Surely you’re joking, Mr. Katju!

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Author Bio

Parth Shrimali is a fifth Dual Degree student from the Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay and a member of Insight’s Editorial Board. An enthusiastic student of law and current affairs, he began writing this long-form piece soon after former Supreme Court justice Markandey Katju’s interview with IIT-BBC and subsequent post on Facebook, where he called IITians selfish and unpatriotic. He writes extensively, rebutting these claims, and explaining why he thinks that the country’s investment in IITians is more than worth it, how they’re doing their bit for the country, and how the problem of brain-drain in this country can be solved.

Read on for more.


Mr. Markandey Katju, like the judge that he is, or rather was, in a recent diatribe against IITians, accused them of being Americans and Germans rather than Indians. He said they were simply taking advantage of a rather affordable Indian education system to land hotshot careers in foreign lands. Mr. Katju, in a scathing attack on the patriotism of IITians said, and I quote verbatim, “Most of you IIT students have no genuine love for the country. You are utterly selfish, with no patriotism or idealism. All you want is to migrate to America (and most of you manage to do that), usually by first going for an M.Tech. degree there (for which you get scholarship), and then settling down there and enjoying a comfortable life– and to hell with India.”

While criticism against IITians is nothing new, this verbose rant from Mr. Katju was rather offensive. As a virtuoso in the field of law, it would not take Mr. Katju a lot of time to understand that we IITians do not enter into a legal agreement to serve the country, and hence cannot be compelled to do so. However, such petulant arguments are best avoided and while the work of IITians might not appear patriotic, it certainly helps the country (India, not the USA or Germany) immensely.

IITians and brain-drain

The severity of brain-drain has reduced since India embraced liberalization in the 1990s. From a figure as high as 70% in the pre-liberalization era, the percentage of IITians moving overseas has dropped significantly. A study conducted by IIT Kanpur revealed that out of the 1,33,245 students who had graduated from the then five major IITs (IIT-B, IIT-M, IIT-D, IIT-K and IIT-Kgp) in or before 2003, only 24% were in foreign lands. A figure of 76% IITians staying in India itself is sufficient to debunk the fallacious claim that IITians are the sole major contributors to the brain-drain. The study also goes on to show that on an average, more than 50% of faculty members at these IITs have at least one degree from an IIT. It is nothing short of ludicrous that in spite of such figures that speak volumes about our “patriotism”, people like Mr. Katju make these stupid, audacious allegations on our love for the country.

The persecution of IITians

IITs and other premier institutions often find themselves in the line of fire whenever a debate on brain-drain ensues. What I, like numerous IITians, don’t understand, is why we are dragged into this time and again. Why is it that these so-called “patriots” always claim that we should be grateful for the education that they (as Indians, because we clearly are not) are providing us? Why do these loudmouths not think twice while making such visibly offensive statements about students who have toiled hard to get an admission into these colleges, students who have successfully waded through a gruelling academic programme, students who have EARNED their “market-value”? Every time there is a debate concerning IITs, IITians are bullied by such people who question our very commitment to our country.

Look at the number of Nobel laureates… in a stark comparison, India has 11 Nobel laureates, of which 3 have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace and two for Literature. It should also be noted that out of the rest of the 6 Nobel laureates, only C.V. Raman can actually be called ‘Indian’ since the rest of them were merely of an Indian origin and conducted their research abroad.

The reason for our seeking opportunities abroad has nothing to do with our patriotism. We do not move abroad for cleaner roads, or Western culture, or because we think Americans are better than us, or for whatever reasons that people like Mr. Katju may concoct. We move because we want to pursue our field of interest. Not that it cannot be pursued in India, but having already been exposed to one of the best research facilities in India, it is only natural that we seek better opportunities. Indian research facilities are still wanting if you compare them to the ones available in the United States or Europe. Research and development in India is still carried out in pockets unlike the USA or Europe, where the academic institutes are at the forefront. We move because we want to be in the company of people who are the best in their fields. Aren’t Indians among the world’s best researchers? Sadly, no. Look at the number of Nobel laureates. France has 67, Germany has 102, the United Kingdom has 118 and the USA has a staggering 357. The world’s top 19 universities (engineering) are in the USA. In a stark comparison, India has 11 Nobel laureates, of which 3 have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace and two for Literature. It should also be noted that out of the rest of the 6 Nobel laureates, only C.V. Raman can actually be called ‘Indian’ since the rest of them were merely of an Indian origin and conducted their research abroad. Our best ranked university is almost always one of the IITs, which have never even broken into the top 150. Brain-drain isn’t something that we want to be a part of. We are rather, forced to move out in search of better opportunities. And we ourselves are responsible for the brain-drain, not “we” as IITians, but ”we” as Indians, for we fail to provide a conducive environment that retains talent. Studies on brain-drain in IITs have been conducted as long back as 1987. Still, after so many years, it remains a problem. The problem of brain-drain and the relevant concerns are not entirely unreasonable. What we need is that we rethink our approach towards solving brain-drain, if we perceive it to be an issue of such importance that it moves people of the stature of Mr. Katju to make such vitriolic statements against a young bunch of students.

