[Article contributed by a Research Scholar and activist from IIT Kharagpur]
Apart from peasants, wage laborers and unorganised workers, there are few citizens of this nation who remain unnoticed and unappraised but whose efforts put India into highlight everytime a new innovation is made – the researchers and scholars! It is interesting to note that India presently at its current capacity invests around 0.7% of GDP in R&D through different government channels, whereas a heavily capitalist counter-part like US spends 2.8% and China 2.1% of their GDP. Yet, our scientific minds have never stopped their progress to wonder us with their discoveries, regular participation and great performance in different international conferences and forums as well as in terms of patent filing. The social dynamics of a research scholar revolves around his/her institute lab or research organisation (in more than half of the cases, this is government-run or sponsored) and fellow scholars; in this arena, the entire issue of proper and regular disbursement of fellowship and regular hike of fellowship and other allowances is solely looked after by parent institutes and government directly. To put the facts as it is, the last revision in research stipend was made in 2014 after which the JRF scholars were getting Rs 25000 per month and SRF scholars Rs 28000 per month which holds clearly insufficient for students whose stipends are like salaries on which many of their families depend, from which they pay their rising fees. This last revision also took place back then after strong demand from the community through a series of protests. Also, many scholars (JRF, SRF, Non-NET etc.) do not receive their stipends on time and have to wait for months. Such financial instability forces students to rather catch up job at corporates than going for research, eventually degrading its condition in the country. Although, the government launched fellowship scheme PMRF 2 years ago, in which the stipend amount was increased up to 75-80 thousand, the problem was still left unaddressed as it is present for very small part of student community only and a larger part is left out. Moreover, there exists lack of uniformity in pay scale or amount of fellowship for scholars on same position depending on funding agency and project structure. The disparity grows more specifically when the funding agencies offer very few fellowships than the total number of scholars who are contributing to research in a different manner. The termination of several non-NET and non-GATE fellowships over the years during the BJP government in centre made the situation worse. On the backdrop of this, research scholars from various institutes all across India have called for Nation-wide protest across campuses on December 21 demanding hike in their stipends and timely disbursal of fellowships from MHRD, DST, DBT, CSIR, UGC and other funding agencies. Many students pursuing their PhDs from institutes like IISc, IISERs (Kolkata, Pune), IITs (Kharagpur, Kanpur, Madras, Bombay, Varanasi) and various other colleges and institutes joined this protest.
The scholars were promised for the settlement of matter within December 2018, but still, the future is not prominent. Precise demands are:
- Hike fellowship by 80% for all research scholars (JRF,SRF, PG students etc.) and it should be uniform hike and the fellowship should be inflation-adjusted regularly.
- To ensure the timely disbursement of all fellowship from all funding agencies.
- To reintroduce all non-NET and non-GATE fellowships without any kind of disparity and decrease in intake.
- The revised fellowship should be effective from April 2018 and all students must receive arrears.
Initial days of the movement went well with a joyous note with the enthusiastic scholars participating in twitter campaign #hikefellowship and tweeting to concerned authorities such as MHRD, DST, Finance Ministry etc. as well through getting organised by Hike fellowship 2018 group in social media (Facebook). This series of events such as sign campaign, and social media protest led to the silent protest across campuses and finally the media houses started noticing the demands. Mr. Ravish Kumar from NDTV covered the entire issue and demands of the scholars and the program aired on day after protest.
Amidst all the momentum in the movement, a section of the pan-India campaigners and some representatives from the movement who met DST officials earlier lobbied with right wing student-body ABVP and they met MHRD Minister Mr. Prakash Javadekar through ABVP delegator Alok Pandey. There was an attempt by the right-wingers to “hijack” the mass movement and events turned ugly when voices of dissent among the community regarding political intervention of government to sideline the issue, were suppressed by blocking the people from group and by deleting several posts who questioned the true intention of the campaigners. It was quite evident from the scenario that ABVP planned to portray this massive group of 42000 research scholars as their own research-scholar wing namely “research scholar of India”. With one of the dissenter raising voice and sharing the letter of the group in ABVP’s letterhead which was submitted to Ministry, Community became aware of the RSS-ABVP-Sangh infiltration in the movement. But finally when Mr. Javadekar did not even utter a single word regarding the hike of fellowship and focused on clearing backlog of money sidelining the prior demand, all hell broke loose and posts after posts appeared in the group questioning the credibility of the campaigners. With changing scenario, posts were allowed without moderation and research scholars having different political affiliation started commenting hard and in huge number. Finally, the movement is back on track and is seemed to be saved from an untimely death, and we hope to achieve its end goals through united struggle of all research scholars. There are words going on for approaching several democratic, youth, student organizations across the nation who are concerned about the issue and have shown solidarity with the cause.