[[The Dalai Lama at TISS Special Convocation on Monday August 14, 2017. The Dalai Lama also launched the book 'Secular Ethics for Higher Education' on the occasion.]
Until the last semester, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) would provide financial support to students from SC, ST and OBC categories, who were eligible for Government of India's (GoI) Scholarships. Students were exempted from paying fees up front. The GoI scholarship amount was paid to the Institute by the respective state governments of the home state of the students. This amount was accommodated as reimbursement for fees exemption. After direct transfer system, the scholarship amount is being sent to students directly, who then pass it on to the Institute. This continued till 2014 when GoI scholarship for students from OBC categories was revoked by the Maharashtra Government and Institute altogether discontinued exemption of fees for all the students from OBC categories from all states. From then onwards, only SC and ST students received the fee waivers under GoI Scholarship.
On 25th May 2017, the Registrar of TISS sent a notification during the summer vacation regarding a change in scholarships. The institute had not mentioned these changes in the TISS admission brochure, which is the basis on which students take admission. The message from the registrar effectively asked all students including SC and ST students receiving GoI scholarship to pay Hostel and Dining Hall fees amounting to Rs. 31,000 per semester. The reason being given is that the institute has a backlog of Rs. 20 crores from the government.
Even though the Institute promises private scholarships or loans for students to bear the additional burden of upfront payment, this move will result in the exclusion of a majority of SC and ST students coming into such a centrally funded and reputable university. Also, paying back the loan is difficult as the majority of SC and ST students do not get recruited during campus placements, a fact I can attest to as a large number of my seniors are still in search of jobs. The few graduates from SC and ST backgrounds who get employment receive salaries of merely fifteen to twenty thousand per month.
The option of a loan, therefore, is not viable for SC and ST students as the majority come from families engaged in the informal sector with no regular source of income. Students who are eligible for GoI scholarships are in the first place those with annual family incomes of less than Rs. 1 Lakh, 2.5 lakhs and 2.5 Lakhs for OBC, SC and ST categories respectively. It thus becomes impossible for such families to pay Rs. 31,000 per semester, a cost that, along with other charges, amounts to approximately Rs. 1 Lakh, 40 thousand at the end of a two-year course. How is it possible for a family of daily wage labourers, which does not have an income of even one lakh per annum, to cope with the burden of Rs. 1.4 lakh fees for their child?
In earlier times, marginalised sections of societies - including the 'lower' castes and women - were deprived of the right to educate themselves due to social structures and brahminical hegemony. But after their relentless struggle, the Indian Constitution has made provisions for the deprived sections. Constitution (Article 15 - clause 4 and 5; Article 46) guarantees not only seats in educational institutions through the affirmative policy of reservations but also guarantees access to these seats by way of scholarships and other provisions. But these constitutional provisions were never recognized by people in power and persons from marginalised societies, who are still the first learners of their families and are unable to get the education.
As the Manuwadis did with Eklavya, taking away his thumb so that he is not able to practice archery, we have the examples of Dalit-bahujan, girls and students from other marginalised categories being deprived of education through privatization, which is done through means like denial of scholarships. These students, in fact, are discriminated in these institutes of higher education, even leading to their institutional murder. And nothing is being done to reverse this trend and rather it is increasing day by day. So this clearly shows that the governments want to maintain the status quo and do not want Dalit-Bahujan students to access knowledge which has been historically colonized by the upper castes. Because if they will teach them and give scope to them, then they will have to share their power and positions in society. This they are not going to do because it is clearly against their hegemony and the structures which they want to preserve.
Institute authorities are now preventing students from MA first year (new admissions), second year as well as MPhil and PhD from entering the hostels without either paying their fees or signing an undertaking stating that "I will pay the fees by taking a loan from banks or any other way". The argument made by TISS is that governments do not provide financial support for Dining Hall (Food) and Hostel charges, and that, until now, the institute has been paying for these expenses from maintenance grant. Information from an RTI query filed by the Student Union does, in fact, show that the institute is not being reimbursed by many state governments. Thus, the burden of the institute not being reimbursed by government ministries is being borne by students of the SC, ST and OBC categories. This practice of exclusion of Dalit-Bahujan students from higher education is not restricted to TISS, but is found across the country, largely due to the brahminical structure of institutions.
The Institute instructed GoI scholars to pay Dining Hall and Hostel fees (Rs. 31,000 per semester) which the students refused. Later, the students sought a one-month extension to pay these fees, but found that paying such a huge amount, especially for students coming from marginalised backgrounds, was almost impossible. After one month, the institute called GoI scholars individually and tried to force them to pay the fees. Authorities told them various ways to meet these costs, including taking bank loans, but due to their social vulnerability, the students once again refused to comply with this decision of the Institute. From the TISS administration's decisions, one can see that the institute is not making any attempts to foster the ideals of affirmative action and inclusion that it so liberally preaches. The government, on the other hand, is clearly moving towards greater privatisation of educational institutions, by forcing them to gather funds from private entities. The result of this is obviously the exclusion of marginalised communities from centres of higher education, where admission is only afforded to the upper castes and upper classes who can pay these exorbitant fees without the aid of scholarships.
This process imposes hegemony on Dalit-Bahujan and other deprived students in the name of money. We have to break this hegemony. The struggle of the students is rising to stop the discrimination towards Dalit-Bahujan students and also kick out the social structure of the ruling class and Brahminism. We must Educate, Agitate and Organise to fight against the system. The battle will not stop until the structure of brahminism collapses. As followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, we want to establish a nation based on equality, fraternity, liberty and justice for all irrespective of any grounds.
#This issue of scholarship is yet to be resolved.
Jai Bheem !! Jai Birsa !!! Jai Phule !!!!
[Arun Mahanand belongs to Kalahandi district of Odisha, and is studying MA in Criminology and Justice at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. Te above article was first published by roundtableindia.co.in]