The delight that you feel when you receive a mail, “Congratulations! You have been selected to work as a research fellow at the NATIONAL LABORATORY.” is really unparalleled. You are enthused and excited that you are finally going to do what you had dreamt of for a long time, when you read about the great Marie Curie and the phenomenal Mendeleev and you were inspired to pursue research. Filled with maximum energy and bubbling pride you step into the lab for the first day. The first week zooms past and everything is exciting and rosy. However very soon the reality starts setting in.
The purpose of this article is not to be negative or vent out. I think that taking things lying down and accepting the status quo is a sign of weakness; the truth should come out and myths about these so called “dream institutes” must be busted.
Let me start with the cash crunch that the future of researchers of the nation, i.e. Ph.D. scholars have to go through. The students have to pay the course fees and registration fees within the stipulated time or their admission stands cancelled. But there is no limit to when the institutes or funding agencies will pay the fellowship to the students! Delay of 6 months is a norm and in many cases it can be a delay of a year or more. One of the worst cases is the story of the INSPIRE Fellows. These outstanding students, persistent toppers of the colleges and universities, have to wait for a year after they complete their post-graduation for admission to PhD and a year more to finally get the fellowship As a result, many students can’t pursue research due to financial constraints and loss of time. The question is, why should the students pay the price for the callousness of the authorities? And this is not the end, rather it is just the beginning. Even if funding agencies start rolling out funds once, that does not guarantee that the scholar will keep receiving it smoothly thereafter. There have been so many instances wherein after receiving stipends for a few months, students again have to keep waiting for months or even years together, for their next instalments! I would say that as many as 75% students are staying away from the family to pursue Ph.D. The “achhe din” living expenses are too high for a student living alone to manage without getting paid for months together. As all of us know, one of the reasons for the suicide of Rohit Vemula, a Hyderabad Central University student last year was that he was not paid his fellowship for at least 6 months.
This is also one of the reasons that many brilliant students prefer to go abroad for research rather than staying in India.
The following is the experience shared by lots and lots of students and is not an exceptional case. The student submits all her/his documents on time, goes to and fro between several offices tens of times and when she/he needs a really important book from the library for reference, the librarian holds up her/his hands and says “you can’t have this book because your office memorandum is not yet generated”. And this is one and a half months from the day the student has submitted the documents! Research scholars will agree that similar is the story for getting chemicals, instruments various apparatus, etc. in most of the “esteemed institutes”.
A silver lining for the students is that a majority of the scientists or professors and guides are pro student. The problem is with the decision makers in the administration, and people sitting at the top holding power. It is not an exaggeration when I say this that if a student is facing injustice and her/his guide takes a stand for the student and if this is noticed by the so called “big bosses”, the scientist stops getting projects and funding in the future.
On one side, young scientists taking the nation ahead is expressed as “mann ki baat”, but on the other side huge fund cuts have taken place in the education sector of the latest budget. What kind of hypocrisy is this? Even though the institute or research guides feel like helping students, they are handcuffed because of the huge fund cuts that have taken place in educational institutes across the country.
I know of students who skip meals to save money at times when they are not receiving their stipends. Not only the physical health but also the mental health of the students suffer because of the callous attitude of the funding authorities. All this put together is not only putting a toll on the students as individual but also on the future of research as a whole.
And let me tell you this is not the story of just one institute (where I personally witnessed all these problems). This is the scenario in research institutes across the nation. Tell me dear friends, how long should we be silent? Is the right to quality education only of a few people from the propertied class? Who is responsible for all this callousness?
All these are serious problems, but friends as we believe in science, every problem has a solution! We students need to unite and organise to have a strong voice, the voice of youth.
We must believe in the principle that “An attack on one is an attack on all”. First step will be if you agree with what is written here (and I am sure many of you would), share this article with as many people as you can. Next step is to form a union. If university students can form a union, resident doctors can, and even pilots can then why can’t students working at the National labs?
Hence my friends I urge you to unite, organise and fight for your rights.