After the last hike in research fellowship in October 2014 as a result of an intense nationwide protest of the research scholars belonging to different institutions, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) promised to consider fellowship hike periodically in every 3 – 4 years. Since then, four years have already passed, however, the promise of MHRD has not been kept. Thus, demanding a 60% hike in fellowship and 10% annual hike further, recently, the research scholars of IISER-K organized a silent protest, in which they pointed out several important issues. These issues are:
- The minimum wage of unskilled persons has been raised up to 42% but there is no fellowship hike for a person doing Ph.D.
- While 7th CPC is in place, the House Rent Allowance (HRA) of the Ph.D. students is decreased by 6% (30% to 24%, from Rs. 7500 it became Rs. 6000).
- Ph.D. students do not receive any Dearness Allowance (DA) and annual hike like others.
- After 6th CPC, there was an enhancement in Ph.D. fellowship in 2006 and 2010. However, after 7th CPC there was no such hike.
After the last hike in October 2014, the government did not take much time to announce several anti-student policies, one after another. The severe-most onslaught over the students came as an enormous fee-hike for all students starting from UG to PG across nearly all higher educational institutions in India. Concurrently, announcing fee waiver for SC/ST students, the government tactfully attempted to create a polarization between general and SC/ST candidates in a time when the students of the whole nation were protesting unitedly against the institutional murder of Rohit Vemula at Hyderabad Central University, in January 2016. Next came the draft of National Educational Policy (NEP) 2016, which clearly showed that the Modi-government, at one hand, is trying its best to implement the recommendations of General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) to speed up the privatization of Indian educational institutions, and on the other hand, is set to propagate Hindutva ideology in educational curriculum. As a part of the broader agenda, the government has already started withdrawing its financial support from higher educational institutions. Thus, deliberately pushing every institute to generate revenue by increasing fees and compelling them to take loans from newly introduced Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA), which is nothing but a shameless back-door infusion of private capital into public institutions. Not only IITs and NITs, even central and state universities like Punjab University (PU), Madras University, Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) etc. faced such huge hikes in tuition fees. When students of PU protested against this, they were attacked brutally by the police, and even 66 students were arrested on sedition charges. The TISS administration withdrew the scheme of Post-Matric Scholarship (PMS), which undoubtedly benefited the students in the past, especially the students from marginalized communities.
During the last few years, inflation is going through a steep rise. We have witnessed price-rise of all necessary commodities by 50-100%. In a circumstance like this, it is not only difficult to provide quality research but also day-by-day it is becoming difficult for the research scholars and other PG students to sustain in the system. However, the government is totally silent regarding the promise of periodic fellowship hike. Rather, it is acting worse and has started dividing the research scholar community by upholding an elitist agenda. The government has decided to pick up about 2000 ‘eligible’ research scholars from the IITs and IISc and increase their fellowship to Rs. 70000. This is an attempt to disassociate the struggling research scholars of IITs and IISc from the nation-wide struggle of fellowship hike.
In several reputed institutions, hundreds of research scholars are working without any pay. Due to the callous implementation of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT)-based fellowship disbursal to Aadhaar-linked bank accounts, the young research scholars in many campuses are either not getting fellowships for several months, or facing delays in receiving fellowships. Therefore, the demand for fellowship hike by the research scholars of IISER-K is just and timely. As responsible citizens, researchers and students of science, it not only our responsibility to stand in solidarity with the scholars of IISER-K but also to unite and initiate similar movements for scholarship hikes in individual campuses. And thus, do our part in saving research from getting more and more commodified and become farther from the reach of the students of middle and lower socio-economic sections of our society.