Lockdown Starts Biting Research Scholars, Thousands Send SoS to PMO, Other Research Bodies

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Caption: Scholars’ Protest in times of Coronavirus Covid-19

Mohd Aasif | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – Members of the research community aired their grievances under the ongoing lockdown imposed in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak on social media on 22 May.

Participants from across the country posted their photos on social media with the posters under hashtags of #fund_genomic_research, #monthly_fellowship_for_all, #ScholarsUnityCOVID19 to highlight their demands. Several scholars posted video messages.

 

Dr. Arghya Das, joint convener of Democratic Research Scholars’ Organisation, informed that an online sign campaign they had launched drew overwhelming response from scholars. A petition was sent to the Prime Minister Office and other research bodies like University Grants Commission (UGC) with 2500 signatures of the scholars and researchers across the country.

Das is a scholar at International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, (ICTS) Bangalore.

A huge pool of Non-NET fellows doesn’t have any fellowship. The lockdown exacerbated the misery of individual researchers to a level never seen before. The protesters have drawn the attention of the authorities towards shortage of funds in basic scientific research. “Even in normal times, irregular disbursement of stipend is a major issue for researchers around the country,” said Manish Mahour, a scholar at Vishva Bharati University.

As per the organisation, research activity has always endured shortage of funds. Dr. Das, one of the organisers, said he believed that the “unplanned” lockdown has put the nation in jeopardy. So much so that even research scholars are not immune from it.

“The funding for the department of atomic energy is curtailed by 85% in the ongoing quarter. It is bound to affect the long-term disbursement of scholarships as we rely on the funding,” said Dr. Das.

Dr. Nibedita Pradhan, professor, IIT Kharagpur, says the irregularity and absence of fellowship make our conditions miserable for all scholars in all streams. The issue must be addressed on priority busy.

Due to the lockdown, research work has come to a standstill for now and once the work resumes it will require to make up for the lost time with an extended tenure. “The way the current situation is being handled is putting future of everyone in peril,” said Dr Pradhan.

Shedding light on the negligence of the government towards health and related research infrastructure, Dr. Akil Murali Kannur University, Kerala, said, “This COVID-19 pandemic has once again shown us how broken our research infrastructure is. To overcome this pandemic, we need more testing, better knowledge of the virus and its effects and adequate research facilities in this particular field.”

The community has raised the issue of frontline warriors. “The negligence towards doctors, health workers, research scholars across the nation is not right, neither for improving healthcare nor extending research to find a cure, both are indispensable,” said Arindam Das, postdoc fellow, Jadavpur University.

The resolution, he said, lies in proper planning and adequate government funding.

Along with other medical staff, researchers are playing a vital role in finding the cure of Coronavirus. “Many of our fellow researchers are fighting in the front, in hospitals, medical colleges, labs, without proper safety infrastructure. We want them to be safe and secure”, said Pijus Gayan, a scholar from Jadavpur University.

The researchers have sent a letter to the PM and the CMs of all states on May 12 and 14. Arghya Das told Clarion India that they had initiated a nationwide signature campaign. “Thousands of research scholars across the country have come out for the online protests,” added Das.

The demands of the research scholars are as follows:

1. To make up for the duration of closure of research institutions, adequate tenure extension with full fellowship must be announced immediately for all scholars regardless of stream.

2. Ensure continuation and monthly disbursement of fellowship for all research scholars amidst the situation of lockdown and campus closure.

3. Ensure safety, security and insurance of all scholars currently working in different hospitals, medical colleges, institutions and laboratories in relation to the healthcare response to Covid19, analysis of SARS-COV-2 virus, vaccination and treatment of Covid19 infection etc.

4. Manifold increase in Covid testing and research; in particular provide adequate projects and increase funds for genomics research of SARS-COV-2 and for basic science in general.

5. After the current pandemic situation is over, provide required support to ensure proper sanitization and other safety and precautionary measures for opening of all the labs and institutions for regular activities.

The scholars also appealed to the government to take lessons from Covid-19 and adopt scientific approach to improving healthcare system, scientific education and research, ensure job security and financial help for marginalised people with due urgency. The community also assured its support to the victims of cyclone Amphan and urged the governments to ensure adequate and speedy relief.

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