“This campus move isn’t always desirable, but it’s still better than staying hostage to the uncertain conditions in one’s politically-plagued homeland.”
Rikza Wani, a medical student at Maharishi Markandeshwar University (MMU), Ambala, often wonders if she would’ve experienced the same hassle-free campus life in Kashmir.
Persistent political tensions and lack of opportunities today drive her ilk out of the valley for higher education and exposure in different parts of the world.
This yearly migration majorly trickles down to north India educational campuses — where Kashmiri students make a massive attendance.
For these strife-stricken students, north India has become a new campus.
“Many of my batch-mates have gone to Bangladesh for higher medical studies, but I stayed closer to my home in this north India campus,” Wani said.
“I can easily go home from here whenever I want. And this is the reason why many Kashmiris prefer north.”
Apart from proximity, Wani blames an inadequate number of colleges in Kashmir for the mass migration of students. With just three government and one private medical colleges, the valley fails to admit many aspiring medics every year.
Growing up in the region battling infrastructure deficit and turmoil, Wani had become paranoid about her career prospects.
Apart from her own dream, her doctor parents always wanted her to follow their footsteps. But given the regular situational hiccups in Kashmir, she realized that certain practical impediments might make it a tough call.
“My parents studied in the South India but as people from mountains, they found it hard to adjust to the climatic conditions there,” Wani said. “For climatic conditions as well, most of the Kashmiris prefer north Indian states for higher education.”
Back in Kashmir, Wani mostly grew up hearing how Kashmiri students are talented but lack exposure and platform.
The current campus drive, she said, is also about exposure — attracting thousands of Kashmiri students every year to study in various colleges of north India.
“For me,” Wani said, “the campus shift has so far lived up to the exposure hype.”
Like her, there’re a good number of Kashmiri students studying in various private colleges in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh. Among them is Mateen Naqsbandi.
The disturbed educational calendar in Kashmir forced Naqshbandi to move out and pursue engineering at Amity University, Noida.
“The recurrent lockdowns delay timely completion of courses and degrees in Kashmir,” he said. “I had to either stay home and make peace with the campus chaos or come out to save my career.”
Besides the situational assault, the existing 24 engineering colleges in J&K aren’t enough to cater to all of the engineering aspirants.
“Kashmir undoubtedly has good professors, but who would want to study in such a chaotic environment,” Naqshbandi said. “The students from the valley try to take admission in better institutions. And this pursuit drives thousands of the youth out of Kashmir every year.”
Rohit Kaushik, a senior professor at Amity University, is of the opinion that the “conducive-environment” and the “quality-education” of north India’s private institutions determine the current campus drive.
“There are many Kashmiris studying at Amity University,” Prof. Kaushik told Kashmir Observer. “They come here to get the better academic exposure and learning. Most of them excel in studies here.”
While most of these young Kashmiris do feel a relative sense of campus calm away from their home, the educational institutes mostly remain non-operational in the valley today.
The normal classroom activities got disrupted on August 5, 2019, when Government of India abrogated Article 370 and plunged the region into the communication crisis. The subsequent pandemic lockdowns since then have only made online education a new normal.
“The existing situation is only forcing Kashmiri students to prefer outside institutes,” said Tehleel Manzoor, who heads Global Students Union.
“This educational migration has become a new call and drive for the students seeking some normalcy.”
Be it conflict or covid, education becomes the primary casualty in Kashmir. The curbed state of affairs, said Salman Basheer, a B.Tech student at the Central University of Kashmir, doesn’t encourage students for local admissions.
“And then most of the faculty members teaching in various institutions across Kashmir are not permanent,” Basheer said. “It reduces their efficiency.”
Apart from the law and order situation, the Prime Minister Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) for Kashmiri students also propelled the campus drive.
Launched by All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the PMSSS was started under the UPA regime led by Dr. Manmohan Singh. The aim of the scheme was to channelize the talent and skills of the meritorious students from J&K.
The scholarship covers tuition and hostel fees, the cost of books and other miscellaneous charges for the students enrolled in Undergraduate courses in Engineering, Medical, and General Degree Courses.
Under the PMSSS, Qamar Uz Zaman Khaki, a resident of Srinagar, got enrolled in Quest Group of colleges Jhanjeri, Punjab. He annually gets Rs 1 lakh as a maintenance scholarship.
