Govts overseas scholarship bars research on caste, gender inequality

Govt's overseas scholarship bars research on caste, gender inequality

The revised guidelines of the National Overseas Scholarships (NOS) scheme seems to have not just struck a blow to key research work in the field of social sciences. It has also effectively put a spoke in the wheel for students from marginalised sections to pursue topics or courses related to Indian culture, heritage, history and society, while studying abroad.

The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment recently uploaded a new clause on its website under the sub-head Mandatory Conditions for its NOS scheme: “Topics /courses concerning Indian Culture/ Heritage/ History/ Social Studies on India based research topic shall not be covered under NOS. The final decision as to which topic can be covered under such category will rest with the selection-cum-screening committee of NOS”.

The NOS, believed to be introduced by the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950s, is provided to the students from scheduled castes, denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes, landless agricultural labourers and traditional artists. A considerable amount was allocated in each budget and each year, 100 students aimed to pursue masters and doctoral research in these areas of study.

According to the annual report (2020-2021), the ministry’s data shows that out of 100 only 79 students were selected in 2020-2021, as on December 31, 2020. However, a reply from the ministry to an RTI application filed by A Meshram, only 73 students got the scholarship in 2020-2021. In 2019-2020, it was 46, and in 2018-2019 it was 50 and in 2017-2018, it was 65.

The scholarship did not have such conditions till 2021-22. The scheme guidelines for 2021-22 said the scholarship was available for any field of study.

This move by the Union government is being criticised by educationists and is being viewed as another attack on academia and research, what with research fellowships already not being properly funded by the government.

Also read: Educational institutes must take a significant relook at creating employable students

Ambedkarite scholars too pointed out that this new broad criterion would restrict research on the caste system in Hindu religion, gender inequality in India, poverty in the context of caste and similar subjects etc.

Prof Dilip Mandal, a journalist-turned-academician tweeted, “Indian govt’s revised rules for National Overseas Scholarship for Dalit & marginalized students prohibit research in “Indian Culture/heritage/history/social studies. Even Dr Ambedkar’s PhD topic would not have been able to pass this criteria”.

‘Perspective from below rattles govt’

Talking to The Federal, Mandal said the changes in the rules were done in the last hour and without any consultation with its stakeholders like students, teachers and foreign universities.

“Secondly, when the government restricts the scope of study, it would affect many of the students who have already done their masters and MPhil in social science subjects. They will not be able to apply for this scholarship. Thirdly, a large number of universities abroad are now showing a big interest in India and are encouraging Indian students to study and take up research in these fields,” he said.

In the west, especially in the US and UK, caste is being discussed in a big way, said Mandal, adding that in institutions like California University, ‘caste system’ is emerging as a significant area of study.

Mandal pointed out that the Indian government probably did not like the fact that the caste system is being debated in these countries in a big way. And the fact that these discussions were probably being triggered by students like Suraj Yengde and Arun Kumar, who earlier went to those universities from India, he said.

“My apprehension is that the government doesn’t want this to continue and hence it has restricted the scope of study. The subject of inquiry has always been about the society, caste, culture and political system. Also, these topics are being examined by the marginal communities and they have epistemological ideas – a perspective from below that is rattling the government,” said Mandal.

Also read: Fix loopholes before implementing UGC’s Academic Bank of Credits: Educationists

‘Neglecting the oppressed narrative’

Sociologist Chinnaraj Joseph said courses like history, philosophy and social sciences were becoming popular under the umbrella of ‘liberal arts education’. This was prompting students to view their culture and society around them with a critical approach.

“Studying such courses improves analytical ability, socio-economic and political thinking. If the students don’t develop these abilities, they will have a fundamentalist mindset believing only their culture is great. So limiting the scope of study under the scholarship is really a wrong move,” he said.

Joseph also added that at a time when the ‘bottom up knowledge building’ is gaining importance, this kind of move would be a regressive one.

“Earlier, people from outside of caste or culture studied other people’s caste and culture. They were significant but over time, people from the particular caste and culture which has been extensively studied by the others, are taking up their own research and many of the theories proposed by outsiders were questioned. If the rules of this scholarships are tweaked, it deprives these students an opportunity to put forth their own narratives,” Joseph said.

Dr R Azhagarasan, a researcher and writer on Dalit issues meanwhile said that by slashing  scholarships to only a few areas of study, the government is trying to limit the educational opportunities of Dalit students.

“Today, the studies related to archaeology are gaining more and more importance due to culturally important discoveries from excavations. It is to be noted that a large number of Dalit students are studying arts and social science courses. By limiting the scope of study, they are depriving these opportunities for key research work for Dalit students,” he said.

Read More
Next Story