After five years without a pay raise and eight months of lobbying, graduate students and other research scholars in India have taken to the streets to demand an 80% hike in their stipends and scholarships. Some researchers have embarked on hunger strikes.
Protesters began picketing at multiple sites across the country on Jan. 16. Around 2,000 scholars protested silently outside the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) headquarters in New Delhi. In addition to placards, they carried laptops and books to continue their work during the protest. They were detained by police and later released. At the Indian Institute of Science campus in Bangalore, more than 300 scholars held a 12-hour-long strike.
The researchers’ pay ranges from ₹300,000 to ₹336,000 ($4,200 to $4,700) annually. The pay was last increased in 2014. In addition to an increase now, the researchers want the government to commit to increases every four years.
Researchers involved in the protests include representatives from the country’s central universities, which are established by the federal government and overseen by the MHRD, as well as the Indian Institute of Science, Indian Institute of Technology, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
In 2018, they met with the government’s principal scientific adviser, K. VijayRaghavan, and leaders of the Department of Science & Technology, Ministry of Science & Technology, and MHRD.
The government officials have promised a speedy resolution, but action has been anything but speedy, the researchers say. “Since July, we have got only tweets, emails, and fake assurances,” says Nikhil Gupta, national representative and coordinator of the group Research Scholars of India and a research scholar at the Centre for Biomedical Research in Lucknow.
Most recently, VijayRaghavan posted on Twitter on Dec. 3, 2018, that “As we discussed in our meetings, the Fellowship increase in being processed by [the Department of Science & Technology]. This will be completed soon, in December.” He followed up on Dec. 6 to say, “I expect that.the process will be completed in December. There is also a recommendation for periodic review. Again, no problem so far and none expected.”
On Jan. 4, VijayRaghavan again tweeted that “A final decision is expected in a week.”
On Jan. 10, the Department of Science & Technology tweeted that Ministry of Finance discussions had wrapped up: “Hike imminent. Required paperwork is being processed.”
But the research scholars are skeptical that they will see pay increases soon. They also complain that it takes too long for stipends to be distributed.
“Many scholars have left because of the unjustified behavior of the higher education department and these funding agencies,” Gupta says.
Sahu Samrat is pursuing a doctorate in organic chemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology campus in Kharagpur and joined the protests. “No official orders have been released by the government,” he says. “Its sheer negligence forced us to hit the street.”