Students' Protests at Azad Maidan Enter 33rd Day, Two Hospitalized Amid Fellowship Dispute in Mumbai

The candidates had earlier protested for 160 days in Pune against the non-disbursal of fellowship to the students
Baba Saheb Ambedkar Research Training Institute
Baba Saheb Ambedkar Research Training Institute

Mumbai- Students have been staging protests at Azad Maidan for the past 33 days, demanding the disbursal of fellowships and protesting against the cap of 200 on BARTI (Baba Saheb Ambedkar Research Training Institute) fellowships. However, on the 23rd of February, the situation took a grave turn when two students, Juhi Khobragade and Rohit Tikute, fell ill and required hospitalization. They were subsequently admitted to Saint George Hospital in Mumbai.

The Mooknayak spoke to Prakash Pattekar, one of the protestors pursuing a PhD from Baba Saheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad: "For the last 31 days, since we have been protesting at Azad Maidan, we have been living a horrible life. We sleep anywhere, on footpaths, railway stations, and eat whatever we can afford from the meager amount of money we have. We survive on batata wadas for the whole day, and this is taking a toll on our health."

"We have been protesting against the unjust attitude of the 'manuvadi' government as the process of fellowship disbursal to us has not even started, whereas they have disbursed SARTHI fellowships to around 800 Maratha students and Mahajyothi to 1300 OBC students," he added. He also accused Sunil Ware, the director of BARTI, of discriminating against Dalit students.

One of the hospitalized student.
One of the hospitalized student.

In October 2023, the Department of Social Justice and Special Assistance capped the fellowship at 200 as opposed to the default fellowship to every candidate earlier. To shortlist the candidates, the department announced an entrance examination.

The test examination was held in December 2023 at four centers across the state, in which 3,600 candidates appeared. But it was canceled as the question paper was the same as the 2019 State Eligibility Test (SET).

The re-examination, which was held in January, was boycotted by the students as some complained that the question papers were not sealed.

PhD Candidates had protested against BARTI at its headquarters in Pune, later they shifted their protests to Azad Maidan Mumbai in 2023.

The protesting students belong to various institutes such as Babasaheb Ambedkar Research and Training Institute (BARTI), Pune, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Research and Training Institute (MahaJyoti), Nagpur, and Chatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Research Training and Human Development Institute (SARTHI), Pune. While the protesting SC/ST students belong to the 2022 batch, they have also been joined by Maratha and OBC students belonging to the 2023 batch, who are protesting against the non-disbursal of their fellowships.

The research fellowship offered by BARTI, named as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar National Research Fellowship (BANRF), includes a monthly stipend of Rs 31,000 for the first two years and Rs 37,000 for the following three years of the PhD program. The BANRF was started in 2013 and is the first fellowship in the name of Dr. Ambedkar. It is meant for SC, ST students from Maharashtra.

The Mooknayak also spoke to Dipali Gadhire, a PhD scholar enrolled in Shivaji College of Latur. She says, "I belong to a poor family in Sangli district of Maharashtra. My father was a farmer, and the financial condition of the family deteriorated after my father died of Covid in 2020. My mother had to mortgage her jewelry to fund my education. I got admission on 1 January 2022, which is 25 months ago, and I am finding it hard to pursue my research without the scholarship." She added that the rule of 200 fellowships came in October 2023, but we belong to the 2022 batch and therefore this cap does not apply to us.

A total of 763 PhD candidates of the 2022 Batch have been deprived of the Fellowship.

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