Written by Fateh Veer Singh Guram for Dalit Camera
A tussle between the Centre and Amritsar’s Guru Nanak Dev University over the transfer of scholarship funds has left SC students struggling to pay up the fee from their pocket or drop out of college.
“My father is a labourer. Our family has never been financially secure but the ongoing pandemic has made the situation worse for us,” said Aviraj Singh, his voice breaking over the phone. “The university has demanded we pay up the full fee for the upcoming semester. Where do I get the money from?”
Aviraj is an undergraduate student at Amritsar’s Guru Nanak Dev University. The university is currently embroiled in a major row with students from the Scheduled Caste community. The issue began when the university asked the students to attach an affidavit with their readmission forms, declaring that if they do not receive funds from the Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for SC students from the Centre, the students will pay up the fee in order to continue with the course.
The university has declared that it will in no way be responsible for providing the students with any financial support.
Slamming the university administration’s “anti-student attitude”, members of the Left-wing student body, Students For Society (SFS) have been campaigning against the administration since the month of February. Shubhkaramdeep Singh, a member of the SFS, said that while the organisation tried to raise their voice against the administration, the lockdown imposed due to the pandemic has severely hampered their efforts for an effective campaign.
“Due to the lockdown, the university barred students from entering the premises since a few cases were reported from within the campus. During the first week of August, a group of 25-30 students decided to march to the university and demand a discussion with the administration. We were shocked to see the presence of police personnel at the university gates, who had come along with tear gas canisters, anti-riot gear and a water cannon. The university is trying to intimidate us,” he said, adding that the SC students, with their limited means, have no recourse if the scholarship funding does not come through.
The state of Punjab has close to 2.5 lakh students dependent on the Central Government’s Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for students from the Scheduled Caste community. Those SC students whose families earn less than Rs 2.5 lakhs are eligible for the scholarship. While the Central government provided funds for the scheme till 2017-18, it asked State Governments to take over from April 2018.
For states like Punjab, which have a large SC population, the burden on state coffers increases exponentially. As per estimates, the State government would have to allocate between Rs 400-500 crore annually in order to ensure that funds under the scheme are made available for all eligible students. A report in The Indian Express quoted Kripa Shankar Saroj, the principal secretary for Social Justice, Empowerment and Minorities, Punjab, as saying that the Central government is yet to disburse funds to the tune of Rs 1,850 crores since 2016-17.
He further revealed that the state had received only Rs 309 crores in March and April 2020 for the years 2015-17.
As the fight between the Central and the State governments continues over the disbursal of funds, students at GNDU demand to know why their future has been put on the line.
Kamaljeet Singh, a student with the university’s Chemistry Department, fears that if he does not receive the scholarship, he might have to drop out. “I do not come from a well-off family, and hence, it becomes difficult for the likes of us to pay our fee. I want to study and get a good job so that I can support my parents but it looks like the system is against the likes of us.”
Shubhkaramdeep added that while protests against the administration started this February, students have been facing issues with the Scholarship over the last two years. “During the convocation ceremony of the academic year 2018-19, degrees of a few SC students were held back by the university. When the entire issue is between the government and the university, why are the students being targeted?” he asked.
When contacted, Hardeep Singh, Dean, Student’s Welfare, denied that the university was “harassing” students. He said that the affidavit is being demanded from students because the money for the scholarship is directly transferred to the accounts of the students. However, university’s registrar, KS Kahlon, remained unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts by Dalit Camera to reach him.