Monday, November 26, 2007

The IITs Do away with Dow... Wow!

Yesterday, a news item on CNN-IBN really warmed my heart*. IIT alumni and students have come together to drive Dow chemicals out of their campuses. And so far, they have been fairly successful.

The IITians have taken a bold ethical, moral and more importantly, professional stand by urging the IIT directors to bar Dow Chemicals from campus placements. It takes great conviction to deny a job, and consequently, monetary security for youths who are just about to start their professional career.

Their move has worked not only to get this issue the necessary media attention, but also passed a definite signal to everyone concerned that the Indian intelligentsia will also do their bid to denounce the callousness of Union Carbide (a pesticide company) accountable for the leak of about 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas from a storage tank. Over 3000 people dropped dead, literally, on December 3, 1984 as a result. Sadly, the Indian government and the law is still to bring the officials to task. In the meanwhile, Dow Chemicals took over Union Carbide in 2001 and is slowly trying to find a foothold in India.

* An alarming rate of pulmonary diseases, miscarriages, cancer, etc are still attributed to the the toxic wastes left by the Methyl Isocyanate leak.

Praful Bidwai, an IIT alumnus is right in pointing out that Dow Chemicals not only acquired Union Carbide but also its liabilities. (Read the article on rediff)

Some of the most powerful campaigns have been started by IIT and IIM alumni and they see the tasks till the finish line. I applaud the moral conviction of the IITians. They have shown us student power in the real sense.

Here are some links you might want to read up:

How many died in Bhopal?

See what fellow-bloggers have to say:
Rama Iyer

*Surfing the net, I observed that the IITs cancelled the Dow placements on October 25, and the campaigns began much earlier. Did i skip reading the news, Or was it not reported widely?

-Gauri Gharpure


Arwindh said...

well..what u said is true..
it takes so much courage to say no to a job...
Hope..the Govt would take some steps atleast now..

The Ancient Mariner said...

for IITians i would say it does not take much courage to say "NO" to a job. If you would have ever seen how IITians sell like hotcake in the season of campus interviews, you would definitely a different view.

Though, what I wonder is why now? It has been 23 years and this is a new company who has simply taken over a company which was responsible for the massacre 17 years after the "genocide" happened. Being abroad its not always possible for me to track the news, gotta dig down a bit before I say more on this. But your blog is a nice one and I am enjoying reading it.

Gauri Gharpure said...

thnks for posting a commenting.. keep reading..

u r right tht getting a job isn't difficult for IITians.. but resisting the lure, the fat pay-packages is something.. Dont u think Dow wud be one of the fat payers after the problems they face in India?


Interesting news! I work for a paper here and many of my coleagues are leaving for better offers from a rival paper - though they have been talking about the lack of depth of that publication.

The point is - it takes courage to do what the IIT students have done...Exemplary!

admin said...

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Deepak said...

excellent post...
You are right...
But according to me i dont belong to IITs...
Yours is a well maintained blog too!!!
Your posts are good gauri...

Mohan said...

ya exactly !!
saying No to job is highly impossible for me !
nice one !

Govind said...

Am glad the IITians are showing full support.

Meanwhile, that fellow blogger (Profmaster) up actually Govind Singh!! :)

Wielder of Rotten Tomatoes said...

It's much ado about nothing if you ask me. They are IITians, they know that too. Their future was secure 4 years back when they got into the institute.

The question to be asked is (though an answer, impossible to get), would their "ethical and moral" response be the same if their jobs/futures hung by a thread like in most other colleges around India.

The news, neither makes me feel good, nor bad. It's not really going to make a difference until the initiative is taken elsewhere. I certainly don't give the IIT's too much credit for the move, all it does, is bring the issue into the limelight.

Gauri Gharpure said...

'all it does, is to bring the issue in limelight'

that itself- is a huge thing, in today's media which laps up anything that involves the big fish.

also, even if IIT and IIM alumnus get fat placements, ve a peek inside the placement commitees and u ll find, it's a big decision to say no to any company all the same. The corporate nexus, the bureacratic implications can be far fetched.

they ve shown the way, if it spreads in other colleges, it wud mean something really exemplary, agreed.

Beauty Secrets said...

Good work
Keep it up

Vishesh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vishesh said...

"how IITians sell like hotcake in the season of campus interviews"

"IIT and IIM alumnus get fat placements"

Having been both to IIT and IIM, I think the above two are much hyped generalizations.

Majority of the IITians and IIMites do get good pay packages, no doubt about that. But, the story is not the same for all. I was in the placement committee in IIT, that too in the year 2005 when economy was booming, and we still were not able to achieve 100% placement for a batch of around 500 students. True, around 100 of them got plum offers from leading banks, consulting firms and tech masters as google, but the fairy tale ends there. Most of the others were placed in average paying software and tech jobs. Some of them exited the campus without a job.

What sets IITians apart is their future career path, which is mostly very steep for majority of them, notwithstanding the modest career start several of them get. Hence, in my view, saying No to any big pay master as Dow is a big step, at least in IITs. In IIMs, Dow would be in the lower-medium bracket, and hence doesn't make much difference.

