Protests by research scholars have been ongoing since 2013, with scholars across India demanding that their fellowships increase in correspondence with rising inflation rates and costs of living. In October and December 2014, respectively, DST and UGC responded by issuing notifications that raised research scholar fellowships by 55%. Silence from other funding agencies and incomplete concessions from MHRD led to further protests, hunger strikes and nation-wide peaceful marches on campuses in February, coordinated by research scholars via facebook and twitter. On March 2ndMHRD responded with a revised notification that increased fellowships equally both for JRF and SRF scholars. More recently, on March 19th and 24th respectively, CSIR and DAE have responded with equivalent hikes.
Many scholars remain dissatisfied with these developments, which still fail to address some of the core issues. According to Anindita Brahma, PhD student at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), one of the most important unaddressed demands is that fellowships should be automatically revised annually according to inflation. “Otherwise every time we have to leave our work and go out of our lab to cry out loud for what we deserve,” she says. “This shouldn’t happen again.” Other unaddressed demands include that fellowship hikes should all be implemented from October 2014, and that monthly fellowship disbursement should be ensured. According to an April 7thfacebook post by the group “Hike Research Fellowship,” one future aim of the group is to build a unified platform for research scholars across India. A meeting is planned in Delhi for April 26th 2015, where collective grievances will be aired.
Student demands have had the backing of faculty. “Research scholars are the most important component of the scientific community and they should be nurtured with adequate financial support and abundant respect,” says Raghavendra Gadagkar, professor at IISc. Assistant professor at IISc Vishwesha Guttal agrees, and adds that an annual revision in fellowships is necessary. “Imagine if at the end of every four years I had to come and strike to ask for a hike in my pay. It seems ridiculous to me, and I don’t know why students should have to do it.”