How will other returning scientists react to Partho’s case?

Here is an NDTV interview with Dr Partho Sarothi Ray shortly after his release on bail. While he doesn’t regret coming back to India and West Bengal, he worries that other scientists who planned to return will have second thoughts. A valid worry, certainly. Additionally, he talks about the slum dwellers and his fellow activists, civil rights and the necessity of all sections of society being vigilant to safeguard democratic rights.

As Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao say, Partho’s experience is more what you would expect from China than India. He has been released, which one can say is in India’s favour. But he has not yet been acquitted, and his fellow activists, as well as many others who have protested for basic democratic rights, are still in jail. But we know that scientists from all around the world are flocking to work in China, Singapore and other undemocratic regimes. So one could imagine that most scientists will not be perturbed by Partho’s experience — they will imagine that they can ignore issues of society and democracy and do their work undisturbed.

But I don’t think it will work that way. Life, both scientifically and otherwise, is certainly more comfortable in many other countries than in India. Within India, there are elite research institutions that are arguably more comfortable than the IISERs — no undergraduate teaching, for example, and much more money [update – Kapil disputes this, see comment below]. So a scientist who returns to India and joins an institute like IISER must be driven by a certain amount of social motivation in the first place. (This is not to say that scientists abroad lack such motivation — quite the contrary. But one is always more moved by problems in one’s own homeland.) So, on the one hand, I don’t think most scientists returning to India will imagine it to be a Singapore or Shanghai where you can ignore the ugly underbelly and focus on your work — on the other hand, I hope that Partho’s case will only increase their, and our, recognition that the problems of the dispossessed are our problems, and our determination to change the system.

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2 Comments

  1. > Within India, there are elite research institutions that are arguably more comfortable than the IISERs — no undergraduate teaching, for example, and much more money.

    Re: the money!

    (a) Lab startup money at IISERs and more importantly lab space at IISERs for younger faculty members is likely to be substantially larger than what is available at any of the established research institues. (Of course, the space may currently be virtual as the buildings are being built!)

    (b) Salaries at the IISERs are on par with those at IITs and IISc. The DAE research institutes offer lower salaries.

    > So a scientist who returns to India and joins an institute like IISER must be driven by a certain amount of social motivation in the first place.

    I am not sure about the truth of this at an abstract level. However, I do observe that this is largely true of my colleagues at IISER Mohali.

    Reply
    • Rahul Siddharthan

       /  April 19, 2012

      Kapil – point accepted. There is of course a range of money available in established institutes too. I did not mean salaries, but I suspect the difference is small compared to other issues like geographic convenience (eg, “Kolkata” really means “Mohanpur”), two-body problems (which IISERs seem to be solving successfully), etc. I am full of admiration for how the IISERs have come up in almost no time. Initially the uncertainty of joining a “new” institute may also have been a drawback for returning scientists, but I suspect that is no longer true if it ever was.

      Reply

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