In 2020, Pondicherry University (PU) suddenly restricted the number of ways PhD candidates could gain admission to various departments. The admission routes cut out were precisely the ones designed to increase inclusion of various marginalised communities — the National Fellowships for Scheduled Castes (NFSC), Scheduled Tribes (NFST) and Other Backward Classes (NFOBC). They were challenged in court by Arunesh X, a member of the department of English at the time and a member of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA-PU). NotA interviewed him about this case, his activist work, and campus politics generally.
About the Case
NotA: Can we start with what the NFSC/NFST/NFOBC is and what role it plays in equitable access to education?
Arunesh: Before going into NFST/SC/OBC, we need to talk about JRF, UGC-NET, etc. In India, if people want to take up research, they need a research fellowship. For example, the IITs and other places offer institute fellowships. But central universities don’t always offer fellowships, and we are asked to take up an examination called National Eligibility Test (NET). Based on the cut-off, a person will be given a fellowship or lectureship. For example, for general category the cutoff for JRF would be 60/100 and for NET lectureship, it will be 50 or 55. This is the normal procedure.
The second thing is that based on the quota/reservation percentages, those who score the greatest marks in every category are allotted JRF/NET. A lot of people miss the UGC’s JRF cutoff by .5% or 1% mark, like last time I missed the JRF cutoff by 0.54%. So to level the field, the Ministry of Social Justice created this fellowship – previously it was called Rajiv Gandhi fellowship, and now it is called National Fellowship for Scheduled Caste (NFSC)/Scheduled Tribe (NFST)/Other Backward Castes (NFOBC). And it is also there for persons with disabilities. There are also other fellowships like Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) for Muslims students. Around like 2000 students are given this fellowship every year.
The process is the same as for general quota; we need to write the NET and then based on that [these fellowships are} offered to people who miss the UGC’s SC/ST/OBC cutoff by fractions of a percentage. So the question of merit, which is often put forth by other people, does not apply here.
NotA: Can you describe how Pondicherry University tried to evade the NFSC policies and your attempts to fight this?Read More »