Gauri is right, saying no to a recruiter as Dow requires guts. Great show, IITians.

deepak said...

I can say with confidence that Dow Chemicals is not at fault. They meant only business when they acquired union carbide. The whole fuss about union carbide is exaggeration, it was an ACCIDENT. They did not do it intentionally. It is government, it is authorities who are at fault. They did not check Carbide's factories for safety measures, when the accident occurred they did not took care of people, and now they are not giving them justice/ compensation. So, Who are the culprits?

What can general public do? Well they may do whatever they would like, but government has its own ways to fill their pockets. How would it affect Dow? Well they dint really paid any money for UC anyways, they had a real cheap deal. So, they have nothing to loose, everything to gain. What would IITians gain/loose out of it? Well nothing much to loose, except one employer and everything to gain. Why are we discussing it?

Vishesh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vishesh said...

With due respect Deepak, confidence level of anyone doesn't change a fact. If UC was responsible, it was responsible. If it wasn't, it wasn't. Plain and simple.

The bone of contention has always been UC's stand on the issue. They claim non-guilty status, claiming the leakage was a result of sabotage and what not.

True, it was an accident. Installing safety equipment was UC's responsibility and not Government, but lets forget that for a moment, the best safety equipments too fail once in a century. The point is, when an accident occurs due to your fault, you should admit it gracefully, distribute compensation and take more care in the future. As far as I know, UC did none of these things.

Government is not clean too, but thats a tangential point. Apart from UC and Govt, there might be several other parties responsible, but we are discussing UC in particular.

Dow is now the parent company of UC, it has to bear up with its legacy as well. You dont just buy the assets in M&A, you buy the liabilities too.

Octa said...


As regards job security, that is assured when we clear JEE.. The most important tool the IITs have to serve them is the aspect of signaling.

The entrance test is so exclusive that only the best manage to clear it. This implies that the IITs are essentially a large pool of intelligent people who would be able to do justice to any job handed over to them. When compared with universities elsewhere, the infrastructure and faculty are not up to scratch. Still its the exclusivity that gives the brand value to the IITs. This is a positive feedback loop, with more students aspiring to be IITians and the best filtering through again.

The recruiters coming to IIT know the standard of the students, and pay high premiums to attract them. The IIMs have the same signalling mechanism, but they operate on the tagline of "smart", instead of "intelligent". If this exclusivity is robbed, the signalling no longer remains effective, as there is no value attached to the brand. If you take in anybody who seeks an IIT tag, the companies would not have the same demand for IITians as they do now.

However, when it comes to placements at IIT, hardly any students are involved in the process. In the IIMs however, the entire placement process is managed by the students. Hence, the decision by the IITs to refuse entry to Dow should be seen as a protest by the faculty members in the placement committee, not the student community. If the same happened in an IIM, that would be a truer representation of student resentment.

All said and done, if the students are given a choice as to whether to allow a company to recruit or not, it all boils down to the pay package. I would not bat an eyelid in turning down a controversial company that pays me an annual salary of Rs.4 lac. But if the same company offers me a salary of $100,000 +bonus, plush Manhattan accommodation and a great work profile, I'd be an idiot to say no.

This media coverage is more likely the handiwork of a media committee to extract maximum mileage out of a non-event.

PS: By IITians, I'm talking about the ones who enter through the front door. The general category, that is.

Wielder of Rotten Tomatoes said...

@Deepak: I don't quite concur with your point of view.
Firstly, When you buy a company you buy their liabilites, not just their assets (as I think was mentioned in the original post).

Secondly, the company is liable for safety. I am not sure about government regulations in the area and hence can't really comment on the rest of it. But it seems almost convenient to blame the government.

Lastly, you logic is extremely flawed. If it is just an accident then there is no price to pay? And it was no accident. UC willfully neglected mandatory safety measures. There is a lot of material, especially if you check out ethics sites. There are loads of case studies in India and abroad on the legal and ethical responsibilities of UC in India. That is also probably why UC agreed to pay such a hefty fine to start up the hospitals.

@Vishesh: I am not claiming that every IITian gets placed right before they get out. I will take your word that some of them pass out without having secured gainful employment. But that does not show the disparity between IIT's and the like and the average Engineering/Tech college in India.

Since this is the closest I have gotten to inside info, a few questions.

On average, how many students do you think complete their engineering without being placed on campus?

How many students from the remainder partake in further studies, in India or abroad? How many get a job within the first few months after graduating?

I will be highly surprised if the number is sufficiently large.

Lastly, What is the average starting pay like?

Thanks for the insight though.

Wielder of Rotten Tomatoes said...

I wish to point out erratum in my comment.

I said UC agreed to pay the fine. I think it was more like they were forced to legally pay up for damages. Don't quote me on this, I'm a little hazy.

Anand said...

So many comments have already been posted and my opinion will not any unique in terms of what they have said till now. However, I do firmly believe that if you are in a position to do something brave, you MUST do it for the good of many others. IITians or for that matter bright students from any college are always in a position to take such stand. They must take it, set examples and punish the wrong doers.

