Published: 04th June 2019
We don't need no unpaid internships: Why these students have started a campaign against 'free' internships
The internship was offered under a research project, that was funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)
A few days ago, Prabudh Singh, a PhD researcher at Ambedkar University Delhi had come across a certain internship application for a research project. It was posted in a group called Indian Fieldworkers' Union, of which he is a member. The month-long project which required the candidate to do site visits across Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to collect data was, like most internships, unpaid.
But this time, instead of applying for a position that offered no monetary return, Prabudh and fellow researchers fought back. They soon kickstarted a social media movement called Campaign Against Unpaid Internships. As part of this, the researchers had also sent a message to employers, expressing their displeasure over doing unpaid internships, in a rather snarky manner. "This is to apply for the prestigious unpaid internship at your disposal, as we are researcher slaves who cherish being super-exploited at the hands of intellectual mafias in academic and NGO sector," reads the message that was sent via email and WhatsApp. Addressed to Mai-baap (which loosely translates to slave master), the message ends by saying, "hope you will do away with ridiculous 'unpaid' internships, both now and in the future."
Read the entire message here:
According to the application notice, the research project was funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and aims to identify cases of gender violence, declining sex ratio and discrimination against the girl child. "The position will be unpaid, however, the flexibility of working hours will be there. Internship certificate will be provided," it reads. The Project Director is Dr Bijayalaxmi Nanda, Acting Principal, Delhi University.
So what is it that prompted these researchers to kickstart the campaign? Prabudh tells us. "It is high time we fight against unpaid internships and free labour. What shocked us the most was that the project is headed by Miranda House's Acting Principal, who has previously worked for a non-profit called Academics Stand Against Poverty. So, we decided to go ahead with this campaign," he says. Until now around 20 researchers have sent emails and 40 have sent WhatsApp texts with the same message.
Later that night, Prabudh said that he had received a threatening call. "I was told that I cannot send a derogatory email like this and that action will be taken against me." As someone who hasn't done an unpaid internship ever before, he says, "As a PhD researcher, I'm working on several projects. I hire assistants and they're always paid. If there is a fund crunch, I make sure to pay them from my pocket. You can't just hire someone saying that they'll be provided a certificate."