By Ananya Saha:
I remember my moment of jubilation when after completing my masters at the Centre for English Studies, JNU, I qualified the M.Phil. entrance to this prestigious university once again in 2013 with my fellow peers. Some of them had already cleared the NET, the rest still gearing up to realize its vital importance. Thereby, we engaged in the act of finely balancing course/research work, preparation for NET and also some other professional pursuit in certain cases. While some have been rewarded, some continue to labour for qualifying this debatable benchmark of academic aptitude.
I, like many of my fellow peers come from a tradition or pedagogy where studying literature was not solely focused on clinical results. My alma mater happens to be St. Xavier’s College Kolkata, wherein my professors prodded me to think, question and not accept everything at face value. JNU only facilitated further this practice of thinking out-of-the-box; like any other dedicated, research-oriented departments of other Universities would do. Even for students who haven’t been exposed to such an educational tradition early in their lives, due to some reason or the other, a university such as mine often becomes their ground of initiation for sensitization.
Alas once sensitized; a person cannot become blind or mute. Within the unrested, atrociously narrow-minded orthodox politico-social predicament that envelopes us, we are being muzzled once more. The decision to do away with the UGC NON-NET Fellowship for researchers in Universities across India is one such move. Why? Here are the reasons.
It reflects that research, especially Humanities research in India is considered superfluous by various concerned authorities. I say Humanities specifically as even today, registered in the PhD program of a revered institute, we are often shocked when educated individuals from other fields ask us: ‘Research in English? Must be Shakespeare?’ (as apparently he is the only author of some note). Or, ‘History mein kaise research ho sakti hai? It is constant na? Kya change hogi usmein? IAS ban jao.’ (How can you conduct research in History? Isn’t that supposed to be constant? Become an IAS officer).
I feel like telling these people that not everyone suffers from a herd mentality. And there are many who simply do not wish to a part of the crowd. However when such is the predicament in our society itself, how would the scrapping of a meagre amount of ₹5000/8000 (M.Phil/PhD) scholarship reflect upon the morale of the research community all over the nation?
Even if a financially underprivileged person has a promising research idea, s/he is not permitted to pursue it due to lack of means. Then what is the point of reserving seats to promote and encourage an under-privileged individual? Is this what higher education should be? Is this not muzzling as well?
An ‘enlightened’ person who is in the academic business told me that NON-NET apparently diminishes the value attached to NET qualifiers. If this is the case, institutes should not accept researchers without NET to begin with. A few institutes are honest in a manner of speaking from the beginning and do not accept proposals from NON-NET candidates, thus giving them no false hope. This pertains to both Science and Humanities departments in many cases across institutions. I am not naming them for the sake of discretion.
Now, as the situation stands, it does not matter even if one has qualified rigorous entrances to prestigious universities as clearly; they are of little importance to anyone. Not everyone has the funds to leave the country and pursue their career abroad. Not everyone wants to do so. But our system is hell-bent on chasing away unwilling scholars abroad, it seems. Rather than doing that, isn’t it better to collectively try and overhaul for such a structure wherein the scholars would not have to leave due to compulsion? After all, ‘innovation’ is an empty, big word without the funds. If we are to be inspired by a country like the USA, we must take note that they invest in scientific, state-of-the-art research for every field, without neglecting humanities and social sciences.
I also came across opinions, both online and offline such as, ‘It is a good move. Only qualified ones should get the fellowship’. How does one define the term qualified? Getting into a PhD program after clearing a difficult two-tiered selection process isn’t good enough? Those who consider the NET as a ‘qualifying paradigm’ should clearly be reminded that the ‘Junior Research Fellowship’ (JRF) exists for the ‘deserving candidates’. Another person told me once in a debate, ‘Many misuse the funds that they get. Hence, it should be scrapped.’ For them, I have a food for thought. Fellows, the amount is ₹5,000/8,000, not ₹50,000.
Researchers need resources for books, library memberships, paid e-journals, travelling for seminars and also, publication fees in certain instances. These are expenditures one cannot do away with often for the sake of API (or percentage) points which has been levied by the institutional authority itself. Hostel residents need to pay their mess bills every month, which alone is around ₹2000. After that, how much do you think is left for the alleged ‘misuse’, especially if you are living in a metropolitan city where the living expense is high, even with subsidized facilities within certain campuses? One might say that a private university scholar does handsomely without this funding. If this is an overall move towards privatization of education; they must know that many such private institutes, once admitted, pay their researchers quite respectably to cover all the possible academic expenses. But once again, many aspiring researchers cannot bear the admission and other expenses for registering in private universities.
Students have been protesting outside the UGC office in New Delhi in order to secure the interest of the entire research community. After all, aren’t we the ones who are supposed to nurture the development of the minds of posterity when we are appointed as lecturers and professors? But many of them have been hauled off to the lock up. Nevertheless, the dynamism cannot stop for it is not just about the money. It is also a battle of ideas regarding what education should be, a call for freedom from the sham that research has become in this mindless ‘land of cards’ from Tagore’s allegory.
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