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Joint patents with farmers — how new IIT Madras director hopes to make the institute great

Joint patents with farmers — how new IIT Madras director hopes to make the institute great

Kamakoti Veezhinathan, who took charge as IIT Madras director in January, says there will be no tinge of caste bias at institute, talks of plans to bring rural India into tech ecosystem.

IIT Madras’ newly appointed director Kamakoti Veezhinathan envisions that his tenure will see the institute jointly filing patents with Indian farmers.

“What would make IIT Madras great? In my tenure of five years, I’d like IIT Madras and a farmer to jointly file a patent — and give all the licensing rights to the farmer,” Kamakoti said in an interaction with ThePrint.

He added that he wants to make the knowledge available in the top institutes of India accessible to the rural population with the help of IIT Madras’ incubation cells and rural technology centres. “We have set up two rural technology centres in the Tiruvallur district (Tamil Nadu) using CSR funds,” he said.

At these centres, the institute will set up 3D printers, teach basic coding, electronic development, as well as mechanical development skills, that can together help develop some small systems and experiments.

“In Tamil Nadu, we want to put up 50 centres, and then eventually expand to other states. There are so many ideas from the farming sector. But farmers do not know the concept of intellectual property rights,” Kamakoti added.

IIT Madras is also working with the Tamil Nadu government to set up rural interaction centres, Kamakoti said, where expert volunteers will virtually interact with students from rural areas on technological subjects every day. “This will help build confidence among students in rural India,” he added.

“I have a network of 50,000 alumni, hundreds of whom are willing to participate in such interactions. These are simple ways in which we are aiming to end the digital divide,” said Kamakoti.

‘Will take allegations of caste bias very seriously’

Responding to allegations of caste bias within the campus, Kamakoti, who took charge as IIT Madras director in January, said he intends to take such complaints very seriously.

“If there is a caste bias complaint, we are going to handle it very seriously. We have also sensitised our faculty. There will be no tinge of caste bias at IIT Madras,” he added.

“I think bringing rural India into the tech ecosystem will go a long way in ensuring inclusivity too,” he said.

Kamakoti noted that the institute has “internal complaint committees in place to look at caste bias allegations with full transparency”.

Asked about his vision for ensuring the inclusion of more women in the faculty, Kamakoti said that he, along with colleagues at other IITs, is trying to set up centres to encourage women to apply for faculty positions after completing their PhD.

“The main issue is that in the Indian system, the time for someone to complete the PhD is somehow not very agreeable with the marriageable age,” he said, noting that, in conservative settings, a woman is expected to get married by age 25, but the age at which one usually earns a PhD is 26-27 years.

“As a result, women end up not applying for faculty positions. Men on the other hand have a longer period of time in hand before they are expected to marry,” the director said.

According to Kamakoti, women are also preferring to take exploratory, high-paid jobs that give them more flexibility in terms of working hours and the option to work from home. “However, of late, we are seeing an increase in women applying for faculty positions,” he said.

“There are larger social issues at play, but we will enable as many things as possible to ensure that women choose faculty positions more often,” he added.

How ‘brain drain’ is helping

Speaking about the earlier trend of top Indian scientists choosing to work for international companies rather than taking up faculty positions in India, Kamakoti said it ultimately does not matter because “the knowledge is still with India”.

“Brain drain from the past decades, where Indian talent chose to work abroad, has increased the knowledge pool access for India at present,” Kamakoti added.

IIT Madras now has a network of alumni who went abroad but are now contributing in terms of donations, mentorships and industry partnerships, he pointed out, adding that there is a big push towards entrepreneurship.

“The inputs from people with global experience are actually enabling us to work on great projects,” Kamakoti said.

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