When a car crashed in India’s capital on Monday night, killing 21 of its most celebrated scholars, it set off a national debate over the role of historians and how they should be compensated.
The accident, which happened in central New Delhi, occurred just before midnight when the car veered off the road and into a wall at a junction.
The impact left the vehicle in a ditch and caused it to roll for a few metres before being engulfed by a wall, where it overturned.
“The impact was so strong that the vehicle fell on the wall,” said Akshay Kumar, a former chief of the Indian National Institute of Social Sciences (INIS) who is now the director of the Centre for Cultural Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“There was a huge hole, there was a big amount of blood.
The vehicle was completely mangled.
There were several other cars that had also fallen on the same spot,” Kumar said.
He said that when he and his colleague Rajendra Kumar arrived at the scene to look for the body of the deceased, they were surprised to find the vehicle lying there.
“When we went out to look at it, we found the vehicle was upside down and not moving.
The driver of the car had been killed,” he said.”
We realised that there were four other cars involved in the accident and we also found the body that had been crushed,” Kumar told Al Jazeera.
The deceased scholars included Rajiv Biswas, the country’s most celebrated social historian; Ashok Bhadrakumar, the first Indian scholar to receive a Nobel prize for social sciences; Prakash Choudhary, a professor at Jawahala University; and Nirmala Sitharaman, a journalist.
The bodies of the dead were identified by their personal details and the cause of death, according to Kumar.
The driver of a second vehicle involved in an accident that killed two students on a train in Delhi in March last year was charged with killing two of them and injuring the other.
The third driver was charged and is still on trial.
Biswas’s wife, Anant Kumar, said her husband had been travelling in a silver SUV when he crashed.
“When he was killed, I lost a lot of faith in the world,” she said.
Biaswas was the last of the scholars to receive an award, while Sitharman was the only other winner of the prestigious prize.
The institute said the body had been identified by his name, date of death and a photo of him and his wife, as well as his surname.
“His work as a scholar is admired and respected in India.
There is a great sense of pride in his work,” said Shanti Bhatia, a senior lecturer in the institute’s department of Indian Studies.
Bidhya was a founding member of the ISSN and is now in the process of retiring.
“I am happy that I will be able to do research on him,” she told Aljazeera.
The deaths of the other scholars came as the Indian government is under intense pressure to make it easier for university graduates to study in India as the country is struggling with a shortage of qualified researchers.
A bill was introduced last month by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to provide an online application process to the government for all new scholars, which will enable them to apply for scholarships and study abroad.
But in an interview with Al Jazeera, Kumar, who was in Delhi for the occasion, said the bill was not aimed at making it easier to get a scholarship abroad.
“I am not opposed to making scholarship abroad easier for scholars.
I am against making it difficult for the government to grant them scholarships,” he told Aljeet Thakur, who edits the Indian edition of The Economist magazine.”
They [government] are trying to make the scholarship abroad more difficult,” Kumar added.”
In the last three years, they have introduced a new scholarship for scholars that will only cover 10% of the cost of their studies.
This is a huge loss for the universities and the scholars,” Kumar explained.
India’s universities are facing an increasing number of deaths and injuries due to road accidents, especially in the wake of the deadly accident.
The National Road Safety Authority (NRA), which is part of the Department of Road Transport and Highways (DTH), says more than 2,200 road deaths and 1,600 injuries are reported annually in India, which accounts for 14% of all road deaths.