Representative image. | Reuters

Twenty-five-year-old Aas Mohammad’s father worked as a bus driver in Delhi, until the Covid-19 crisis took away his job. Despite the family’s financial constraints, Mohammad managed to secure a master’s degree in Hindi literature in 2019, which he credits to government scholarships he received through school and college.

“These scholarships have helped me reach here,” he said.

Mohammad was hopeful he would be able to go further, and pursue his dream of becoming a college professor. For this, he requires a PhD.

Although he is preparing for the National Eligibility Test. held annually to select young scholars for the Junior Research Fellowships disbursed by the University Grants Commission, he is nervous about getting through the highly competitive exam. Of the lakhs of candidates who take the exam, only about 25,000 receive the fellowship every year, government data shows.

Mohammad was more confident of getting the Maulana Azad National Fellowship, which supports scholars from India’s religious minorities. But last week, the Narendra Modi-led government discontinued it.

The announcement has left Mohammad feeling betrayed and hopeless. “I cannot go for higher education without financial support,” he said. “This decision is a huge setback for me.”

The Maulana Azad National Fellowship was launched in 2009 after a high-level committee recommended that the government take specific measures to address the educational gap between Muslims and other communities in India.

Muslims form 14.2% of India’s population, but students from the community constitute only 5.5% of enrolments in the country’s colleges and universities, according to the All India Survey on Higher Education conducted in 2019.

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