a need to bring changes at all the levels of the mechanism, taking the concerned students’ issues into account and building safe spaces for them to get the scholarships they are rightfully entitled to.
Negligence or a strategic apathy?
Prof. Thorat has noted that the shortage of funds is not due to COVID-19 as the matter concerning PMS has been in process since long before. Rather, he found that the facts suggest that it is a result of the recent trend of giving low-priority to the higher education of SC students.
The National Education Policy 2020 too does not address caste inequalities. Instead, it completely fails to mention ‘reservations,’ while emphasizing on “merit-based” admissions and financial assistance. A closer look at the existing structural inequalities reveals the flaws in the concept of ‘merit’ that veils the social capital and access to resources and opportunities possessed by certain groups while establishing an ideal. Moreover, encouragement of the mother-tongues and native languages at the cost of English language in the “three-language formula” introduced by the policy is further detrimental to students from socially oppressed groups- who largely depend on educational institutions to get exposure to the language. Needless to say, for the oppressed castes, English language is a significant tool for social mobility and empowerment. Adding to the analysis, Priya (2020) argued that the NEP 2020 aims to increase privatization in the education sector by encouraging and providing autonomy to private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). She points out that it signals towards a gradual but complete distancing from public education, posing a threat to those who don’t have the resources to access private education.
Statistics have also indicated towards a history of state violating or sabotaging the norms and guidelines set in place for the empowerment of the marginalized groups. Analysis of the allocated budget under the Schedule Castes Sub Plan (SCSP) which is earmarked exclusively for the empowerment of the SC communities, done by NCDHR shows a continued denial of rightful budget allocation every year. According to its latest report, out of the total 330 schemes for SCs, only 52 are targeted schemes. Rest of the schemes that were allocated money under the sub plan were either general schemes not meant for SCs in particular, or even obsolete schemes that do not concern them at all. Moreover, the actually spent amount is more often than not further less than the allocated budget, indicating that the historically oppressed groups are not able to access the funds they have a right over. “The trend shows that the government eventually wants to remove the SCP, TSP totally. We are seeing these patterns that we are quite wary of, where they are slowly removing one scheme or changing the other. Second, there is no willingness to engage with the community. Even though the previous government and this government are similar on many accounts, the fact is that with the previous government we at least had some space to engage.” noted Beena Pallical, general secretary of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) in a telephonic interview.
The question that arises, thus, is whether it is only a matter of low priority or a deliberate attempt on the part of a manuwadi state to discourage education among Dalits?
#SavePMS and after
Various civil society and community led organizations have been actively putting forth their demands through online campaigns and advocacy processes. These demands include continuation of PMS, engagement with the concerned community while holding center accountable, setting up mechanisms that ensure timely release of scholarship for all eligible students, and increasing the income ceiling, which is currently only 2.5 lakh rupees. While the recently declared amendments in the Post Matric Scholarship scheme for SCs give us hope, there is a need to make sure that these changes don’t just remain on paper.
Thousands of years of long historical injustice has been inflicted on Dalits. Such scholarship schemes are only one way to compensate for the systemic injustices that have led to generations facing social exclusion. At the same time, one must remember that the system of caste that privileges the powerful is the reason why scholarships are needed in the first place. It must be the duty of the government to talk reparations and correct the system!
DAAA, N., 2021. Dalit Adivasi Budget Analysis 2021-22, New Delhi: NCDHR.
Mohanty, B. K., 2020. Dalit students wait endlessly for stipend. [Online]
Available at: https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/dalit-students-wait-endlessly-for-stipend/cid/1797719
[Accessed 15 12 2020].
Priya, L., 2020. How Does the National Education Policy Accelerate the Privatisation of Higher Education?. Economic and Political Weekly, 55(30).
Snigdha, A., 2020. What Is Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme For SC Students?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ndtv.com/education/what-post-matric-scholarship-scheme-for-sc-students
[Accessed 12 01 2020].
Tatad, V., 2018. Revisiting The Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme For Schedule Caste And Tribes In Maharashtra. Indian Journal of Dalit and Tribes Social Work, 5 (4)(1), pp. 64-71.
Thorat, S., 2020. Continue scholarships for weaker sections. [Online]
Available at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/continue-scholarships-for-weaker-sections-180868
[Accessed 15 December 2020].
Vishnoi, A., 2020. Scholarship for 60 lakh Scheduled Caste school students stuck after end of Central funding. [Online]
Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/scholarship-for-60-lakh-scheduled-caste-school-students-stuck-after-end-of-central-funding/articleshow/79419236.cms
[Accessed 14 December 2020].
Pranjali Kureel is currently a student of MA in Social Work (Dalit and Tribal Studies & Action) at TISS, Mumbai. Her ongoing dissertation explores the role of knowledge production in colonization and decolonization in the context of Indian caste society. Her area of work lies around caste, gender, and Navayana Buddhism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.