Scrapping MANF an attack on access to education of minorities, say Hyd students

Also, there is confusion among research scholars on which year the fellowship would be discontinued from and if it will be stopped for the new students or for the existing students as well.

By Nimisha S Pradeep  Published on  10 Dec 2022 11:09 AM GMT
Scrapping MANF an attack on access to education of minorities, say Hyd students

Hyderabad: Syed could not clear the cut-off marks for the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) in 2021. He cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) but missed JRF just by 4-5 marks. Syed's research aspirations looked bleak, but fortunately, the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) came to his rescue. He was awarded the fellowship in 2021.

On 8 December, the Union government decided to discontinue MANF for minority students from 2022-23 citing that the scheme overlaps with various other fellowships for higher education. "Since the MANF scheme overlaps with various other fellowship schemes for higher education being implemented by the government and minority students are already covered under such schemes, and hence, the government has decided to discontinue the MANF Scheme from 2022-23," said Smriti Irani, the minister of Minority Affairs.

Student associations across the country are against the government's move. In Hyderabad, student groups held protests in Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) and University of Hyderabad (UoH), a day after the Union government's announcement.

What is MANF?

MANF, previously provided by the University Grants Commission, is now being given by the Ministry of Minority Affairs. It is a fellowship provided for students belonging to minority communities who wish to pursue research. The fellowship is given to candidates belonging to Muslim, Christian, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, and Buddhist communities who are pursuing either M.Phil or PhD. For M.Phil candidates, the fellowship is provided for a period of two years and for PhD candidates, it is provided for five years.

"MANF is a contractual employment in research for five years (for PhD candidates). As per the fellowship, Rs. 41,000 is provided per month for two years and for the rest of the three years, Rs. 45,900 is given per month. It is given to students from minority backgrounds who clear the NET examination," explained Syed.

He explained how this fellowship serves as a cushion for research scholars. "This is very beneficial for students who miss their JRF by just 2 or 3 marks. Even though I missed JRF by 4-5 marks, I did not have to appear for the exam again. This fellowship enabled me to go ahead with my research and focus on it," said Syed.

He added that it was unjust for the government to argue that MANF overlapped with other fellowships. He also said that the government lacks an understanding of how beneficial this fellowship is. "The other fellowship is the National means cum Merit Fellowship which gives Rs. 20,000 a year, which is miniscule compared to MANF. The government's move is towards economic disempowerment. If it is discontinued, it would worry research aspirants and in the future, students will be reluctant to take up research as they will need to think of avenues to make ends meet," said Syed.

Also, there is confusion among research scholars on which year the fellowship would be discontinued from and if it will be stopped for the new students or for the existing students as well.

Injustice and discrimination

During the protest held at MANUU, Umar Faruq Qadri, former president of MANUU Students' Union, said, "This is not just discrimination and injustice to a community but also an injustice towards knowledge and education. The purpose of educational institutions is to facilitate the production and dissemination of knowledge, and PhD scholars are an integral part of that process. Creating hindrances for more students to become PhD scholars is a direct obstruction of the knowledge process and societal building."

Talha Manna from the Student Islamic Organisation (SIO) of India, MANUU unit, said, "The continuous attack on access to education of minorities shows the callous attitude of the present government, whose hollow rhetoric of 'Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas' has been unmasked in broad daylight. The rollback of pre-matric scholarship and Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) shows the state's blatant disregard for educational equity and washing its hands of key domains such as education. There's an urgent need for condemnation and mobilization of conscientious citizens against this onslaught on education and the dignity of minorities."

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