Research scholars from various leading institutions on Friday held a nationwide protest demanding a hike in stipend. The protest demonstration was held in campuses and in front of Department of Science and Technology (DST) in Delhi. The scholars have further threatened to approach the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) if their demands are not met.
Students came from prominent institutions like IISc Bangalore, IITs, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and Institute of Nuclear Medicine & Allied Sciences (INMAS) indicating their discontent with the government’s lack of sensitised response.
Students from IIT Bombay have released a charter of demands, which asks for the revision of the current fellowship:
From Rs. 12,400 to Rs. 23,500 for Masters (M.Tech./M.Phil./M.Des.)
From Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 45,000 for Junior Research Fellows/TA, from
From Rs. 28,000 to Rs. 52,000 for Senior Research Fellows
From Rs. 36,000 to Rs. 65,000 for Research Associate
Disgruntled with the irregularity in disbursals, research scholars have also demanded a web-based fellowship assessment portal and a centralised regulatory body for regular evaluation of fellowships to suggest periodic changes.
PhD student protesters sloganeered against DST with placards declaring their helplessness: “Highest degree, lowest value.”
Vadivel Murugan, a research scholar from National Institute of Plant Genome research (NIPGR) said, “My peers now working in the industry are earning much more. There is no incentive to do research in the country. For students coming from poor families, this stipend is our salary.”
Arun Choudhary, a PhD. Scholar from DRDO, said, “Instead of working in the lab, we have to come on the streets. That is the reason for ‘brain-drain’, and why students after completing their studies go to the US.”
Choudhary added, “Only a few institutions get limited medical facilities, and if a student suffers an injury in the lab, there is no medical claim. Rather, his fellowship is not given for the months he can’t work.”
Slogans such as, “We are demanding our rights, not begging for money,” soon followed.
Ashutosh Sharma, secretary of the Department of Science and Technology shared several comments on December 16 on the social media platform Twitter:
“I am happy to share that the process to be followed for the Fellowship hike is fully on track and nearing its end.
All the fellowship granting agencies have been brought on board so that the outcomes are applicable to the entire student community and not fragmented.
In view of this, please consider not to take any hasty decision or action. This will help to take the process to its conclusion rapidly.”
Nikhil Gupta, a research scholar from the Centre of Biomedical Research (CBMR) claimed, “We have been receiving false promises for months. We don’t want tweets, but official written information.”
Priyavrap, a PhD scholar from IIT Delhi, told Newsclick, “China invests heavily in research and education, which is why they possess great technology. In comparison, India invests a mere 0.8 percent of its GDP in education.”
Abdul Ali, a scholar from IIT-Bombay was earlier quoted as saying, “Since I have joined research, apart from the inflation, there has been a hike in mess fees, semester fees and other expenses well. The mess fee alone has increased from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 27,000 since then, but our stipend has remained the same. The hike we ask for is needed for our basic day to day expenditure.”
The rigorous efforts by the government to add roadblocks for students coming from socio-economically marginalised backgrounds and to make the availing of higher education an expensive, elite and exclusive proposition, have led to several protests by students and scholars from all over the country over the past four years.
Protesters have threatened to go on hunger strike if their demands aren’t met with an appropriate response.