Shall we cry or shall we try?

Our very notion of brain-drain is very vacuous. Equating brain-drain with treason, or similar terms, is grossly wrong. Brain-drain is not an amoral act; people are always going to pursue what they think is best for them. It is simply an unfavourable phenomenon for the country. And like any unfavourable phenomenon, brain-drain can be curbed. However, instead of placing the onus of halting it on the students, who’re always going to seek better opportunities, the focus should be on constructing a conducive environment to prevent, or even reverse, the brain-drain. It’s a causal effect and hence, the solution lies in reforming the cause and not the consequence. There are certain areas which need reforms.

  1. Funding from government
    IITs were supposed to be at the vanguard of Indian research and innovation. However the funding that they have received over the years, pales in front of the universities that are much sought after. IIT-B, for example, received a total funding of Rs 213.6 crores for the year 2013-14. To put things in perspective, the list of the top ten engineering universities according to their research expenditure for the year 2009 can be found in the adjacent box. Looking at this immense disparity in funding, it doesn’t take an Einstein to guess the immense difference in the equipment, apparatus and overall research facilities between these institutes and our IITs. No wonder these institutes are way ahead of their Indian counterparts, not just in luring bright minds but also providing a perfect conduit for carrying out contemporary research.

    Name of University

    Research expenditure

    Research expenditure in Rs.

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    $387 Million

    Rs. 2556.69 Crores

    Texas A&M University

    $ 291 Million

    Rs. 1922.48 Crores

    Purdue University

    $ 249 Million

    Rs. 1645.01 Crores

    University of Michigan

    $ 234 Million

    Rs. 1545.91 Crores

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    $ 229 Million

    Rs. 1512.88 Crores

    Carnegie Mellon University

    $ 213 Million

    Rs. 1407.17 Crores

    University of California, Berkley

    $ 211 Million

    Rs. 1393.96 Crores

    Georgia Institute of Technology

    $ 208 Million

    Rs. 1374.14 Crores

    University of Winconsin

    $ 204 Million

    Rs. 1347.72 Crores

    Stanford University

    $ 192 Million

    Rs. 1268.44 Crores

    *Source :- (Sources its data from American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE))
    During his speech in San Jose, California in September, Prime Minister Modi unabashedly claimed that he doesn’t worry about brain-drain, saying, “We would hear- we need to stop this brain-drain. But India is Bahuratna Vasundhara, there will be many brains there.” And his government stands by the claim, slashing the overall education allocation by 17% in the 2015 Union Budget. A 13% rise in higher education was indeed a matter of jubilation, until we found out that the government planned to open one more IIT, in Karnataka and 2 more IIMs, one in Jammu and Kashmir and one in Andhra Pradesh. Our existing IITs and IIMs are facing a severe dearth of funding and yet the government, just like the previous one, is adamant on increasing the number rather than focusing on the quality of these institutions.

    During his speech in San Jose, California in September, Prime Minister Modi unabashedly claimed that he doesn’t worry about brain-drain, saying, “We would hear- we need to stop this brain-drain. But India is Bahuratna Vasundhara, there will be many brains there.”

  2. Employment opportunities
    According to the Economic Survey of 2014-15, 295.8 lakh people were employed in the organized sector, as of March 2012. This accounts for a paltry 0.025% of the population employed in this sector. The unemployment rate for 2013-14 was about 5 percent of people, aged 15 or more and available for work. Employment opportunities need to be focused upon. While increasing employment will not affect IITians, since they’re seldom unemployed, it will go a long way in curbing the menace of brain-drain as well as loss of skilled labour. Policies like Make in India can be successful in creating job opportunities if they result in actual action and investment.

