November 20, 2023

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‘Such decisions simply mean an end of education for us’: Yet to get fellowships, PhD students’ protest enters day 62 | Pune News

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The protest by PhD candidates, who had applied for Babasaheb Ambedkar National Research Fellowships (BANRF) 2022 but are yet to get it, has entered Day 62.

The Babasaheb Ambedkar Research and Training Institute (BARTI), an autonomous organisation under the Department of Social Justice and Special Assistance, grants BANRF to PhD students who belong to Scheduled Castes every year. Similar fellowships are granted to PhD scholars who belong to the Other Backward Classes by MahaJyoti (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Research and Training Institute) and for Marathas, Kunbis and Maratha Kunbis by Saarthi (Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj Research, Training and Human Development Institute).

While BANRF started in 2013 with an intake of 100 students, which was later increased to 200, Saarthi and MahaJyoti fellowships have no such upper limits. After a protest at Azad Maidan last year, the upper limit for BANRF was removed and all students who had applied and were eligible in the 2021 cycle were granted the fellowship.

Students who enrolled in PhD programmes in 2022 applied for BANRF 2022, the forms of which were opened in January 2023. The fellowship grant letters have still not been received by the students. The students believed that all students who had applied and were eligible would be granted the fellowship like it happened in 2021, but they were informed that the government had decided to standardise the intake across the three fellowships, BARTI, MahaJyoti and Saarthi.

Pravin Gaikwad, one of the PhD students, said, “PhD enrollments until July 2022 were considered for the last cycle of Mahajyoti fellowships and all who had applied and were eligible were granted it. PhD enrollments until March were considered in the last cycle of fellowships by Sarthi also. We, however, enrolled in PhD between January and December 2022 and were instead told to wait for a decision by a special committee.”

Festive offer

In October, the Department of Social Justice and Special Assistance decided to cap all these three fellowships at an intake of 200.

“We were supposed to have been granted our fellowships earlier this year but the process was first delayed and then we were told that the intake limit will be applied on us. Even if the intake has to be limited, they should do it from the 2023 calendar year, why for 2022 PhD students? Our own coursemates from OBC and Maratha castes have all got it and we have been denied fellowships,” Gaikwad added.

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BARTI Director Sunil Ware told The Indian Express, “The three fellowships have different intake cycles and fellowships have been granted according to the declarations we made in advance. The BANRF intake of 2022 was put on hold because we needed to get the decision from the committee first.”

Deepak Waske, a 26-year-old PhD scholar from Solapur, said, “So many of our coursemates have simply dropped out of their courses because of this delay. Our families cannot support us and you cannot take up a job as that would make you ineligible for the fellowship but we have been enrolled since 2022 and the fellowship has not been awarded to date. Now we learn that even when it will be, it will only be for 200 students. It is hard for people from our background to even reach this level and these kinds of delays or decisions simply mean an end of education for us.”

Ajay Gangurde, who has enrolled in a PhD course in science and technology, is unable to proceed with his research work. He said, “I have to make field visits and collect samples. Several chemicals are needed for the process apart from the travel costs. It is the fellowship money that I am counting on. First, SC candidates are not given timely and adequate support, then we are chided for producing sub-standard research work.”

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