Sromona Bhattacharyya Bhattacharyya
Hailing from Kolkata and now a resident of Bengaluru, Sromona is a multimedia journalist who has a knack for digging stories that truly deserve attention.
Speaking at the 106th Indian Science Congress in Jalandhar, Punjab on January 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi added Jai Anusandhan to former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s famous slogan of Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Jai Vigyan. He said, “Today’s new slogan is Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan and Jai Anusandhan. I would like to add Jai Anusandhan to it.”
However, this statement came across as ironical to hundreds of young Indian researchers who have been invested in peaceful protests demanding the due hike in their fellowship stipend since December 2018. The last hike for the 1.25 lakh research scholar community was in the year 2014 and while the government said that the next hike will come in 2018, constant delays and postponement has prompted research scholars from the country’s distinguished institutes to raise slogans demanding immediate hike.
A Facebook public group, “Hike in Research Fellowship 2018” was created with the aim of mobilising thousands of scholars from all over the country. The evergrowing community now has over 40,000 members who share similar emotions, sentiments and cause. The Logical Indian spoke to a few research scholars from different institutes to help understand their woes better.
According to the Universities Grant Commission, a junior research fellow (JRF) receives a monthly stipend of Rs 25,000 while a senior research fellow (SRF) gets Rs 28,000. This times, the researchers are demanding an 80% hike in their stipend. Earlier top government officials, including K Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to Government of India (GoI), Shekhar Mande, director general, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) among others had said that an announcement with regards to fellowship hike would be made by the end of 2018.
— K. VijayRaghavan (@kvijayraghavan) December 3, 2018
The year is 2019 and the young researchers are yet to hear a positive word on the issue. Talking to The Logical Indian, Vickey K Nandal, Research Scholars Representative at Student Affairs Council, IIT Delhi said that the silent protest has been going on for some time now and has recently started coming to the fore.
He said that around 100 representatives from reputed institutes like the NITs and IITs met at AIIMS in Delhi to chalk out a future plan of action for the upcoming days if the hike is not immediately mandated. “We are planning to protest in front of the Ministry of Human Resource Development on January 16, following which all the researchers will go on an indefinite hunger strike on January 21 in the capital state if the government fails to meet our demands.”
Since September 2018, representatives from different institutes have met with officials across various departments to talk about the issues, but to no avail. The protest on January 16 is going to be a reiteration of the December 21, 2018 event when disgruntled with the irregular hikes, scholars had gathered in front of the MHRD to draw the authorities’ attention.
Meanwhile, Omkar Venkata, a research associate at IIT Kharagpur said that the fellows on January 3 observed a ‘Black Day’ as a mark of protest against the government’s false promises. He said, “The elections are due in a few months and if the government does not approve the hike now, it will again be stuck for months at a stretch.” IIT-K research fellows held placards with innovative hashtags and slogans which encapsulated the woes of those who are working towards technological and scientific innovation in India.
Talking about the plight of research scholars in India, Jayeeta Chakraborty, a JRF while speaking to The Logical Indian said that most of the research scholars in India reach that position after finishing years of gruelling education which require a lot of money in the first place! “Many research scholars are married or even have a family to look after and with such low stipend, this becomes difficult.”
Reiterating Chakraborty’s convictions, Nandal also said that the government says that the stipend is for the fellow and not for their families, and moves like these discourage young scientists from taking up the path of research in India. “They prefer going outside and studying because of better facilities as well as a stipend.” Apart from that, the researchers also have to take care of high semester fees which are hiked from one semester to another. Moreover, fellows also have to bear travel costs for seminars and workshops both in India and internationally, as many times, their respective institutes refuse to bear travel costs, alleged Gautam Kumar, another research fellow at a reputed institute.
Nandal said that under the MHRD a research fellow is allowed Rs 20,000 per year for workshops and travel in India while Rs 1,00,000 is granted for travelling outside India for work. An underlying sense of fear persists among young scientists in India today. Those The Logical Indian spoke to are of the opinion that with such unfriendly government measures, the zeal for science, research and innovation in India is not adequately supported. Gautam said that while the government spends a lot of money to bring in new technology from outside if it were to focus on research, it can maybe help in indigenous development. While research isn’t equated with a full-time job, for these researchers, their work is above everything since it goes beyond what we understand as “normal working hours.”
Science is an integral part of our lives and everything we do today is a direct result of hours of research and development, much like the scientists of today who are working to make our future brighter tomorrow. The Logical Indian urges the authorities to listen to the pleas of the young career scientists who are fighting to make a mark in the world of science.
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