Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to be commended for launching the 15-point programme for the upliftment of the minorities following the recommendations of the Sachar Committee on the despicable condition of the Muslim masses in India.
Mohammed Shafi Dehlevi, a member of the Monitoring Committee of the implementation of the 15-point programme recently made a fact-finding visit to the township of Malegaon to create awareness about the programme and apprise the community of the need to take full advantage of the government’s schemes.
Revealing the poor level of awareness about government schemes in the Muslim community, he pointed out that other minorities such as Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians etc were taking full advantage of the schemes, while Muslims had become laggards in this respect. He lauded the efforts of the Sikh community that had organised itself well to avail themselves of the government benefits.
He emphasized while holding meeting with businessmen, artisans and a cross-section of the Muslim community in Malegaon that if conscious and proactive steps are not taken, the community will not benefit even to the extent of even 10 per cent of the monies earmarked for minority development. He said that thousands of crores are being spent by the government but owing to lack of initiative and awareness, the money hardly reaches the poor.
He decried the agitational approach adopted by the youth and a section of the community and expending all their energies on it while ignoring the need for setting up centres for filling up forms for scholarships and creating awareness about the raft of schemes available for the development of the community. He critiqued the trend in some Muslim youth to stage dharnas, rail roko protests, submitting memorandums etc, which do not yield any tangible benefit. It only strengthens their sense of victim hood, while the need of the hour for the Muslims is to raise their educational levels, seek job opportunities and improve their living standards.
Outlining the reasons for the lack of benefits reaching the poor and the marginalised, he also criticised the bureaucratic redtapism, social prejudice, lackadaisical attitude of the state governments, parochial politicians and the lack of a proper and sensible Muslim leadership among the community as some of the main reasons for the deprivation of Muslims and their being stopped from being educationally and socially empowered.
It might be argued that the schemes are only a drop in the ocean, but even then advantage has to be taken by those needy so that they can use them as gateways to success and become part of the mainstream.
He suggested the setting of data bases of the Muslim community, especially of Muslim schools in every area; he also encouraged the setting of centres in every locality to enable students to get information about the schemes and where the forms could be filled up online through computer networks.
He spoke about his initiative to have monitors in each locality so that number of students needing help, their problems and other proposals could be sent to him directly, so that he could review them and take appropriate action.
HASSLES FOR STUDENTS
In 2008, the scholarship at pre-matric level was introduced to encourage parents from minority communities to send their children to school. However, while there has been an overwhelming response, every year students have to put up with numerous hassles. This year the pre-matric scholarship site could not be opened in some places, according to Muslim organisations who students to fill online forms.
After several complaints the deadline for applications was extended from August 31 to September 30, which won’t solve the problem, since many schools don’t have access to the internet. Filling out forms in internet cafés, too, takes an unduly long time and is of no help to the students thronging the rural kiosks with their parents. To add to their woes, there is a problem of electricity and low computer literacy in rural areas.
Students belonging to Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsee communities, who have not scored less than 50 per cent marks in the previous final examination and whose parents or guardians earn not more than Rs. 1 lakh, are eligible for the benefit.
However, it is the backward Muslim community which is having the biggest problems. According to one NGO member, there are major issues with the post-matric (from standard 11 till PhD) and the merit cum means (for professional and technical courses) scholarships, as well. An MA student from a Pune college, said: “Last year I filled the form and opened an account but I did not get the fellowship. More than 300 Economics students from the University of Pune did not make the cut. I don’t know if I should apply this year, as it is very demotivating.”
There is confusion over the website where post-matric forms should be filled and there is no space for full names. “My name has eleven letters but the form has only space for nine,” the student said. His father, a shopkeeper in Mumbai, managed to raise Rs. 14,300 for a year’s fees plus Rs. 1,500 for room rent. “The scholarship was worth Rs. 14,300 but I didn’t get it. This year I may have to take a loan,” he added.
A second year student of air conditioning in a technical college, Nazrul Islam (name changed) unsuccessfully applied for a post-matric scholarship last year. His father, a tailor, is already in debt for last year’s fees and is facing difficulties paying for his son’s education. Again, this year the website does not show the name of his college and no one knows how to apply. Last year only two students from his college got the scholarship while 21 did not.
Maharashtra Minority Affairs Minister Arif Naseem Khan, faced with complaints from parents and Muslim NGOs regarding the pre-matric website and other issues, is monitoring the matter on a daily basis. Another representative of a woman NGO, who has been informally networking on the issue of scholarships, complained about the short shrift given to students as the process was not transparent. Also the cumbersome admission rules make it difficult for poor students to make the cut. There is no helpdesk and no internal coordination.
Technology is a problem for the people for whom the scholarships are meant, according to the principal of a Mumbai College. Last year the college created a special cell for helping students with these scholarships and the result was disappointing - only one of the 31 students who applied was granted funds. This year the cell has been scrapped. “Minorities are in desperate need of education and if only this process could be simplified,” she said. Decentralising the funding process and trusting colleges to do it would be a big step in increasing administrative accountability and transparency, she pointed out.
The former vice-principal of a women’s college in Mumbai, said: There should be more scholarships for students. Reducing the bureaucratic hurdles and administrative problems, and creating a one window approach would make form-filling easier for students, she said.
NUMBERS ARE DECEPTIVE
From 58,000 students in 2008-09, the numbers of Muslims from Maharashtra who got pre-matric scholarships has swelled to 4.60 lakhs in 2011-12. Last year Rs. 54 crores was spent on this scholarship scheme.
The number of those who availed of post-matric scholarships in 2011-12 went up to 31,733 from 5,169 in 2008-09. With students complaining that they have not received the funds, these statistics may remain only on paper. While the intentions behind the scholarships are laudable, the workability of the schemes should be improved by a few notches.
THE PROBLEM OF INTEREST
Some of the government scholarships offer funds on an interest-based system albeit at a low rate. This is not acceptable to devout Muslims. There should be a waiving of interest for all students, not only from the financial point of view but because it conflicts with the commandments of Almighty Allah.