Government clampdown on protest over unfair budgetary allocations in education for SCs/STs

Over 30 dalit and adivasi students and activists were arrested on Thursday from Shastri Bhavan here when they demanded to meet Smriti Irani, the Union Minister of Human Resource Development, over unfair budgetary allocations in education of dalit and adivasi students.

A delegation, including N Paul Diwakar, well-known dalit activist and general secretary of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), were about to submit a ‘Memorandum of Demands’ to the Minister asking for reallocation of funds when the activists and protestors were arrested, a release from Dr V Ramesh Nathan, general secretary, National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) said here.

Dalit activist N Paul Divakar and tribal activist Abhay Xaxa being taken into police custody soon after their arrest in Shastri Bhavan on 12 March.
Dalit activist N Paul Divakar and tribal activist Abhay Xaxa being taken into police custody soon after their arrest in Shastri Bhavan on 12 March.

The activists were taken to the Parliament Street police station where another dalit activist Beena Pallical was forcefully dragged and taken inside the police station.

“How can they arrest us when all we wanted was an audience with Smriti Irani to put forward our ‘Memorandum of Demands’? Look at the way they behave with our woman activist! Smriti Irani being a woman herself should have some shame. This is no democratic way of handling people. It is autocratic but we will not bow down because we have the right to raise our voice at the government indifference and inaction. We demand that our activists are released immediately and we are given an audience with the Minister to put forth our demands,” Nathan said.

Earlier in the day, over 500 students from Delhi, Haryana, UP and Bihar had gathered at Jantar Mantar here to protest the anti-dalit/adivasi policies of the present BJP-led government at the Centre. A public meeting followed by a march by over 30 delegates to the Ministry of Human Resource Development was organized to submit the memorandum to the Minister. The demonstration was organised by the Campaign of Adivasis and Dalits for Rights on Education (CADRE 2201). Various student groups, networks, and CSOs participated in the demonstration.

Ramdas Athwale, Rajya Sabha member, participated in the demonstration to boost the morale of the hundreds of dalit and adivasi students at the protest.

“The general thrust of the budget is to strengthen the corporate forces and intensify the exploitation of the adivasis and dalits. So it is not surprising that the allocation of funds for education has declined to Rs 10,194.70 crore under the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP) and Rs 5,486.44 crore under the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP),” said Abhay Xaxa, coordinator, CADRE 2201, earlier at the protest in Jantar Mantar.

“The budgeted expenditure by the Modi government for the most marginalised sections – dalits and adivasis – of our country has seen a colossal decline this year. We strongly protest this unilateral reduction in budgets for dalits and adivasis repeatedly. This year the SCSP has been allocated Rs 30,852 crore and the TSP Rs 19,980 crore though the allocations should have been to the tune of Rs 77,235 crore and Rs 40,013.82 crore respectively. We are going to urge the Ministry of Human Resource Development to take immediate steps for restoration of the proper budgetary allocation to education of Dalits and Adivasis,” said Divakar, earlier at the protest in Jantar Mantar.

The objective underlying the SCSP and TSP was to channelise plan funds for the development of SCs/STs, in proportion to their shares in total population, which is 16.6 % for SCs and 8.5 % for STs. The Union budget 2015-16 denied a share of 61 % to the SCSP and 53 % to the TSP. As a result, there is drastic deduction in scholarships and academic support programmes as well.

In school education, retrogressive allocations are seen in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, mid-day meal scheme (MDMS), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan.

In higher education, allocation of funds for SCs and STs in IITs, NITs, and IIMs has seen a decline. The Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship for SCs, STs has not seen any increase. The critical Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for SCs, STs has been reduced from Rs 1904.78 crore to Rs 1599.00 crore.

Dalit activist and National coordinator, NCDHR, being manhandled by policewomen in Parliament Street on 12 March.
Dalit activist and National coordinator, NCDHR, being manhandled by policewomen in Parliament Street on 12 March.

The demands include:

Post-matric, postgraduate, UGC, postdoctoral and overseas scholarships should be increased by 55 %; the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment should introduce the Savitrbai Phule scholarships on the lines of the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship for SCs, STs; the HRD ministry must introduce a new scheme to build hostels for SC/ST girls with quality infrastructure in all 100 proposed smart cities; the HRD ministry must set up a monitoring committee which will monitor and evaluate all existing scholarship/fellowship schemes for SCs, STs in higher education; SCs and STs pursuing distance education programmes should be exempted from course fees and study material costs; full tuition waiver from class XI onwards irrespective of family income and a comprehensive national database of SC/ST students should be made available to track and monitor benefit flow of funds among others, the release said.

The CADRE 2201 is a federation of like-minded student groups, adivasi and dalit organisations and activists who are working on the issue of higher education across the country. The Campaign works towards the effective implementation of the SCSP and the TSP, especially in higher education.

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