  3. Job offers from research organisations
    Job offers from organizations such as ISRO and DRDO have failed to create the necessary interest in the IIT student community. This is not because the field or area of research itself does not find any suitors, but because the emoluments offered are often below the expectations as well as the qualifications of these students. An entry level job as a scientist or engineer with ISRO or DRDO offers a monthly salary of not more than Rs 45,000. This translates into an annual salary of Rs 5,40,000, which dwarfs in front of that offered by big corporates. Compared to our Indian agencies, research organizations of national importance in the Western countries pay emoluments comparable with corporate packages. For reference, see what NASA offers its prospective employees. Agreed that money should not be the only factor, but compromises can be made only in certain margins. You cannot expect raw, fresh graduates to accept a considerably less remuneration considering the fact that they have worked extremely hard to earn the position where they can demand a fat paycheck. We, however, need to understand one fact here. These organizations cannot be blamed. They need to be given necessary attention, not in form of laurels and panegyrics, but in form of monetary assistance both for quality recruitment and acquiring of state-of-the-art research equipment. This has to come from the government. In case of budget constraints on government, appropriate policies could be made to make it mandatory for certain industries (e.g. tobacco) to invest in such organizations as part of their CSR.

  4. Environment for business
    Liberalization of trade is still in its evolutionary stage as far as the Indian economy is concerned. While pure capitalism could turn out to be a bane for a country like India, it is vital to liberalize sectors where we can, such that the idea of the Indian welfare state stays intact. Creating an environment for business automatically means that Indians, both living in India and abroad, would be attracted to India for investments. It also means more corporate giants investing in India, which creates more jobs as well as ensures that top talent is retained in the country. However, a balance between a business-friendly environment, a society-friendly (economic) environment and an eco-friendly environment has to be maintained.

  5. Government Policies
    Government policies are the key to achieving reforms in the above mentioned areas. We need more investment in education. Our literacy rate is at a meagre 73%. In such a scenario how can we justify budget cuts on primary education? According to the Economic Survey 2014-15, education expenditure forms 3.1 percent of our GDP. The United States and the United Kingdom spend about 5 percent of their GDP on education. This is a huge difference in spending considering these nations have a much larger GDP, they’re much better literate than we are and their active geopolitical involvement. Research and development cannot happen without monetary support and brain-drain cannot be stopped until we can offer our students state-of-the-art technology for research and a promise of excellence, and not mediocrity. Policies like Digital India have given people the hope of technology reaching every nook and corner of the country, but until this quest for technology is also complemented by an urge to push for indigenous technology development, this policy will cripple India in the long run and prevent it from being technologically advanced as well as self-reliant.

    What needs to be noted is that these areas are intermingled. These aren’t isolated factors and hence cannot be reformed one at a time. Rather, there has to be a gradual but synchronized effort to reform all the sectors. Brain-drain will not stop overnight but that should not deter any sanguine efforts from our side.

Good Samaritans or Parasites?

According to a report by the Business Standard, IITs spend approximately Rs 3.4 Lakhs on a student per year. Due to the various waivers offered to students from reserved categories and students whose parental income is less than 4.5 lakhs per annum, the total tuition fees finance a mere 7-10 per cent of the expenditure incurred by the institutes per student. For the same year, 2013, the average academic fees, payable during admission, across the IITs was Rs. 62,595.38. This fee included the semester academic/tuition fee, medical insurance premium, as well as one time payments and a caution deposit. The detailed structure can be found here. There are also hostel fees levied upon the students which adds to the figure, to take the overall fees to around Rs 90,000** per semester. However, a major chunk of the expenditure of IITs, is financed by the government. This contribution of the “taxpayers’ money” towards the funding of IITs is an eyesore for many concerned citizens of India. The fact that this funding is not only used to educate and train students but also for ground-breaking research activities as well as for the salaries of the professors and non-academic staff, is often overlooked.

While so-called concerned citizens are very eager to treat IITians as investments and jump to ‘claim their share’ as taxpayers in their vilifying claims, what they do not realize is how good an investment an IITian actually is. An investment of 4 years that guarantees a return for 20-25 years. These returns often go unnoticed unless another Nandan Nilekani or Narayan Murthy sprouts from within us. I would like to briefly lay down the gains that this investment returns to India and obviously, its citizens.

While so-called concerned citizens are very eager to treat IITians as investments and jump to ‘claim their share’ as taxpayers in their vilifying claims, what they do not realize is how good an investment an IITian actually is.

