Abhay Xaxa & Babita Negi
In an extremely shocking decision by Universities Grants Commission (UGC) in its 493th meeting dated 10th May, 2013, we have come to know that the Commission has decided to discontinue the Scheme of “Centres of Study of Social Inclusion and Exclusion” henceforth from the XII plan. This step reinforces the castiest and anti Dalit and Adivasi nature of a national institution that governs higher education in India. As we all are aware that after a long demand of stakeholders teaching and researching issues of discrimination and social exclusion related to caste/ethnicity and religion, the scheme came into existence with 32 CSSEIP centres attached to the universities to teach and undertake research on Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs and Religious Minorities across the country, including remote areas like the North East and other regions.
The CSSEIP was mandated with the objectives of researching and teaching discrimination and exclusion based on caste/ethnicity and religion apart from formulating policies for protecting the rights of these groups. Over 100 faculty and another 100 non-teaching staff have been appointed at CSSEIP which have till date completed over 100 major and minor research projects, published more than 500 articles which include books, papers in journals, working papers, policy briefs etc., apart from organising more than 200 conferences, seminars and workshops in addition to lectures dedicated to the issue of discrimination and social exclusion in the Indian society. At present, there are 55 M.Phil., and 45 Ph.D students enrolled with the CSSEIP centres across the country.
It is extremely unfortunate that despite such a critical mandate and impressive track record regarding generation of knowledge related to marginalised communities, the UGC has taken this decision without any due assessment or proper review of the programme/scheme. It did not initiate processes of consultation with the student community, teachers or related stake holders. The biased attitude of UGC becomes clearly evident from the fact that while the Women Studies Centres and Epoch Making Social Thinkers Scheme, which are similarly target oriented programmes, have got the green signal to continue, only the CSSEIP has been singled out to be discontinued. The reason cited by the UGC for taking such a drastic step is that this programme has “not taken off well” in the XI plan and “therefore could not make much impact”!
This argument is bizarre and baseless since within a short period of time, these Centres have succeeded in bringing to light various issues of discrimination and mainstreaming the topic of social exclusion in the existing academic discourse. Though it is accepted that as with any other newly introduced programmes like women studies, there are normal birthing problems, but that in no sense warrants such a hasty decision to bring down a national programme which focuses on the problems of Dalits, Adivasis, minorities and other marginalised communities. This decision of UGC is nothing but a biased step without any substantiated evidence.
Keeping this decision in view, we demand:
* UGC should immediately take back its decision to discontinue CSSIEP.
* A review committee comprising of student representatives, community members and concerned citizens be formed to look into the issues faced by CSSIEP in various universities and recommend concrete steps for its development.
* Immediately fill-up all vacancies in CSSIEP.
* Take steps to initiate CSSIEP programme in all the universities in the country.
* Increase the budgetary allocation as per the need of such centres for promoting research and publication with the help of Scheduled Caste Sub Plan and Tribal Sub Plan.
~ Abhay Xaxa & Babita Negi,
Students for Equality and Justice
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.