Four senior Arabic and Persian scholars have accused the UPA government of paying lip service to minority concerns while repeatedly ignoring talented young academicians in these languages for prestigious annual Presidential awards.
The scholars, including two who have received a Presidential certificate of honour, have written to the Prime Minister, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Human Resource Development minister Kapil Sibal, seeking their intervention.
The Maharshi Badrayan Vyas Samman, started in 2001 by the NDA, is to be awarded annually to scholars under 40 in traditional languages - five in Sanskrit, one in Pali and one each in Arabic and Persian. It is aimed at encouraging young scholars and requires academic work based on modern scientific principles.
But only one Persian scholar and no Arabic scholar has been picked over the past four years - including 2010 - for the awards presented by the President on August 15 each year.
"It's a shame. The government should review the work of the award selection panel. Either they should award the Samman or wind up the award for Persian and Arabic if they believe no one is fit enough to receive it," argued Syed Akhtar Husain, President All India Arabic & Persian Scholars' Association and associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
"The UPA claims to be minority friendly. But the government is blatantly ignoring Persian and Arabic scholars," he added.
Apart from Husain, the other petitioners are SA Hasan who heads the Persian Scholars Association, and Presidential certificate of honour recipients Mahmood Alam and SA Rahman.
The Presidential certificate is the highest Indian recognition of academic work in Persian and Arabic, and has no age bar unlike the Samman.
But HRD ministry sources argued that the decision to bestow - and not to bestow - the Samman on scholars is taken by an independent award selection panel, headed by former Chief Justice of India MN Venkatachaliah.
"That panel has concluded that most nominees in the Persian or Arabic category are undeserving of the award, because their work is unrelated to science. We cannot interfere in the panel's work," a source argued.
The Samman was awarded to Persian and Arabic scholars each year it existed under the NDA, and neither rules nor the quality of work has changed significantly, counter the protesting scholars.
"The selection panel is rejecting nominations on some pretext or the other. But if the government doesn't intervene the protest from Arabic and Persian scholars will only mount," Husain said.