  1. Monetary Returns :-

    Lamenting the costly investment of 4 years on IITians, seldom do people realize the fact that such an education enables the students to crack high paying jobs which automatically translate into high monetary returns in the form of income taxes. Even a modest salary of 10 lakhs with a 20% income tax, as this article rightly assumes, clears the subsidy in five years. A report from ToI, reveals that every rupee spent on IITians has had an economic impact of Rs 15. The report, based on the IIT Alumni Impact Study, claims that roughly 200,000 IITians “have been associated with 20 Lakh Crores of incremental value creation” as well as the creation of around 200 million new jobs, roughly translating into a 100 jobs created by each IIT graduate. Even the ones working abroad contribute to the country’s economy in the form of remittances and family support sent back home. NRIs have also been known to invest heavily in India in the form of real estate investment as well as investment in business ventures. Graduated students have regularly made handsome donations to IITs, adding up to the funds available for research and other activities.

  2. Research Returns :-
    IIT’s were established to make India technologically self-reliant. The IITs were part of the “temples of modern India” vision, as envisaged by Nehru. They were touted to be the beacon of innovation and development of indigenous technology in India. Although IITs have not exactly lived up to such a lofty expectation, the research conducted within their premises has yielded significant contributions. IITs have been instrumental in several government projects, providing research and technical assistance. Case in point, the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA) at IITB which strives to create technology for rural populace. Unnat Bharat Abhiyaan is a programme under CTARA which aims at leveraging knowledge institutions to bring about a transformation in rural India. IIT graduates have also ventured into technological startups which have yielded benefits for the nation. IdeaForge, a company started by six IITB graduates, in association with DRDO, invented NETRA – an autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) which is being used by the Indian army for surveillance and reconnaissance as well as for rescue operations. (NETRA was very helpful during rescue operations in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake.) There is no dearth of examples to show that IITs have indeed contributed to the research and development in India. So while the IITs have not been the envisaged “temples of innovation” as such, they have indeed played a significant role in the technological development of India.

    A report from ToI, reveals that every rupee spent on IITians has had an economic impact of Rs 15…[it] claims that roughly 200,000 IITians “have been associated with 20 lakh crores of incremental value creation” as well as the creation of around 200 million new jobs, roughly translating into a 100 jobs created by each IIT graduate.

  3. Corporate Returns :-
    Infosys, started by Narayan Murthy(IIT-Kanpur), Nandan Nilekani (IIT-Bombay), Kris Gopalakrishnan(IIT-Madras) along with K. Dinesh, Ashok Arora, S. D. Shibulal and N.S. Raghavan, is probably the biggest example of IITians’ contribution to the corporate world, which generates a huge chunk of the Indian GDP. Of late, the start-up boom that the country has seen, has brought to light the entrepreneurial genius of IITians. Flipkart, arguably India’s largest online market, has been hailed as India’s answer to Amazon. The Hiranandani area in Mumbai has been a hub of startups, majorly involving IITians. Housing, a real estate startup was started by a bunch of freshly graduated IITB students. Zomato, India’s favourite online restaurant search-engine, was started by an IITD alumnus. These corporates have not only been contributing to the GDP, but have also resulted in a lot of job creation. TaskBob, for example, has created employment in the organized sector for plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.

  4. Political Returns :-
    Politics is no alien territory for IITians. Although many of them went abroad, either to study or work, they came back to India to serve as political stalwarts, either in the capacity of a minister or as a parliamentarian.These political bigwigs have often been hailed as brilliant policy makers and their integrity and patriotism has been legendary. Manohar Parrikar, the current Defense minister and former Chief Minister of Goa and also an IIT-Bombay alumnus, has been the darling of the nation since a long time. His integrity, humility and political acumen has been praised unanimously. Mr. Jayant Sinha, Minister of State for Finance, is an IIT-Delhi alumnus. He studied abroad for 7 years before working for another 10 years abroad. Later he returned and thereafter joined the BJP. His economic acumen has been widely recognized. Jairam Ramesh, former Minister of Rural Development, has also been held in high regard. He completed B.Tech. at IIT-Bombay, before moving to the USA for pursuing a Masters in Public Policy and Public Management. He returned to India and joined politics to serve the nation. Ajit Singh, former aviation minister, graduated from IIT-Kharagpur, went to Illinois for higher education and then worked in the USA for 15 years before joining Indian politics in 1986. PD Rai, our first MP to have a degree from both the IIT-KGP as well as IIM-A, Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister, Somnath Bharti, etc. are other prominent IITians in the field of politics. The country never took notice of the Lok Paritran Party, founded in 2006, by six 20-year-old IITians. Although it never managed to make the impact they desired, it speaks volumes about the very patriotism that has been questioned time and again.

