CHENNAI: Binduja who studies in a private engineering college in Coimbatore, away from her home in Tirunelveli, says she has neither gone home nor called her parents for a few weeks now.
With her semester exams set to begin on January 2, she will get her hall-ticket only if she pays Rs 35,000. But the State government in August issued an order reducing scholarship amount it was offering to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes students pursuing professional studies such as engineering and medicine.
The reduction was substantial for certain sections. Many students from poor families say they will now be forced to drop out of college. For instance, the annual scholarship for engineering students in private colleges’ management quota has been reduced from Rs 85,000 to Rs 50,000.
Like Binjuda, around 1.5 lakh students hailing from socially backward Dalit communities in the State have been affected by the move. “I know that they may never be able to get the money in time to pay the fees. When I first told my mother over phone that I needed the money soon, she broke down,” she said. “It was only a few months after the admissions that we were told scholarships will be slashed and we would have to pay Rs 35,000 from our pocket. Had I known about this earlier, I would not have even thought of studying engineering,” she said.
She and around 50 students from various colleges across the State gathered at Chennai Press Club, through the Ambedkar Kalvi Centenary Movement, a federation of SC/ST engineering students, to urge the government to repeal the decision.
For someone like Binduja, daughter of a small farmer, 1029 marks in her Class 12 exams was not all it took to be to join engineering. “We had gone months on just ration rice that was sometimes, almost inedible. Both my parents are daily-wage earners,” she said.
With the semester exams just weeks away, many said they had no choice but to discontinue their education if they are not provided a full scholarship. “Even for placement training in my college, I was asked to pay Rs 3,000. It took my mom a month to ask everyone she knew to scrape together the money. Where do we go for 10 times that amount?” she asked.
Said K Babu, the first not only in his family, but also his village in Villupuram to study engineering: “I’m not sure I would be able to finish the course. I would not have dared to come to study here in Chennai had I known before joining that the scholarship would be reduced.” M Dharmaraj, a BE final year student from Tiruchy, said, “If this doesn’t change, we will march to the Secretariat to meet the CM.”