Muslim students in India, like the fabled Judith, have more hoops to jump through and more obstacles to get by than others. If they do manage to get into a classroom, there are comments, jeers and suspicious gazes to deal with, as a student of MIT in Karnataka recently discovered, or outright violence, like Najeeb Ahmed in 2016. Yet, unlike the Judith of the story, there have been many improbable successes. Muslim women in particular have shattered all expectations and stereotypes into which they are bound. But, at what cost? In the post-COVID world (is it truly post, one wonders in light of recent news…) and the crumbling economy, and the unemployment that gazes back at even the brightest of newly-minted PhDs, what are the mental, physical and financial costs of this journey? The MANF in particular already had several problems and flaws in its implementation. For instance, in making UGC NET mandatory to be eligible for it, a lot of prospective students were already rendered ineligible for it. These issues had to be addressed instead of eliminating the fellowship in the name of ‘overlap’, a sham claim since almost all fellowships have some overlap with each other in terms of possible applicants, and no one researcher can avail of two fellowships simultaneously.
There used to be a popular slogan in the students’ movement, back in the days of the Occupy UGC movement. It roughly translates as – the expenditure on education must amount to 10% of the budget. This remains a dream. Instead of increasing the fellowships that have not gone in step with the rising inflation, students find the most basic of opportunities and support systems snatched from them in front of their very eyes. Many students spent months applying for pre-matric scholarships. Similarly, a lot of young students have pinned their hopes on MANF to fund their own education instead of relying on others. Many students even use these meagre amounts to sustain their families back home. Any vision of a growing nation must accommodate the needs and dreams of the educated youth, who make up its backbone and future. But we find quite the opposite happening in recent years. It will require a herculean effort on the part of civil society and educational organizations as well as the dormant political opposition, to counter these regressive changes