Around 2000 research scholars from different institutes across the country had gathered at the Shastri Bhavan on January 16, demanding an immediate hike in their stipend. The peaceful protests saw the participation of researchers from Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR).
While the day-long protest started from 10 in the morning, representatives of different institutes waited eagerly to talk to the HRD Secretary, R Subrahmanyam. Talking to The Logical Indian, Nikhil Gupta, National Representative and Coordinator of Research Scholars of India said that the secretary did not wish to talk to the researchers about the hike. To the protestors’ surprise, policemen approached the crowd at around 4 pm and asked them to vacate the ground.
When they refused to do so, the policemen forced around 700 research scholars into different busses and took them to two different police stations where they were detained for about four hours. Vickey K Nadal, PhD Scholar and Representative of Students Council, IIT Delhi told The Logical Indian, “They took us to two different police stations – Mandir Marg and Parliament House. The detained us in the hall area and then locked us inside.” After yesterday’s protests, the research scholars have decided to continue with their indefinite protest and hunger strike in their respective institutes, informed Gupta. The protest was a culmination of months of efforts in bringing the plight of the researchers to the notice of the authorities.
Students demand 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. Vickey K Nandal 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.
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.
Plight of the research scholars
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.