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Caught In A Clash Between Centre And State, SC/ST Students’ Education Continues To Suffer

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As the Centre and State continue to play the blame game, it is the students who suffer yet again.

Just last week, Shri Andal Alagar College of Engineering in Mamandur, Chennai, prohibited its students – belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes – from entering the examination hall for 30 minutes as a form of punishment. The ‘punishment’ was for their fees not being paid.

Initially, the college authorities denied these allegations; but later agreed that students have often been pulled up for failing to pay their fees, and that they would look into the matter.

State Government Fails To Release Grants

Interestingly, however, the students were in no way responsible or expected to pay the fees, as the amount is supposed to be paid directly by the government to the college, under the SC/ST Post Matriculation Scholarship – a centrally sponsored scholarship scheme for the educational empowerment of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students.

But, the state government of Tamil Nadu has not released funds for the Post-Matric Scholarships since June 2017, stating that it was unable to do so because the central government had failed to release its own share of grants to the states for these scholarships.

Rs. 7032 Crore Pending With The Centre

The state is not lying in its claim about the central government’s tardiness. A report by the Indian Express, dated February 26 2018 corroborates that the central government has indeed, not released PMS Scheme funds for SC students.

The report also states that, according to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the central government is yet to pay up Rs. 7032 crore; while the central government cited inadequate allocations as the excuse for its failure to meet the financial demands of the much needed scheme.

Furthermore, these delays by the Centre in sending funds to the states is not new, and goes as far back as 2015, when the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu had to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting his personal intervention to ensure the immediate release of funds for the scholarships. Following this, the Centre released only Rs. 567.34 crore, still leaving a balance of Rs. 1549.76 crore.

States Opposes The Latest Revision in Guidelines

Additionally, fiscal matters are not the only area where State(s) and Centre find it difficult to cooperate; administrative disagreements regarding these scholarships show their ugly heads too.

Earlier this year, the Union Ministry Of Social Justice and Empowerment revised and amended the guidelines for the Post-Matric Scholarship for SC students, drawing a negative reaction from the states and affecting around 4 lakh students solely in the state of Tamil Nadu. The revised guidelines say that, “The fees claimed against management quota seats, spot admission seat in any Institution/University will not be reimbursed,” News Click reported.

According to a report by The Times of India, Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister K. Palaniswami also sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating that non-reimbursement of fees for management quota seats under the new guidelines “will create a huge setback in achieving the goal of social equity and social justice as it will deny opportunities to the poor SC/ST students in the fields of higher and technical education.”

This is a huge cause for concern because government colleges do not have enough capacity to accommodate all higher education aspirants, driving many students towards seeking admissions in private colleges and universities, which are relatively more expensive. Also, many students are unable to make it into these colleges through the highly competitive merit list, and therefore, rely on the management quota for admissions.

The latest amendment in the guidelines would deprive many students of an opportunity to continue with their education, especially those who are unable to afford expensive tuition fees. Opposition against the amendment also came from the state of Punjab.

There were disagreements regarding the distribution of percentage of fiscal liabilities between the State and the Centre as well.

Despite its disagreements, the Tamil Nadu Adi Dravida Welfare Department, which is responsible for the handling of the PMS scheme in the state, removed SC/ST students, who joined educational institutes through management quota, from obtaining the benefits of the scheme.

However, confusion arose later regarding the terminologies and interpretations of the latest guideline, prompting the Secretary to the State Adi Dravida Welfare department to write to the Centre for clarification.

While the State and Centre  bicker about the liabilities and terminologies, the education of many SC/ST students stands on tumultuous ground, facing uncertainties, making them innocent victims of the tug-of-war between these two fronts.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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