Explained: End of Maulana Azad National Fellowship which was recommended by the Sachar Committee

Justice Rajinder Sachar submitting report of the Committee set up to study the social, economic and educational status of Muslims to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on 17 November 2006. (Pic: G.P. Sharma/Wikimedia Commons)

By Pallavi Pratibha

What happened to the Maulana Azad National Fellowship? And, what is it?

On 08 December 2022, Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani announced in the Lok Sabha that the Maulana Azad National Fellowship has been discontinued from 2022 -23 by the Union government. Earlier this year, M.Phil and Ph.D. research scholars affiliated with various universities approached the Ministry of Minority Affairs to complain about a delay of nine months in the disbursement of the fellowship. The delay has been followed by a complete closing down of the fellowship scheme. 

Irani responded to a question by Congress member T N Prathapan and said that the Maulana Azad National Fellowship scheme overlapped with various other schemes for higher education that already cover students from minority communities. 

The scheme was launched in 2009 by the former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as an effort to implement the Sachar Committee report recommendations

The nodal agency of the Maulana Azad National Fellowship for Minority Students, which was formulated and funded by the Ministry of Minority Affairs, was University Grants Commission. The beneficiaries included candidates who belong to one of the minority communities i.e. Muslim, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist & Christian and wish to pursue higher studies such as regular and full time M.Phil/Ph.D. degrees in Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences and Engineering & Technology. The scholarship also reserved 3% fellowships for Physically Handicapped candidates belonging to minority communities. 

The pre-matric scholarship for minorities is another scholarship scheme that faced a hit right before Maulana Azad National Fellowship got discontinued. It was notified on November 29, 2022, that pre-matric scholarship by the Ministry of Minority Affairs will be limited only to Classes 9 and 10 from the academic year 2022 – 23. Classes 1 to 8 have been removed from the purview of the scholarship scheme. Approximately 4.42 lakh beneficiaries would be devoid of their entitlements after this decision of the government.

ReligionNo. of beneficiaries
Table 1: Religion wise distribution of pre-matric scholarships from 2014 – 15 to 2021 – 22 (Source: Ministry of Minority Affairs website)
What is the problem here?

Two scholarship schemes for students from minority communities are discontinued, on the premise that other schemes already cover the benefits. From 2014 – 15 to 2021 – 22, there have been 6,722 beneficiaries of the Maulana Azad National Fellowship. 

It is important to highlight that it is not a mere matter of accommodation into other already existing schemes either. It is in the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report that both the Maulana Azad National Fellowship and the pre-matric scholarship for minorities derive their values. The committee very clearly recommends for creation of special provisions that “sharply focus on inclusive development and ‘mainstreaming’ of the community while respecting diversity.”     

Constitution and the educational rights of the minorities

The Constitution aims to protect the cultural and educational rights of minorities in India through Article 29 and Article 30 of the Indian Constitution:

Article 29(1): This provides any section of the citizens residing in India having a distinct culture, language, or script, the right to conserve their culture, language and script. 

Article 29(2): The State shall not deny admission into educational institutes maintained by it or those that receive aid from it to any person based only on race, religion, caste, language, or any of them.

Article 30(1): All religious and linguistic minorities have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

Article 30(2): The State shall not, when granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.
What did the Sachar Committee say? 

The seven-member High-Level Committee chaired by Justice Rajinder Sachar, also known as Sachar Committee, prepared a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India. The report, tabled in the Parliament on 30 November 2006, frames the issues faced by the Muslim community in India as related to identity, security and equity. 

The report throws light on the state of higher education and states that only 4 % of the Muslim population aged 20 years and above are graduates or hold diplomas, according to 2001 Census, while the statistic for the total population is 7%. 

The committee report notes that the gap between Muslims and other Socio Religious Categories (SRCs) increases as the level of education increases, and that unemployment rates among Muslim graduates are the highest among SRCs, both among the poor and the non-poor. 

The report also states that about one third of small villages with high concentration of Muslim population do not have any educational institutions.  

One of the recommendations of the report is to encourage the University Grants Commission to evolve a system where part of the allocation to colleges and universities is linked to diversity in the student population. It is on the basis of this recommendation that the Maulana Azad National Fellowship was launched. 

From its launch in 2009 to its discontinuation in 2022, there have been only thirteen years. It is a matter of public accountability and discussion if the status of social and educational status of the Muslims as studied by the Sachar Committee would have significantly improved in this duration, for the fellowship scheme to be discontinued. A detailed response or clarification regarding this, before winding up the fellowship scheme, would have been a logical step for the government to follow. 

What is the response to these moves?

There have been protests in various universities and a protest was called for in front of the Ministry of Education by different student organizations such as the Student Federation of India (SFI), All India Students’ Association (AISA), Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Students’ Union (MSU) and others. 

There was also a protest staged by Maulana Azad National Urdu University and the University of Hyderabad in Hyderabad. 

Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin has urged the Prime Minister to restore pre-matric scholarships for minorities. BSP MP Danish Ali and AIMIM MP Syed Imtiyaz Jaleel have demanded in the Lok Sabha to restore both the fellowship and the scholarships.

Pallavi is a social science researcher and writer. She is currently an intern with TA.

The Analysis (TA) is a legal advocacy and research group working on the issues of environment, health, gender, law and human rights. Feel free to share your submissions with us at contact@theanalysis.org.in

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