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'Is This Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas?': How the Maulana Azad Foundation Was Killed

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

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Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's death anniversary is observed in February — the first Education Minister in Independent India. Now, it's also the same month in which the notice to shut down the Maulana Azad Education Foundation (MAEF) was sent out this year.

On 7 February, the Ministry of Minority Affairs notified that 'MAEF is instructed to carry out the closure process at the earliest and submit the copy of its closure certificates issued by Registrar of Societies, Government of Delhi, on completion of all procedures, as per extant laws.'

The notice further reads, 'As on 30 November 2023, total availability of funds with MAEF is to the tune of Rs 1,073.26 crores. The current total pending liabilities is of Rs 403.55 crores. thereby, making Rs 669.72 crores available with MAEF.'

Apart from this, the notice also directed the transfer of the Rs 669.72 crores to the Consolidated Funds of India, adding that '43 contractual employees would be terminated by giving one month's notice.'
"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

The official order on closing down the Foundation.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

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Further as per the directive, the assets are to be transferred to the Central Wakf Council, which will take on the administrative responsibility for the affected employees.

Established in 1989 and fully-funded by the Ministry of Minority Affairs, MAEF is a "voluntary, non-political, non-profit making social service organization, established to promote education amongst educationally backward sections of the Society," as its description on their website stated.

A petition has been filed by Padma Shri awardee Dr Syeda Saiyidain Hameed and others, represented by Advocate Anand Grover and Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi has challenged the closure of the Foundation.

Seeking the Centre's stand, the Delhi High Court had asked the Centre to file an affidavit in response.

'A Clear Message to Muslims'

MAEF was pivotal in providing services through grant-in-aids for NGOs and had aided young Muslim girls and boys through its fellowships, scholarships, lectures and awareness programmes.

The Maulana Azad Fellowship scheme is a five-year fellowship provided by the Centre in the form of financial assistance to six notified minority communities — Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Parsi and Sikh — to pursue MPhils and PhDs.

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Apoorvanand, Professor to The Quint.

(Photo: Vibhushita Singh/The Quint)

"That's a very clear statement. and it's also a social responsibility of the State to get their children educated and to help them with resources to provide them a level-playing field. This is what these scholarships and fellowships do and you're taking it from them."
Apoorvanand, Professor to The Quint

Husnara Salim is grandniece of Maulana Azad resides in Kolkata and works as the founder-president of Maulana Azad Foundation for Education and Social Amity (MAFESA), her own independent Trust to preserve Azad's legacy.

Salim said the closing down of the Foundation would "stop the growth of minorities as they won't be able to avail such aid and equip themselves for good jobs."

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Husanara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad to The Quint

(Photo: Vibhushita Singh/The Quint)

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Muslims are one of the most disadvantaged groups socio-economically and educationally in India. Faring either worse than Dalit, Adivasis or equally poor when it comes to school and higher education.

As per the last Census (2011), the literacy rate of the minority communities namely Christians, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists is higher than the National Average of 72.98% except Muslims which is 68.54 %.

Moreover, the Sachar Committee report in 2006 mentioned that the Muslims rank somewhat above the SCs/STs but below Hindu Other Backward Class, other minorities and Hindu general in almost all indicators considered.

Budget Cuts, Fellowships Stopped: Not A Sudden End?

Nilasis Bose, the National President of All India's Students' Association (AISA) said that the "abrupt closure, without citing any reason whatsoever, not only undermines efforts to uplift educationally backward communities, but also reflects the hostility festered by the Modi regime against minority communities."

Bose added that this move will deprive the minority communities of support in availing education, which will exacerbate existing disparities and perpetuate inequality.

But, what preceded the Foundation's downfall? Let's get into it.

The MAEF also used to administer scholarships such as the Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship for minority girl students. This scholarship, for pre-matric and post-matric girl students was in 2023 subsumed under the Pradhan Mantri Education Empowerment Scheme (PMEES) as part of the Ministry of Minority Affairs in 2023.

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

2023 Notice on Begum Hazrat Mahal Scholarship.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Secondly, MAEF had also started the Gharib Nawaz Employment Scheme for Minorities in the fiscal year 2017-18 to aid youth from minority communities through skill-based employment.