  5. Administrative Returns :-
    IITians have also taken an active interest in civil services. While some slyly call it an attempt to lead a “comfortable life”, officers like Raju Narayan Swamy, IIT-Madras, have displayed a selfless love for the country. Mr. Swamy, who has authored 26 books, snubbed an offer from MIT to devote his life to public service. He is famous for invocation of the Criminal Procedure Code and the subsequent notices to his own father-in-law who misused his position to usurp public land, resulting in his divorce. Kiran Bedi, an IIT-D alumnus, holds the distinction for being the first woman IPS officer. Arvind Kejriwal served as an IRS officer before launching a crusade against corruption under the tutelage of Anna Hazare. He successfully became the Delhi CM, twice, riding on popular sentiment against corruption. Raghuram Rajan and D Subbarao have been governors of RBI. These are examples which jolt people like Mr. Katju into a reality where IITians are not necessarily the demons they’re perceived to be.

  6. Social Returns :-
    There are numerous examples of students trying to integrate technology with solutions for various social issues. IIT Delhi students created Guardian, a safety device for women which won the Ericsson Innovation Award for best innovation. Among other entries was an Advanced Breathanalyser Helmet that prevents a drunk person from starting his vehicle. Numerous IITians are now venturing into social startups, urged not by the guilt of enjoying a subsidized education but by the zeal to help their fellow countrymen. Many IITians, after completing their education on foreign land, also return to India to serve as professors and assistant professors at IITs, NITs,etc. to further the cycle of education. Open the faculty page of any IIT department and you’ll see countless professors, themselves IIT alumni, who are teaching as well as dishing out innovations after innovations. For example, recently Professor Kishor Munshi, himself an alumnus from IITB’s Industrial Design Centre, designed a waterless toilet to address the problem of open defecation in rural areas. Professor Karandikar, former HoD of IITB’s Electrical Engineering department, obtained his Master’s and Ph.D. from IIT Kanpur and went on to play an important role in the setting up of the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI).

IdeaForge, a company started by six IITB graduates, in association with DRDO, invented NETRA – an autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) which is being used by the Indian army for surveillance and reconnaissance as well as for rescue operations. NETRA was very helpful during rescue operations in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake.

All this just goes on to prove how fallacious the notion of IITians being selfish and unpatriotic is. So, when people like Mr. Markandey Katju, for reasons best known to them, accuse us of not being patriotic, I really don’t know what are they talking about. Why are we time and again lectured on patriotism while we silently crusade to bring about a change or aid in the development of the country? Why the willingness to (ignoring the actual contributions which the Institutes have made) jump on the bandwagon of dehumanizing students with dreams and aspirations by terming them as investments so frequently? Why are we always rebuked for following our dreams, which may or may not be branded patriotic? Why are our intentions questioned when we join politics or civil services? Mr. Katju, were I to dare to ask what you have done for the country, would you not remind us of your career in Law, as a lawyer and a Supreme Court Judge? Then what is so meritorious about your work that it can deemed patriotic, but ours can’t? Mr. Katju, we do not need a stamp of approval from people like you in order to prove our patriotism.

The sentiment of patriotism

Patriotism, just like other terms of political science like justice, state (nation), rights, etc., isn’t a sacrosanct dogma. It is rather a constantly evolving sentiment that one feels towards their nation, not just the land and the rivers and the mountains, but also the people, also the society and also its problems. Patriotism is a multi-coloured term. It means defending your country’s glory; it also means feeling proud of your country; it also means having a sympathy for the problems of your country; it also means feeling responsible towards your country; it also means being a part of your country’s economic, social and political progress. A soldier who lays down their life for the country is patriotic. So is the lawyer who defends the rights of their countrymen , the doctor who saves the lives of their countrymen, the engineer who innovates and also the ragpicker who makes a small contribution in keeping their country clean.

I hope my words are not deemed arrogant or perceived to be a lecture from a “supercilious know-all” but that they are taken in the right spirit.

I’d like to conclude with a quote from Albert Einstein, “All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded to the individual.”

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** This figure varies from IIT to IIT depending upon variations in fees.