In a country like ours where justice eludes many even after 23 years, lil can be expected from the administration or the judiciary in such cases. The young and educated India must step up and punish the guilty souls.

Other students from many colleges should join this.

Well done...Bravo.

Vishesh said...

Hi Wielder

Need to rush now for a presentation, would post my reply when I come back after 4 hours.


Vishesh said...

Hi Wielder

Sorry for the late reply, was held up....

Let me get to facts first. The below figures pertain to the batch of 2005 (IITD), placements in IITs have further caught up what with major I-banks extending their operations to India.

In a batch of around 500 students, almost 50-60 left the campus without a job. However, almost everyone was able to secure a job within months of getting the degree, albeit in less exciting roles as market research etc. However, once these guys were able to enter the corporate world, they were quickly able to climb up the value chain in services sector.

Of the remaining that got placed in campus itself, the average Indian salary was around 4 lacs, which meant a comfortable 25k+ in hand salary after taxes. Good this number is though, its definitely not what IITs are generally hyped about. There are consulting, finance and tech jobs which pay 8lac+bonus from first year itself which goes into the media, notwithstanding the fact that not more than 100 students manage to secure these jobs.

And finally the option of further studies. This route has demonstrated a steep decline in the new century. While it was common to hear almost the entire batch appearing for GRE before 2000, the number now is hardly 60-80 odd. It is slightly higher for more academic-oriented IITs as Kanpur and Chennai though. In my department (chemical), not more than 5 students went for furthr studies.

One more point I would like to make - having an IIT degree helps getting entry into MBA schools too. In my batch at IIMB, around 70 are from various IITs, which means around 200 IITians going
to IIMs alone every year. This is what is compensating for the declining trend in number of students opting for further studies.

@Octa - I agree with most of what you have observed. However, student role in placements in IITs is also increasing (of course, IIMs are way ahead). So, though your inference that its the faculty in IITs which would have spearheaded the process of getting Dow banned is right, I would believe the student community would also have had a role (though smaller) in the process. And since the latter have much more at stake that the former, I would applaud it even more. As for student's reaction linked to the salary, that's a personal choice.

Gauri Gharpure said...

so much of give and take of views is highly encouraging! even if u guys agree, disagree or come to near brawls, it only goes to show, we acknowledge the issue imp enough to form an opinion abt it... :)

placements in IIMs seem to invlove students much more, yes. abt whether the decision to bar DOW was of the student lobby, or the dean's/profs/teacher's lobby, well, the students of IIT-Madras initiated the drive by writing letters to the director as reported by the news item on CNN -IBM.. On oct 25, pre-placement talks were cancelled at iit-madras, followerd by IIT-Mumbai on Oct 28 and so on...

If u r open enough to loosen ur grip on some range of opinion, to and fro of thought, like you guys are carrying out, can work to generate new thoughts and give deeper insights into an issue...


Wielder of Rotten Tomatoes said...

Thanks vishesh for the info. Very enlightening.

Though these stats would reaffirm my stand. The average starting salary for engineers outside of the IITs and top tech schools remains well under 2 lacs pa. More so for certain disciplines, like Mechanical Engineers and Civil engineers. Most colleges have well below a cent percent placement, even 12 months after graduation.

And lastly, this isn't really an argument, but just a clarification. When I said further studies, I meant any form (including MBA's etc) as that would remove them from the workforce pool.

Thanks for taking the time out. It's been a lot of fun.

@Gauri: Well said. I hope you have more thought provoking and debate-worthy posts. That is, IMHO, the true spirit of blogs!

Sarin said...

to best of my knowledge, the decision to keep dow out would have been taken by people who are fairly secure in their opinon of getting a good package.

IIT/IIM denying one company means nothing - especially in todays times when almost all (decent) people are walking out of campus with jobs.

Malay Maniar said...

Sorry for the late reply :)

Well I have seen IIT placements firsthand recently. And I can say a few things here:

1. In IITB, placements are run solely by students. Absolutely no critical intervention by the faculty.

2. Dow took over a company, which means overtaking its assets as well as liabilities. This fact is well understood by all IITians.

3. Although there will always be students who don't get placed, bringing in a high paying (and thereby high-expecting) company like dow doesnt decrease this number. For all I know, a few companies go off without taking a single student.

4. In IIT, you can do anything you want, if you can gather enough movement. Same happened with Dow. Someone instigated, the timing was perfect, people picked it up and the next thing you know... Dow was cursing its luck!

5. The average IITian is still a very valuable prospective candidate. So Dow not coming to campus is a loss for the company and not at all for the students. Contrary to popular belief, the ones who are most prospective candidates for such high paying companies, can easily say no to a company for he/she has that many more options.

6. And finally, when it comes to a movement by the 'junta', WTH is "Dow"???? :D


Pari said...

Hi Gowri. I am glad that IIT has taken such a bold step, probably I am too late in commenting about it, I discovered ur blog today only.
I was in Bhopal when this incident happened and have seen people suffering and govt played their usual greedy role where the right amount of remuneration never reached the people.
I write a food blog do find time to drop by. providing you a link here. By the way we have a few things in common, I am also a maharashtrian but married to a Kannadiga...
Warm regards