Home » With Pakistani MBBS degree made invalid, Kashmiri students at a dead-end – The Hindu

With Pakistani MBBS degree made invalid, Kashmiri students at a dead-end – The Hindu

by Arifa Rana

Many students intend to return to Kashmir and take up work. Picture for representation. | Photo Credit: The Hindu
The dream to become a doctor was a daunting journey for Kashmiri students who aspired to study in Pakistan’s medical colleges. They alleged harassment at the border crossing, nagging questions on their ideology, and summons from the J&K Police on their return, which they would endure for the sake of their education. Then in April this year, the Centre declared all such MBBS degrees invalid in India.
Farid Ahmad (name changed), is such a student from uptown Srinagar. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather were renowned doctors. Unable to secure an MBBS admission in India via the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) nor able to afford the fees at private colleges, Mr. Ahmad opted for a medical college in Pakistan as a last resort in 2018.
He sat for a pre-qualifying test in Islamabad. "I could not secure a full scholarship but managed a medical seat in the paid quota at the Quaid-e-Azam Medical College, Bahawalpur. It cost me just ₹40,000 per annum, including hostel fees. Students with full scholarships were not required to pay anything. It was the cheapest way to an MBBS degree from a reputed government-run medical college in Asia," Mr. Ahmad said.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Pakistani students, many of whom saw students like Mr. Ahmad eating into their quota of seats, would question his ideology. “I was asked if I believed in staying with India or Pakistan or in azadi (freedom). Trust me, all I was interested in was my MBBS degree and in getting a job back home as soon as possible,” Mr. Ahmad said.
On his first trip home to Kashmir from Pakistan, he was summoned by a special cell of the J&K Police and asked to disclose all the details of his college and course. “It’s not easy for students to face frequent interrogations in police stations. There was a sudden spike in this in early 2019. They [the police] indirectly suggested we should quit the course,” Mr. Ahmad said.
When J&K’s special status was withdrawn on August 5, 2019, Mr. Ahmad was in Pakistan, cut off from his family for almost three months in a communication blackout. When he made it home, he wasn’t able to return to Pakistan as air and ground traffic had been suspended. Like scores of other students, Mr. Ahmad decided to quit the Pakistani medical college in 2020 and take a transfer to a medical college in Europe. Many others opted for central Asian countries.
Previously, it cost Mr. Ahmad ₹5,000 to reach his college in Bahawalpur, a four-hour bus ride from the Wagah border in Punjab. “It was not easy studying in Pakistan. I remember how we would be stopped at the Wagah border and harassed as students,” he added. Where he studies now is a four-hour flight and then a bus ride.
According to an unofficial estimate, around 100 students travelled every year to Pakistan, mainly for MBBS courses. Around 2002, during the Pervaiz Musharraf regime in that country, Pakistan's intake of Kashmiri students went up, and 100 scholarships were announced in different courses, including engineering, veterinary sciences, and pharmacology. The initiative was considered a major confidence building measure between the two countries then. It was also in tune with a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) agreement on student exchange programmes.
Besides Pakistan, three medical colleges in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), including the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Medical College, Muzaffarabad; Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Medical College, Mirpur; and Poonch Medical College, Rawalakot, offered 6% reservation for students from J&K. However, those degrees were declared invalid in 2017 since India does not recognise PoK as a part of Pakistan.
In April this year, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE) announced that students having Pakistani degrees would not be eligible for higher studies or employment in India.
Security agencies say at least 17 youths, who had gone on student travel documents, joined militancy in Pakistan. Both the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the State Investigating Agency (SIA) are probing the role of Kashmiri students in militancy and money laundering. According to the police, separatists were also raising money through the "sale of MBBS seats" and pumping the funds into militancy in Kashmir.
Several students studying in Pakistan, including victims of violence and wards of separatists, belong to the aspirational middle class in Kashmir. According to the students studying in Pakistan, there is not a single recorded instance yet of a medical students turning to militancy. They say those who picked up weapons on a student visa never joined a professional college in Pakistan.
Had he not taken the transfer, Mr. Ahmad would have lost one year of his MBBS programme. "I wrote to my college in Pakistan that I was stuck in Kashmir but they could not help. I wrote to all the higher-ups and Union Ministers in India to allow me to pursue my MBBS but there was no reply. I had hit a dead-end of my career," he said, explaining the switch.
Mr. Ahmad now pays ₹6 lakh as fees per year plus ₹50,000 as rent per month. "I went into depression when I was stuck in Kashmir in my third year in MBBS and not able to travel to Pakistan for my examination," he added.
He says he started receiving threatening messages in WhatsApp groups created by Kashmiri students studying in Pakistan, in which they were asked not to pursue any course in the neighbouring country. "It seemed such groups had been hacked," he said.
Many students who tried to use the Dubai route to reach Pakistan after 2019 to continue with their education now face the threat of having their passports impounded, should it expire while they were pursuing their courses. The future of hundreds of Kashmiri students studying in Pakistan thus hangs in a limbo now.
Around 70-80% Kashmiri students at present studying in Pakistan are female. For example, the Jinnah Medical and Dental College, Karachi, has at present 40 Kashmiri students enrolled, of whom 25 are women. Similarly, at the Fatima Jinnah Medical University (FJMU), Lahore, 40 out of 60 Kashmiri students are female.
Speaking to The Hindu from the FJMU, a female medical student, on condition of anonymity, said she had opted for Pakistan only because her father could not afford to pay the high fees in India, after she failed to secure an MBBS seat through the NEET.
“There are always good and bad people. There might be illegal activities happening but a majority of the students don’t do such things. My dad is a businessman but not so rich. I have three more sisters so I wasn’t sure if I could pay ₹40-60 lakh for my Bachelor’s degree, so I applied for Pakistan, Turkey and Bangladesh. I got selected in all but Pakistan’s medical colleges are better than Bangladesh or Turkey so I came here. I am passionate about medicine,” she said.
She said the decision to declare MBBS degrees from Pakistan invalid has permanently cut off students like her from their families. "We have to look for higher studies and jobs outside India now, though my first choice would always be my own country. I wish to work in my home State. I hope the Indian government revokes the decision and makes it easier for all of us," she said.

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Printable version | May 8, 2022 11:26:13 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dream-to-be-a-doctor-leads-to-a-dead-end-for-kashmiri-students-in-pakistan/article65391585.ece
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