Senior PhD students of IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay assembled for a silent demonstration on Thursday, November 23. This was to raise their concerns against an authoritative pronouncement by the institution, but students decreed that their concerns were paid no heed by the authority, and a few female students were even manhandled and allegedly subjected to the brutishness of the security guards.
But why are they demonstrating?
In an email received by the students from the administration, the 2018 PhD scholars (enrolled in July/December 2018) from Hostels 12, 13, 14, and 18 (boys hostels) and Hostels 10 and 11 (girls hostels), are required to shift to double occupancy, mentioning different dates for different hostels, but last week of December for the Boys Hostels and for the girls, by December 10, as per a statement released by the IIT Bombay students on Friday, November 24.
Attempts towards fruitful communication with the administration also went in vain, as the students claim that the meetings with the Associate Dean of Students Affairs on November 8, resulted in the dean producing a notice dated February 2020 that stated that students beyond their five years of PhD are not allowed to stay in single occupancy.
Students claim that not only is the notice redundant, but another notice to students’ knowledge states, “…hostel entitlement stay from July 2021”, which in either way proves that the students do not come under the jurisdiction of such a notice as they were admitted in the year 2018.
The students further met the Deputy Director-Academic and Infrastructural Affairs (DD-AIA) on November 17, 2023, when he claimed that the institution was incapable of accommodating the upcoming batches, and the 2018 batch of students were asked to comply.
A fifth-year PhD scholar told EdexLive, “We are completely unaware of the few vacancies that the authority keeps reiterating as we could see that there are vacant rooms in the hostel based on the information in the mess bills.”
The students were further assured of an “open house” by the Associate Dean, but they claim that the administration has been nonchalant about the matter, and hence, the students resorted to speaking up against this arbitrary notice.
Why can this be a problem for the scholars?
According to the scholar, who is also a resident of the boys hostel, the hastily taken decision by the authorities can affect most of the students in innumerable ways. “I have completed the fifth year of my PhD and have reached one of the most crucial periods of my academic journey but such a decision is adding to the already mounting pressure.”
The scholar further narrates his woe and says that a shared occupancy would cause inconvenience to all, as some work late at night and give interviews which cannot be done in front of a roommate as it may be a source of disturbance and may disrupt his/her work.
Not only this, this could lead to a financial crisis for students, especially if they are required to move out of the campus. A female PhD scholar from the same institution spoke to EdexLive and shared, “I have completed my 5.5 years of my PhD and I’m in need of a space of my own, as I am in the midst of pre-submissions, and it is a crucial time since I am looking for jobs and placements.”
The student says that this is certainly a reason behind the dilemma as she cannot opt to move out of the campus due to financial constraints. Not only this, she also highlights that residents of the girls’ hostel were not even given a month’s time, creating a hassle for the lot.
It is to be noted that the fellowship that these scholars receive from the government is only provided to them for five years, and for the rest of the period, they are funded by the institution. “The amount that we receive from the institution is around Rs 25,000 and with this, money we will not be able to sustain ourselves with lodging, food as well as the research-borne expenses.”
Students claim that the decision shows that the authority has been completely dismissive of their situation. As per the students’ statement, the 2018 batches are one of the most affected due to the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the sudden closure of labs, and other uncertainties, the students lost up to one and a half years due to the pandemic, and as a result of this, their progress was hampered, mostly for the lab-based and field-based researchers, and the authority is dismissive of their plight.
It also says that the decision is “…unjust and discriminatory, as the students previous to the 2018 batch have their single occupancy till the 6th year… and this clearly violates the equal treatment of students.”
What do students demand now?
“We need more support from the institute at this crucial stage in our life. There are no actual discussions happening with the students and with such a broken form of communication, students are bound to be affected,” says the fifth-year PhD scholar.
Hence, they demand,
1) Withdrawal of the rule at the earliest and let the students continue with the convention of six years of single room occupancy for these two batches, followed by a double occupancy stay till their PhD defence.
2) To hold an open house session where all the students can raise their concerns, and all the available information about the status of accommodation in the institute can be shared transparently in the meeting.
3) A healthy cooperation from the administration in this critical period of their PhD journey where most of the students are preparing for their pre-synopsis or are yet to give their fifth APS (Annual Progress Seminar), their overall year’s or their PhD progress report.