Many times I’ve booked a flight to New Delhi, not for sightseeing, not to meet my friends and family, but to visit the almighty University Grants Commission (UGC). This is my routine, at least once a year, since I started my PhD, funded by the government of India fellowship.
I still remember the day when I got my CSIR-UGC JRF examination result. It was one of the happiest days of my life, not because I can add this achievement to my resume, but that I would be paid to pursue my PhD. It was important to me. I was already in my late twenties, struggling with my first PhD then. At that point, I was thinking about quitting because for the past two years I was doing nothing but paperwork. Paperwork for changing my co-guide, paperwork for changing my place of research and what not! So, when I cracked JRF, it was like I got a second chance. I finally decided to leave my first PhD and start afresh. This time with my own fellowship.
But it has never been an easy task with fellowships. Activating my fellowship made me go places, from one Canara bank branch to another, when finally I landed where the staff had more experience with handling the UGC fellowship paperwork. I thought this is it.
#releaseUGCJRF@BBCHindi @ndtvindia @Republic_Bharat @timesofindia @TheHinduScience @htTweets @PMOIndia @narendramodi @kvijayraghavan @EduMinOfIndia @FinMinIndia @DrRPNishank @ugc_india @UgcNetJrfExam @AIRSAIndia @canarabank @nsitharamanoffc pic.twitter.com/xepWXL1IbJ
— Divya Gupta (@DivyaGu81111920) October 18, 2020
However, it took a while to finally begin receiving my fellowship from the UGC. That was fine by me because I heard it takes time. As long as I receive my fellowship regularly that’s fine, I thought. Oh God, how wrong I was! Every quarter or so I would receive my fellowship, but I could never be sure. So, getting an EMI (Equated monthly instalment) was out of reach because I wouldn’t know which month would be dry as a desert. I had to buy a scooter because getting an Uber every time was so expensive, and so, I got into the EMI trap. It was still manageable as I learnt the art of saving in fixed deposits, and prematurely liquidating it!
Anyways, it was going on fine for a while, and then the UGC decided to revamp its fellowship disbursal system and went totally online, with multiple IDs to log in and approve the payment. The officials in our fellowship department were confused, we were too, as only a few of us had fellowships at that time. And that’s how the many journeys to New Delhi began. Sometimes my fellowship would get delayed beyond the limit where my liquidated fixed deposits could not sustain me anymore. Sometimes some other details wouldn’t get changed from our side. The system was meant to be perfect, but the execution was very confusing.
I am not saying it was always grey. I saw some brighter days as well when I started receiving my fellowships almost every month. Those were the days when I could actually plan my financials like a professional. However, a few months after the lockdown due to the pandemic, my fellowship stopped coming.
I joined Facebook and Twitter groups and found that I was not alone. Thousands of scholars like me were trying to make ends meet. The funny thing is my family, as such, is not financially broke, but I am. What I mean is that my family is well to do, and they get their salaries on time, but I am on the verge of using up the last of my savings. Not that I will die of hunger or lack of shelter, because thanks to my near and dears, I can be totally dependent on them.
But, as a twenty-first-century woman, trying to be independent and all, this sort of setback is hard to accept. I am ashamed of asking for money. But here I am, on Twitter and Facebook, begging the UGC and the government to release our fellowship (#releaseUGCJRF).
Now, there is no official notification regarding the lack of funds on the UGC website, but recently, a letter by Shashi Tharoor surfaced online which clearly indicates that the government has deferred our fellowship due to lack of funds during the pandemic.
Ironically, the government seems to have enough funds to disburse “Rs 10000 special festival advance” to its employees and has promised free coronavirus vaccines to everyone in Bihar before the elections.
Meanwhile, scholars have been calling UGC, writing to them about their grievances but who is there to listen?
As if this pandemic was not enough, the lack of empathy by the government has pushed things to a point where scholars find it impossible to continue with their research. A lifetime of education and hardwork, all gone in vain!