India is celebrating BR Ambedkar’s birth centenary this year with fanfare. Yet, the few spaces dedicated to study his vast contribution to making of a modern India continue to feel threatened.
On March 15, the Jawaharlal Nehru University registrar received a letter --- No. F-24-1/2017/ (CU) dated March 6 --- regarding the closure of the schemes for the study of social exclusion and inclusive policy (CSDE). It stated that the University Grants Commission (UGC) will not provide financial support to the university’s centre for study of social exclusion after the end of the 12th five-year plan and no communication whatsoever would be “entertained or solicited by UGC” on the issue.
But on March 16, after a news report in The Telegraph, the UGC did an about-turn: It said that the notification sent to JNU was “blatantly false” and “based on a forged letter”.
The statement read: “[The] University Grants Commission has established Centres for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy in various universities in the Xth Plan on plan-to-plan basis provided these Centres give a satisfactory progress in the areas of their focus. Keeping in view the same procedure, the UGC would be extending these Centres from 1st April, 2017 onwards”.
The centres were established in 2007 with the approval of the UGC under the X Plan Guidelines. The UGC had sanctioned 15 posts -- including both teaching and non-teaching staff. Teaching faculties and non-teaching staff have been appointed in accordance with the university Rules following UGC Xth Plan guidelines.
These CSDE centres study the multi-dimensional aspects of exclusion and discrimination, specifically the processes that lead to exclusion and discrimination of Dalits, adivasis and religious minorities in India.
Their research output contributes to policy formulations for inclusive development.
While the UGC claims that the letter sent to JNU was forged, there’s more to than meets the eye.
First, this is not the first time the UGC has attempted such a thing. In 2013 (when the UPA was in power), it tried to withdraw funding to some of these centres, citing that they have no taken off. This led to the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) petitioning the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) against the decision.
Second, coming back to this round of confrontation, these centres have been regularly sending their representatives for meetings held at the UGC HQ in New Delhi for giving updates of their respective centres. Even after holding these meetings, the UGC has been sending letters to the universities, asking if these centres have been established (10 years after they have been established!). Is it then wrong to think that the UGC could have had other motives?
Third, when The Telegraph, which broke the story, spoke to UGC chairman Ved Prakash on the circular, there was no outright denial.
Fourth, the UGC circular also mentions a ministry of human resource development file number (D.O.No. F.1.-1/2017/(CU) Vol. XVI dated February 27, 2017.
It will only take an enterprising soul now to file a Right to Information and get to the bottom of this.
Many have already criticised the “move”, saying that closing these centres goes against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Dalit outreach’ during the 125th anniversary celebrations of Dr Ambedkar.
Though the crisis has been averted for now --- possibly thanks to better political judgment --- it remains to be seen if the central government is really serious about inclusion and makes all these centres permanent once and for all. Only time will tell.