A government report by the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) has questioned the validity of an existing scheme which provides scholarships to SC and ST girls. The scheme termed as the National Scheme for Incentives to Girls of Secondary Education (NSIGSE) ensures that SC and ST girls studying in government schools are given a one-time scholarship of Rs. 3000, which is deposited in their name at the start of 9th standard. Only once she graduates class 10 can the money be withdrawn. Another condition for withdrawing the money is that the girl has to be unmarried.
The scheme was introduced in 2008, as a preventative measure against dropouts of SC and ST women in schools, and to ensure that they weren’t married before the age of 18.
While last year, the scheme was allocated Rs.110 crores, the central government slashed the budget for the scheme to Rs 1 crore. With all eyes on the pandemic, the reach and scope of the NSIGSE was reduced to barely anything. Many activists and scholars have highlighted how the pandemic has only furthered the disadvantage faced by Dalit and Tribal women especially in terms of education and access to the same, calling for strengthening of such schemes. Instead, the government seems to have used the pandemic to undermine the scheme.
The Education Ministry in a statement last year, mentioned how the new budget was introduced to simply prepare for restructuring of the scheme that would come after the IEG report, which was commissioned by the ministry itself. With the IEG findings questioning whether such a scheme is even needed, it is possible that the budget cut could be step one in slashing the scheme all together. Findings of the the IED report include: lack of awareness of the scheme among students and teachers, difficulty obtaining caste certificates and using online portals, reduction of marriages for SC and St women below the age of 18, state government schemes being more reliable, etc. If anything these findings only point to the need for strengthening such a scheme.
A number of activists, scholars and politicians have criticised the report. On Monday, DMK Lok Sabha MP, Ravi Kumar put forth a statement addressed to Ramesh Pokhriyal, Minister of Education, highlighting the dangers of discontinuing with the scheme. Others such as scholar N. SUkumar and activist Ashok Bharati have highlighted how the COVID19 pandemic has only reduced accessibility of education to SC and ST girls. The push for online education and increased precarity of employment and income for families make education all the more inaccessible in the pandemic. The report even mentions how the scheme is discriminatory owing to the fact that ‘special preference’ is given to SC and ST girls. It is clear that in its basis, the report is against any form of affirmative action and lacks understanding of the socio-economic conditions of SC and ST women.