A discriminatory education policy that further excludes the oppressed from academia: the case of the National Overseas Scholarship (NOS) for SC-ST scholars in India

by Ashok Danavath

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The National Overseas Scholarship (NOS) for Scheduled Caste and Tribes (SC-ST) scholars was constituted decades ago as an educational policy by the Government of India (GoI) (Thorat, 2009). With the objective of facilitating upward mobility by guaranteeing financial assistance to low-income students from Dalit and Adivasi communities, this policy has supported SC and ST students to pursue Master’s, Ph.D., and postdoctoral studies in Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) top-ranked universities of the world.

However, since its inception, the implementation procedures have always been a point of controversy (Danavath, 2022). Though the objective ostensibly is for social welfare, the NoS’s implementation has placed Dalit-Adivasi scholars at the mercy of the casteist state. Every NoS awardee has to deal with the unresponsive, if not insensitive, politico and executive bureaucracy. Moreover, the fixed amount of the scholarship grant is not adaptive to increasing inflation rates, nor to varying cost of living depending on the location of the university. These inconsiderations only add to the suffering of marginalized students in foreign countries. Despite its inadequacies, the policy has allowed few Dalit and Adivasi scholars from social science streams to reach global universities and conduct research on the socio-politico-cultural life of Indian society and state. Their research has fostered some of the first discussions on caste-based systemic violence on a global front. Yet even this iota of change towards establishing an anti-caste dialogue has become an object of scorn for the dominant caste elite of India. As such, a dialogue questioned the illegitimate dominance of the upper caste in a manifold. The current ruling political party in India, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is a right-wing Hindutva government backed by dominant caste policymakers. Their election into power, beginning in 2014, systematically cracked down on the NOS policy, first by increasing the required grades (percent of marks) for eligibility of the scholarship in 2020 and delivering a death blow through major structural changes in 2022. These changes inter alia discontinued the intersectional research areas on Indian culture, heritage, and history under the NOS scholarship policy. Therefore, this policy, by implication, excludes students belonging to caste-marginalized communities from critically engaging with caste-based oppression. The regressive effects of the policy are far-reaching. Especially, its outcome has a discriminatory effect on female liberal arts scholars as a disproportionate percentage of female applicants have shifted towards STEM education (The Wire 2022). This retrogressive move by the government to censor Dalit-Adivasi voices and to shrink global critical academic space has been lamented by various international bodies, academic and civil society organizations both globally and domestically, However, this has not moved the current fascist government to reverse the changes made to the Scholarship policy.

In light of the policy changes made to the NOS impeding academic discussion on caste, and any academic engagement with its intersections, as a scholar hailing from the caste-oppressed Scheduled Tribal background, in this paper I am exploring the question – Are Dalits-Adivasi scholars doing research on caste a problem for the casteist state?

About the author

Ashok Danavath is a first-generation Schedule Tribe (Indigenous) researcher from Telangana, India, specializing in the study of experiences among marginalized communities, with a primary focuses on Dalit and Adivasi populations in South Asia. He holds an M.A. in Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands. Ashok actively challenges prevailing narratives and champions inclusive methodologies in his research. His diverse research interests encompass educational policies for caste-oppressed students, welfare policy, rural and agrarian changes, social inequalities, post-colonial education, and epistemic violence. In addition to his research pursuits, Ashok regularly contributes op-eds in both English and Telugu. Currently, he serves as a Senior Researcher with the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.

Project & Publications Type: Rapoport Center Working Paper Series