“The annual hostel and mess fee at my college is around Rs. 60,000. Out of the remaining 40,000, I buy books and bear other additional expenses,” Khaki said. “Since the financial condition of my family is not very sound, this scholarship really helped me and my family immensely.”
Like Khaki, a good number of students from J&K are getting benefited from the PMSSS. Under the scheme, the students get to choose colleges on the basis of the marks they get in respective board exams.
This central-backed student footfall has further boosted the prospects of the north India where a good number of government universities are home to Kashmiri students.
Dr. Kanwal Garg, a professor at Kurukshetra University (KU), holds a view that the acquaintance to the academic world is the biggest driving force for Kashmiri students.
“Most of these Kashmiri students are studious and sober bunch who’re getting peaceful educational experience here,” Prof. Garg said. “They’re proving their mettle with their scholarly capabilities. I believe these northern campuses are giving them the right academic atmosphere.”
But this hunt for the new campus has now activated agents who’re apparently making hay while sun is shining.
Mindful of the growing footfall from Kashmir in the north, they’re wooing inexperienced students for admissions in some remote colleges.
Many Kashmir students have already fallen into their traps while taking admission in some private colleges there. Among them is Tanveer Mattoo.
A student at a private college in Punjab, Mattoo said he was told by an agent that his college campus would be at a prime location. But, to his surprise, the college was in the interior area of a remote village near Mohali.
“At first, I was very disappointed,” Mattoo told Kashmir Observer. “The state of infrastructure of that college was in shatters. It looked like some ghost town bereft of any facilities.”
But Mattoo and his fellow Kashmiri students were eventually forced to accept their fate.
Likewise, Bushra Riyaz, a resident of Baramulla, was lured by an agent to take admission in a private college in north India, for an Anaesthesia course.
Her subsequent campus visit left her dumbstruck—as both location and condition of the institute looked “medieval”.
But unlike Mattoo, Riyaz decided not to continue with the course. She instantly packed her bag and went to her hometown.
“I had already paid a sum of Rs. 50,000 to that agent,” Riyaz added in a sorrow-stricken voice. “The money was never reimbursed. I and my parents felt extremely cheated, since we borrowed that amount from one of our relatives.”
Barring these hitches, north Kashmir is only becoming a sprawling Kashmir campus today. And much of that has to do with the fact that Kashmiri students don’t have a much choice.
Back in Kashmir, the educational policy could not cope with the regular curbs imposed from time to time. The prolonged uprisings followed by stringent lockdowns ultimately hamper the education of students.
Many academicians and student activists also blame the lack of democratic space available to the student fraternity for the current state of higher education in the valley. They fear that more students will start leaving Kashmir if this trend continues.
“In the current scenario, Kashmiri students are unable to highlight their day today issues and problems faced by them,” said Nasir Khuehami, spokesperson, J&K Students Association.
“There’s no proper platform for students to voice their opinions. The government is trying to silence the students who wish to highlight the difficulties faced by them. I met many senior officials and urged them to look into the matter, but they never found the urge to resolve the issue. Due to the discord-driven disturbances, most of these students often end up as home captives craving for some refreshing campus life in Kashmir.”
As a student in Kashmir, Khuehami said he once completed a six months’ semester in a year. “There’re many students like me who’re suffering similar problems. The education system of the valley is the first and foremost victim of uncertain times. Circumstances like these force the students to leave Kashmir for higher studies.”
Once he moved out of the valley, Khuehami not only excelled in his studies but also became a noted student leader. Today, he has become a poster boy of student activism. He keeps raising student issues with Chief Ministers of different states to External Affairs Minister of India.
Khuehami gets the first call whenever a Kashmiri student faces any harassment in north India campuses. He lately received many complaints from Kashmiri students regarding the poor infrastructure of various private institutions in north India charging hefty fees.
“Many students complain that the state of the college portrayed to them by various agents is far from reality,” Khuehami said, adding that he has received hundreds of such complaints.
“There’re lots of discrepancies in the fee structures of many big private colleges that fleece the money from students and harass them by not admitting them. Ultimately, students suffer because of the mismanagement in these institutions.”
Commenting on these concerns, Rikza Wani, a medical student at Maharishi Markandeshwar University (MMU), Ambala, said that there’re pros and cons of the existing campus change.
“This campus move isn’t always desirable,” Wani said with a thoughtful face. “But it’s still better than staying hostage to the uncertain conditions in one’s politically-plagued homeland.”
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