The long-drawn agitation by Indian research scholars demanding a hike in their scholarship stipends made a comeback this week, as research institutions across the country witnessed various forms of protests. At the heart of the protests is the venerable hub of Indian research — Indian Institution of Science (IISc) in Bangalore — where the scholars are resorting to novel ways of making their point. Sample this street play that shows their disappointment with India’s ministry of human resource development, which has been promising to implement a revised fellowship regime since October last year but hasn’t.
Candlelight vigils, protest marches, human chains, a postcard and cheque campaign (where each research scholar will send a one rupee cheque to the ministries concerned) and an ‘Open Day’ mark the protests planned across the country this week. The researchers say their patience is being tested by the union government and that these protests are aimed at getting them to issue a new and final notification on when the promised hikes will be implemented.
Fresh protests erupted last week with Sivaranjan Uppala, a research scholar from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, sitting on a hunger strike in New Delhi. The strike was supported by researchers from Indian Institutes of Technology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Defence Research and Development Organisation. Uppala’s hunger strike was called off after promises from the ministry to look into the matter by the end of this week.
In October last year, yielding to long standing demands of research scholars, the Indian government had announced a hike in the fellowships for young scientists working in government laboratories across the country. The union human resource ministry also issued a fresh notice last week saying the same thing again.
The October protests were under the banner of ‘Research Scholars of India’ with scholars from many institutes in Delhi — All India Institute of Medical Sciences, National Institute of Immunology, International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Hamdard University, Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi University and National Institute of Plant Genome Research. Their immediate demands were a hike in fellowship to compensate for the current inflation rate, annual increments linked to inflation, revision of fellowships from April 1, 2014 and streamlining of monthly fellowships.
The Indian government agreed to their demands announcing just a couple of days before the festival of lights Diwali that the ‘much awaited hike’ across the board will be at least 50% more than the existing levels and effective 1 October 2014. The hike was affected after India’s finance ministry, after examining the recommendations of an inter-ministerial meeting for its budgetary implications, gave its nod. Here’s how the hike is expected to look like:
[More details in this official memorandum of India’s Department of Science and Technology.]
The protests do not look like dying down until the Indian government goes beyond promises and follows them up with some action.