In the 2022-23 Union Budget, there was a staggering reduction of over 99 % in funds allocated to the MAEF

So, there came a drastic shift from Rs 90 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 1 lakh in 2022-23 and then Rs 10 lakh in 2023-24 and nothing in 2024-25.

Apoorvanand stated that this is part of a larger structural pattern and policy mind of the current government where it's finding "newer ways to discriminate against minorities, especially Muslims."

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Apoorvanand, Professor to The Quint.

(Photo: Vibhushita Singh/The Quint)

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Sharjeel Usmani, an AMU alumnus and an activist added that the scrapping of MAEF should not viewed in isolation with everything else happening in the country with regards to education and religious minorities.

"This is also not just about on fellowship or scholarship alone, there is ample of evidence of why the Foundation was needed it in the first place and instead of scrapping it, more funds should have been added to it," Usmani told The Quint.

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Sharjeel Usmani to The Quint.

(Photo: Vibhushita Singh/The Quint)

'Erasing Maulana Azad's Existence'

Meanwhile, Salim stated that when MAEF received the order, no justification was provided as to why the Foundation was being shut down.

"They painted a picture that MAEF is getting double funds but what they have done is added a hurdle for educational aspirations of minorities."

Smriti Irani, Minister of Minority Affairs in December 2022 said, “Since the MANF scheme overlaps with various other fellowship schemes for higher education being implemented by the government and minority students are already covered under such schemes, hence, the government has decided to discontinue the MANF scheme from 2022-23."

But there's more to it.

Salim said part of the reason is that MAEF had not received all the funds as mentioned by the government, and that the outreach of the programmes was relatively low.

"Some Muslims might not know of these Foundation that they give aid to them through such fellowships and might not avail it and even though may did, the narrative was made that since they're not utilising their funds they must stop it," she said.

She alleged, "Some funds may be unutilised, but the non-BJP states are not funded the same way. They show that they have assigned a certain amount of funds but do they even release all the funds?"

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Husanara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad to The Quint.

(Photo: Vibhushita Singh/The Quint)

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An evaluation report from March 2010 on MAEF's website also underscored the number of girls that benefited from its Scholarship as shown above.

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Number of girls who benefited from MAEF, as per a 2010 report.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

MAEF in its report also stated that due to "limited funds available," out of 300-400 applications received during a year, it is able to process/sanction only about 100-125 applications (sometimes it is limited to even 50 to 60 applications only). The basic principle followed in selecting NGOs is 'first come, first serve.'

Over a 6 year period between 2003-4, and 2008-9, the Foundation has "sanctioned Rs 30.12 crores to nearly 27,000 meritorious girl students from educationally backward minorities from all over India."

During 2017-18, about 1,15,000 girls were given scholarship under the Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship Scheme that was started by MAEF.

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Impact by the Foundation, a 2010 report.

(Photo: MAEF website)

In a December 2008 year-end review, the Ministry of Minority Affairs had also written about the Foundation's multifarious contributions.

In its annual report of 2021-22, the ministry laid down the funds given to the Foundation.

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Ministry's December 2008 review talking about MAEF.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Ministry's annual report (2021-22).

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

However, MAEF's website and the content under its schemes have not been updated since 2021.

Usmani observed that the government's reason that it's closing the Foundation due to "logistical issue" makes no sense.

"Maulana ke wajood ko nikar rahe hain, khatam kar rahe hain" said Husnara Salim, grandniece of Maulana Azad.

Sharjeel Usmani, activist to The Quint.

(Photo: Vibhushita Singh/The Quint)

Salim also stated that 40-45 employees were released abruptly and have so far, not received any response from the Centre as to their future.

She said she has also reached out to the Central Waqf Council via calls and emails but has received no response yet.

Bose stated that it is indeed alarming that the BJP-led Central Government is "deliberately wiping out educational aids and institutions meant for minorities," especially at a time when the 2024 Lok Sabha elections are around the corner.

Stating that the move is in line with BJP's "Hindu Rashtra goals," Salim added:

"Maulana Azad used to believe that religion are politics are different aspects and should be kept separate. But again, it's an individual's perception. There needs to be a collective fight to preserve Maulana Azad's legacy and his efforts to education such as how Maulana Azad Foundation stood."

(The Quint also reached out to the Central Waqf Council but has not received any response so far. Their reply will be added when received).

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