Published: 04th March 2021
IIT-M feels like a prison: What the extended lockdown feels like for researchers inside India's top-ranked institute
The researchers tell us that they are not allowed to step out of the campus and that the lockdown restrictions are yet to be eased
Raman* calls himself a 'married bachelor'. While this may sound oxymoronic, the IIT Madras researcher explains why he feels that way, over a phone call. He tells us how it has been months since he has gotten to meet his wife and three-year-old daughter, who are in his hometown, in a state neighbouring Tamil Nadu — because of the restrictions imposed at IIT Madras, following their COVID outbreak in December 2020. Since then, the premier engineering institute has been under lockdown and the students who live in the hostel tell us that they haven't been allowed to step out of the campus.
After close to 200 of its residents contracted COVID, the management understandably locked down the campus. According to a circular by the institute, 25 per cent of the hostel residents had tested positive, with students being quarantined in their hostel rooms. Even though all the residents who got infected have since recovered and tested negative, the campus still remains under lockdown.
"I feel imprisoned here," says the researcher, who is in the final year of his PhD. "I am waiting for my research to get over so that I can exit the campus and never come back," he says. He tells us how the security has now been tightened at all IIT gates. "They have deployed more security guards and most of them are quite rude. For instance, this one day, my friend was prohibited from taking photographs on campus," he recounts.
The researchers are apparently allowed in batches to work in the labs, ensuring that day scholars and hostel residents do not mingle with each other. This, they say is affecting the quality of research largely. "My research has been badly affected. I wasn't able to meet any of my deadlines. While hostel residents go to the lab on three days, the day scholars can go on the remaining three days. A few experiments require continuous attention over a few days. However, now, we are not able to do so. On the days when the day scholars come to campus, we are asked to sit inside our hostel rooms," he says. "There is no restriction on the day scholars' movement. No one cares if they are following quarantine norms before coming to campus," he says.
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While Raman says that the situation is taking a toll on his mental health, another researcher whom we spoke to says that he has "gotten used to this way of life." He explains, "It has been a while now. I think I have adapted well to not stepping out of campus."
Since the lockdown in December, the students have been complaining about a hike in the price of food and about how the food menu has changed. Ramon reiterates this. "We spend close to Rs 50 more a day on food, compared to pre-COVID days. At that time, we were given eggs and fruit along with our meals. But now, we don't get it," he says. "We do not know if they will even ease the restrictions. A lot of us are waiting to finish our research soon," he says.
Responding to the allegations, the IITM said, "COVID19 protocols on campus are meant for the safety of students, staff, faculty and residents of IIT Madras."
*Name changed on request
**This copy has been updated with the IIT's response