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Why Doing Research In India Could Land You In Trouble

Posted on July 9, 2015 in Education

By Bhanvi Satija:

In India, conducting a research can be a troublesome task. The list of problems that researchers face here, is long – ranging from lack of access to primary data sources, to inadequate library management and functioning. Added to this list, is the problem of being ‘threatened’ either by the government or the bureaucracy – often due to purely arbitrary reasons. These threats vary from one case to another, but exist nonetheless- for both foreign and domestic researchers alike.

Image credit: University of Salford Press Office
Image credit: University of Salford Press Office

Vani Xaxa, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Sociology, Jamia Milia Islamia recently shared her experience of how doing research in India can be a dangerous activity. Vani has been doing fieldwork in the Bijapur District of Chattisgarh since the past one year, on the socio-economic conditions of the adivasis, especially their access to health and education. She writes, “On 18th June, 2015, I was visiting the Block Education Office at Aawapally in Bijapur, along with a young female friend from the village, when we were subjected to the most horrifying experience of our lives. A plainclothes man came from nowhere and held my arm, and asked me to come with him. I asked him to stop holding me and speak: ‘haath chhor ke baat kar’. He refused. When I asked why he was taking me, he tried to usher me into a white Bolero. I asked him again ‘why’? He then opened the car door and took out his rifle. It’s then that I understood I was being ‘picked-up’.”

We also are aware of Christine Mehta’s case, who shared her experience of being deported recently. This case has also lead to a more stringent process of the Research visas being granted. However, it does bring to our notice many violations that the government committed during the process of her deportation, especially the many times when Mehta was denied a reason for the treatment being meted out to her. When it comes to violations and misuse of power by the government or the bureaucracy, activists aren’t spared either. A recent case in point being that of Priya Pillai, who was “off-loaded” from a flight to London, where she was going to make a presentation before the British MPs regarding alleged human rights violation at Mahan in Madhya Pradesh.

One common thing in all the above cases, apart from the violation of certain rights of these activists and researchers by the government, is the cause of these violations. In the above cases, the violations have occurred majorly because the government found the ‘subject’ of the research problematic. In fact, the stringent rules for scrutinizing the research visa applications also state that “An applicant has to submit a brief note in advance about the project in which the research work will be conducted. If we find it appropriate, non-controversial and beneficial to India, then only the applicant will be given a visa.”

The instances of researchers or activists being ‘picked up’ or ‘off-loaded’ are highly discouraging for other people participating, or wanting to participate in researches.

These instances are also extremely disappointing because they infringe upon the freedom of inquiry of a citizen. Moreover, they bring out the hypocrisy that the world’s largest democracy engages in by refusing to reflect upon its mistakes and improve.