De-Recognition of SC/ST/OBC National Fellowships: An Interview with Arunesh X About Systematic Exclusion and Inclusivity in Indian Campuses

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 »

The Spectre that Haunts Academia: Caste and the Thorat Report

– The NotA Collective

Thorat, S., Shyamprasad, K. M., and Srivastava, R. K. (2007)
Report of the committee to enquire into the allegation of differential treatment of SC/ST students in All India Institute of Medical Science

A few weeks ago, a postgraduate medical student, Dr. Bhagwat Devangan, died by suicide at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College in Jabalpur, allegedly due to ragging by his seniors. Bhagwat had on multiple occasions complained of maltreatment by his seniors as he belonged to a “lower caste community”.1 This is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. Just last year, we learned of the institutional murder of Dr. Payal Tadvi, a 26-year old Adivasi Muslim gynaecologist at B Y L Nair Hospital and student at TN Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai. She too died by suicide after being subjected to casteist slurs and harassment (ragging) based on her caste.2 In light of these incidents, we feel that it is pertinent to discuss a significant report that provides evidence of caste discrimination in higher educational institutions — The Thorat Committee Report. 

Read More »

An Invitation to Beyond Inclusion

– The NotA Collective

Deshpande, S., and Zacharias, U. (Eds.)
Beyond Inclusion: The Practice of Equal Access in Indian Higher Education (1st ed.)
Routledge India (2013)

Beyond Inclusion is one of the shockingly few books about the treatment of Dalit and Bahujan students by our country’s higher education system. Despite what this description might make it sound like, this book is about far more than just reservations.1 It begins with the observation that getting the disadvantaged admitted into colleges is only the first step in what should be a long process, and sets out to study that entire process. This is an ambitious goal, and the editors have gone about it by collecting chapters on a variety of topics, from both social science researchers as well as people in the field.

Read More »