Plight of Theological Students of Manipur Tribals in Regard to The Post Matric Scholarship

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By H. ThangtungnungTheological study is a branch of academic education and knowledge similarly to other disciplines which aim at earning a degree. It is also based on certification like other academic streams to mould and shape one future career so as to enable him/her to pursue a higher study of education. It is not therefore, a different application or system of education away from academic parlance. It is thus likely and necessary that a theological student from S.T/S.C background who is pursuing a degree gets the Post-Matric Scholarship of S.T/S.C, funded by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment without any hindrance unless, he/she is availing other scholarships like the Post-Matric minority scholarship, funded by the Ministry of Minority Affairs. The tribal theological students should be allowed to apply the scholarship smoothly so as to enable them to continue their course of study and to pursue a higher learning without any financial constraints by availing the scholarship.
The theological students, like the students of  other academic courses like B.A., B.Sc or B.Com, etc are paying full admission fees, tuition fees, examination fees, academic and other necessary fees. They need to manage themselves like those students from secular studies and as such, they need maintenance allowances as well in the form of a full scholarship. Like many secular colleges of learning, most of these theological or Bible Colleges are also affiliated to a centrally recognized University and alike and are full fledge institutes as per rules and norms laid down in the educational policy of the Country. 
In fact, the rules and regulations of the Post-Matric Scholarship for S.T/S.C formulated by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India and implemented by the concerned State Governments do not mention anything which would exclude non-secular studies under the purview of the scholarship. It does not disallow the theological students from benefiting this scholarship. So, the concerned State Government and its Department which is monitoring and implementing the said scholarship cannot just simply deny the right of theological students from getting the scholarship.
The theological students of Manipur availed the PMS till the financial year, 2006-2007 continuously but hereafter, from 2007-2008, the same students were denied the Scholarship even though they applied for it, and in the succeeding year, i.e. for 2008-09, they were not even allow to apply the said scholarship. The only reason expressed by the concerned authority as to why the scholarship is debarred to these students is that, it is because their course of studies is non-secular! However, our adjacent states like Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya sanctioned and paid full scholarship to their theological students. Except in Manipur, that is also recently, no demarcation is drawn between secular and spiritual studies in respect to giving the Post Matric Scholarship to the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste students.
Taking into account the above points critically, the Trulock Theological Seminary, Imphal was visited within the first week of March, 2009. The purpose of the visit was to interview the students and staffs of the Institute and to get first hand information about their views and to take note of their plights with regard to the Post-Matric Scholarship so that factual knowledge and understanding could be acquired. A conclusion can then be drawn after analyzing and studying the details of what has been found out from the information obtained there.
Seiminchon,1 the General Secretary of TTSSF (Trulock Theological Seminary Students’ Fellowship) was the first person to be interviewed. In his interview, he mentioned that the previous theological students availed the scholarship till the year 2006-07 but since then, scholarship was revoked to theological students by the Directorate of Development of Tribals and SC, Manipur without assigning any reason. There after, i.e., from the academic session of 2007-08, no more scholarship is granted to them. They were the first students who were debarred from the scholarship. He further stated that there is no other scholarship or stipend he received from any other source. He also maintained that no one from the institute has applied the scholarship again since they have been informed that, even if they applied, they will not been awarded the scholarship. He raised a question as to why they should not also be granted the PMS since the Trulock Theological Seminary (TTS) is affiliated to the Senate of Serampore, Calcutta, duly recognized by the UGC (University Grants Commission). As the institute is also directly under the purview of a recognized Institute, the tribal students must be, as per rules, entitled to benefit the scholarship as long as they fulfill the norms and standard laid down by the Regulations of the Scheme. He even pointed out that the TTS and MTC at Kangpokpi are full fledged institutes of the Senate of Serampore, Calcutta, recognized by the UGC while many other theological institutes are affiliated to ATA (Asian Theological Association).
When asked whether there was any measure taken to relieve their cause, he explained that they themselves had brought up the matter to the concerned authority, but when every step failed on their part, the MUTSU (Manipur University Tribal Students Union), AMSU (All Manipur Students Union), KSO ( Kuki Students’ Organisation) and the HAC (Hill Area Committee) were approached. The Director and Deputy Director for Tribal Welfare had been urged, the concerned Secretary was petitioned, but all these requests vanished in the thick air unsolved.
 Themneimawi, 2 another B.D II Year Student was asked about her reaction on this regard, and she said that she was quite disheartened and unhappy. She maintained that since they were the first batch being denied the scholarship, she felt morally neglected and degrading. According to her own statement, no definite reason was given to them for this withdrawal. She stated that they did not apply for any other scholarship and as such, they were learning without a single scholarship though most of them hailed from a very poor family background. ‘No one is there to see and understand our plight and to take necessary measures on this regard,’ she added.
Neingneihoi, 3 another interviewee, said that she came here for her B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) from Nagaland, where she resided and completed her B.Th (Bachelor of Theology). She availed the Post Matric Scholarship during her B.Th course. She said that she was shock to learn that the theological students of Manipur were debarred from the Post-Matric Scholarship since the past two years. She raised a question why these students should not avail the Scholarship when the same students of Nagaland and other States were being awarded? She argued that she was pursuing her course of studies not because of the sole aim of scholarship, but she felt unsatisfactory when she would be denied of what she ought to get as she had no other source of income to relieve her financial problem. It is true that many poor students, coming from remote areas are in the hope of getting scholarship to relieve themselves from financial burden. But this expectation and hope is turned into a mere day dream.
