“When it comes to the issue of SC/ST, Kerala is the worst undeveloped and unprogressive state in the country”; Srutheesh Kannadi

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by Iniyavan Bhanumathi
Srutheesh Kannadi is a PhD scholar at Department of Mass Communication, Pondichery University. In December 2018, Srutheesh wrote an open letter to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan pointing out the flaws of state government’s moves in granting and releasing a fellowship for SC/ST students from Kerala who study in other states. Srutheesh is a beneficiary of this fellowship but he was asked to pay the entire amount of a years’ non-NET fellowship from his own pocket. Here Srutheesh talks about the unjust procedure of providing fellowships by the state government.

“I joined in Pondichery University as a scholar in the Dept of Mass Communication on 5 April 2017. And I started getting Non-NET fellowship (8000 per month) from the university. By the mean time I came to know about the Kerala govt fellowship (18,750 per month) for SC/ST scholars studying outside the state. I applied for it. And they sanctioned the fellowship also. They released the amount for 1 year together by 2018 March. But they had deducted the Non-NET fellowship amount (8000*12) from the net amount that I received for 1 year from the university.

But according to UGC rule, if we start receiving any fellowship other than Non-NET, we have to return the entire amount that the university had sanctioned earlier. In my case, since the Kerala govt themselves had deducted the Non-NET amount, I am unable to return that money to university. When I informed this issue to the Palakkad SC welfare dept, they asked me to pay amount of Rs.94,934 to the university from my own hand, and said that they will think about the reimbursement of the amount after that. And since I do not have any other option now, I have taken a bank loan and paid Rs.94,934 to the university. In order to get a govt fellowship, which is actually our constitutional right, Dalit scholars are first supposed to take a bank loan and pay the money from our own hand.”

Technical lapse is often cited as the reason for irregularity in fellowship/scholarship disbursement. Is that even a valid justification?

I don’t know what they mean by this technical lapse. And in fact, this technical lapse happens only with the SC/ST fellowships, specifically in Kerala. We all know that Kerala is always claimed as the most progressive state in the country. But when it comes to the issue of SC or ST, I really feel that this the worst undeveloped and unprogressive state in this country. This fellowship itself is actually a monthly fellowship, that mean they will have to give the fellowship of Rs.18750 per month, and they are sanctioning the amount once in a year, I mean at the end of each academic year, might be in March or April. So, it means up to one year a SC scholar have to survive from his own money itself. How is it possible? How can a scholar survive without single money for one year? So, this is the issue. And also, when we go to the SC department to enqire about the fellowship, the first question they ask is that “Why are you going outside the state for higher education, why can’t you study inside the state?” This is the attitude of the so-called progressive state towards SC/ST students. We are not supposed to get higher education outside the state or even outside the country. That means they are having problem with the SC/ST students itself. And we cannot call it as a technical lapse. These are purposefully done the people sitting as authorities in the SC/ST welfare departments. And this is not a matter of technical lapse.

Though such irregularities affect Students’ community in general, Dalit Bahujan students are always at the worst receiving end. Isn’t it a form of institutionalized discrimination and humiliation unleashed over “first generation scholars”?

It is a fact that the entire students’ community is suffering from the policy of the central government because they are not properly giving any fellowship amount including JRF. There are many scholars suffering from these issues. When it comes to the matter of SC/ST scholars, this central government and this UGC haven’t called for the RGNF fellowship which is meant for SC scholars for the past two years. They called for this fellowship in 2016. After that for two years they haven’t called for any application for the fellowship for SC scholars. So, what does this mean. The entire educational setup, the entire institution or state itself is discriminating the SC/ST scholars. And also, when we talk about this RGNF fellowship, the name has been changed into National fellowship for SC, just note that point. Now the new fellowship, National fellowship for SC, initially was like an alternative for SC students to crack the university entrance examination for PhD, means if we got the RGNF or this National fellowship we are not supposed to write the entrance examination, we can directly attend the interview and get admission in any university. But what this BJP government did is they changed the policy like, first we should write the entrance examination and join in any university, then only we can apply for this RGNF or National Fellowship for SC. So, there itself the entire motive of this particular fellowship got diminished and destructed. So now they haven’t called for this fellowship for 2 years. These are the issues faced by our Dalit scholars in the entire nation. And now I think they have issued one new notice that they will call for the National fellowship for SC very soon and in the notice, they have mentioned that we should first clear the UGC NET as well, then only we will be eligible to apply for the fellowship. So, step by step they are actually discriminating the SC scholars and they are purposefully doing this, so none of the SC students or scholars will study in the Higher educational institutions.  First, they have removed the policy of this alternative method of cracking the entrance examination, then they have made this NET examination as mandatory. So, majority of the SC scholars are unable to apply for this national fellowship. And the same issue lies with MANF (Maulana Azad National Fellowship) also. It is meant for the minority students in India. All these policies mean that Dalit Bahujan and Tribal students in this country should not opt for higher education, should not study in so-called elite institutions in this country.

3 years before a fight was started by 5 Dalit research scholars including Rohith Vemula. But still Dalit Bahujan students are surviving amidst all these forms of discrimination. How is the campus community taking up the fight, Pondicherry university in specific?

We all know about the Rohith Vemula movement. It is actually a history in the entire Dalit students’ movement or Dalit movement in the entire nation. When it comes to Pondicherry university, we have formed ASA in the year of 2015 September. That was the first organized Dalit student movement in the entire history of Pondicherry university. And personally, I was also a part of that movement from its very beginning. So, I have been associated with ASA – PU for the past 4-5 years. After our formation in PU, in around 3 or 4 months, the incident of Rohith Vemula happened where he was forced to commit suicide. The rest we know how the entire students’ community or the Dalit Bahujan community have responded to the state. We all believe that Rohith is the martyr of the entire students’ movement or the entire struggles of Dalit Bahujan students across all campuses in India. But the struggles of Rohith and the other 4 scholars, it is not enough, in the sense that it has in fact created impact all over the nation because of which many institutions and central universities have formed Dalit Students’ organizations, be it ASA, BAPSA, BSF and other Dalit organizations. That fight led by Rohith, Prashath and others scholar has given more strength and power to the entire students’ community in this country. But still it is a fact that we are living in a most drastic casteist country, and one martyrdom cannot bring justice or any changes to this casteist society. So still our scholars are struggling, our Dalit Bahujan students are struggling to enter into these privileged or dominant universities. Specifically, in this PhD admissions we know that none of the universities is strictly following the reservation policies, none of the universities wanted to take any SC/ST scholars in their campus. But obviously the memory of Rohith Vemula or the power given by Rohith Vemula through his martyrdom, we should continue our fight and our movements. Surely, our next generation, us being the first generation as you said, will get more power and representation in the universities, in the political structure and in all other field. So, we have to carry on the fight initiated by Rohith and his co-scholars.

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