In order to cover a wider range of study and to acquire more evidences, the Grace Bible College, New Lamka and Evangelical College of Theology, Nehru Mark, both in Churachandpur were visited on June 16, 2009. But the visit coincided with the summer vocation and there were no students to interview there. One of the main objects or purposes of visiting the two institutes was to obtain information regarding the initiative that has been taken on this issue.
Rev. Dr. Sonna Langzakham Ph.D,4 the Principal of Grace Bible College was interviewed and it was learned that his students received the Post-Matric Scholarship till the year 2006-2007, but thereafter, it was ceased. The students organized themselves with a few other Bible colleges’ students who were being denied the same and urged the concerned authorities to revoke the order but this went unheeded.  The only reason given to them was that theological studies were a non-secular course and the Scheme excluded such a study. The students’ body met the Director of Tribal Welfare, Manipur, in 2008 and urged for uninterrupted payment. To their dismay, they got a reply that final authority was with the Commissioner for Scholarship/T.D., and he was not in a position to help them if no positive direction came from the higher authority. They also approached the Deputy Director, Scholarship/T.D. and requested him to do something on this regard. The officer merely replied that though he understood their (the students) grievances and would like helping them, the higher authorities should be positive towards this matter in order to materialize something.
The students also approached P.C., Lawmkunga, the then Principal Secretary, (Hills/T.D.), and requested his kind approval for the scholarship which he flatly turned down. The students actually laid much blame on him for non-payment of the scholarship to theological students. The students argued that Shri T. Phungzathang, the then Minister for Tribal Development and Shri O. Ibobi Singh, the Chief Minister of Manipur, Government of Manipur, who held the finance portfolio were in favour of granting the scholarship to the theological students. This was not well received by the concerned Commissioner and Secretary. The Chief Minister had even given a direction along with an earmarked or budgetary statement for scholarship payment to the Department but without any outcome. It appears that though the Ministry had allocated fund for the said purpose, it was not effected by the lower authorities.
Though the scholarship was not granted to theological students in 2006-07, many of them were disheartened to apply in the following year, i.e. for 2007-08, but their applications were rejected. The Principal of Grace Bible College stated that, as a result of this, none of his students had applied further for 2008-09 academic session. Since then, the matter had been left aside by the students’ community. 
When Rev. Kh. Khaizakham, B.A., Th.M, D.Miss,5 Principal, Evangelical College of  Theology, Churachandpur was interviewed, it was ascertained that his students availed the Post-Matric Scholarship till the academic session, 2006-07 but they were debarred from the next academic session though they applied for it. All the initiatives taken by the students having failed already, none of the students applied again from the academic session of 2008-09. When asked what initiatives had been taken up on their part, Khaizakham replied that initially, his students along with the students of Grace Bible College and alike put a joint effort and their representatives met the higher authorities to convince them in their favour. The representatives also approached ATSUM (All Tribal Students Union, Manipur) and the KSO (Kuki Students Organisation) to take up the issue on their behalf but no positive results turned out. It was a common reaction that P.C. Lawmkunga was so much oppose to granting a scholarship for Theological Courses. In response to why he was too adamant, it was generally held that Lawmkunga considered theological courses as purely non-secular and therefore, these religious studies were excluded within the Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme. When his personal view was taken, Khaizakham remarked that if it was true that religious courses were outside the Scholarship Scheme, why Mizoram and Nagaland could grant the same scholarship for such courses! He pointed out that there was a student from his Institute who used to seek his signature for applying this scholarship which he always got. So, his general conclusion was that the theological students of Manipur should also be awarded the PMS as there is no other scholarship or source of income for the students. They pursue their studies without any stipend, grant or scholarship.
The Grace Bible College and the Evangelical College of Theology are both, accredited Colleges of the Asian Theological Association, India, attached with Andra University, duly recognized by the University Grants Commission (UGC). So, the main questions which arises after critical evaluation of the above findings are—
1. On what specific ground the theological students are denied their Post-Matric scholarship?2. If the reason for refutation is that such studies are non-secular and are excluded within the Scholarship Scheme, then under which rules or regulations it is so?3. If it is really true that theological study is outside the purview of scholarship scheme and the Rules and Regulations of the Scheme do not naturally cover such studies, why then, the students were paid till the year 2006-07? Is there any modification from that point of time?4. If such a revised rule has become effective, why and how could other states still continue to pay the same to their students for such courses?5. If there was alteration of the Regulations of the Scheme, then why is it not notified Officially through newspapers or intimated to the concerned institutes? And if the Implementing agency or the State Government are not quite familiar with the Regulation governing the award of Scholarship as specified by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, why is the matter not brought up to the notice of the sanctioning Ministry to seek their view, advice or clarification?Taking into account the above points, even if the Scheme has excluded the non secular courses from the purview of the Scholarship, the concerned Ministry has to at least clarify and notify the same stating the reasons clearly.
Notes:1. Seiminchon, (b. 15-11-1985) B.D. II Year, Kangpokpi, interviewed on the 2nd March, 2009 (Monday) at Trulock Theological Seminary, Imphal.2. Themneimawi (b. 09-03-1985), B.D. II Year, Moreh, interviewed on 2nd March, 2009 at Trulock Theological Seminary, Imphal.3. Niengneihoi (b. 28-08-1984), B.D. I Year, Saijang Village, Paren District, Nagaland, interviewed during 2008-09 at as above. 4. Rev. Dr. Sonna Langzakham, Principal, Grace Bible College, interviewed on June 16, 2009, at his office. 5. Rev. Kh. Khaizakham, Principal, Evangelical College of Theology, interviewed on June 16, 2009, at his office.

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