Remote Rx: Is Bangladesh Becoming New Russia for Kashmir?

Apart from tagging, the tense and terminal state of affairs is now creating the same challenging situation for these students as faced by their predecessors in Russian campuses once.

By Bisma Farooq

DR. Qayoom Shah knows exactly how a piercing perception pinches. When he faced the one, he dismissed it as a “stupidity of gullible masses” until his own daughter lived his fate and suffered for being a “lesser” doctor.

Just like her father, Qayoom’s daughter is being derided for being a remote medic — “the one who couldn’t break into the meritorious ranks back home and got the degree from an overseas campus with money”.

Given the scathing notions about their competency and expertise, these doctors tend to face acceptance and identity issues in the valley.

Behind this trend and subsequent tagging, many believe, is the land-locked region’s perennial dependence on some of these offshore campuses for medical degrees. Uncertain academic calendar and paucity of professional training is only acting as a catalyst in this annual educational drive from the valley.

Kashmiri students on their arrival from Bangladesh checking in at a hotel in Srinagar during Pandemic

Back in 1992, when his homeland was witnessing political tumult, Qayoom — then a dreamy teenager who was yet to grow his moustache — was quietly sent by his teacher-parents to Moscow for medical degree.

Fear of crackdown and crippling lockdown in the valley then forced many middle class and elite families to send their children away to pursue the non-disruptive educational routine. Kashmir campuses were then mostly shut, or serving as military barracks. Some of them were even rising up in smoke and flame following frequent firefights.

Amid that uncertain situation, Qayoom says, it became a distressing trend to pursue medicine in Russia. Kashmiri society known for its domino effect trait soon made Moscow a new medical capital of Kashmir.

“And because everyone would send their aspiring doctor wards to Russia, the trend came under a sharp criticism,” Qayoom recalls. “Upon their return with degrees, those medical doctors would be chided as Rou’siey Kath, which literally means Russian Sheep.”

These remote medicos would be largely shrugged and snubbed in the strife society where cult medical status still draws and determines clinical patient footfall. Apart from being denounced as the “mediocre medics”, they faced othering due to a wrong medical move.

“With the result,” Qayoom says, “many of us wouldn’t advertise our medical degrees for the fear of labeling and libels. At times, a quintessential Kashmiri wit pierces you so deep that it creates an existential crisis for you!”

Decades later, chickens came home to roost for many vocal critics of the Russian doctors in Kashmir, as it surfaced how most of the Kashmiri students are being trained as doctors in Bangladeshi medical colleges.

Amid the Covid lockdown situation, some of these stranded students sent home SOS involving civil society and ministerial intervention in clearing decks for their homecoming.

“I remember how some people thanked pandemic for exposing the so-called medical scam in Kashmir,” says Ruqaya Ali, a medical student in Dhaka.

“All and sundry in Kashmir were suddenly wondering—‘How come so many Kashmiri students are studying Medicine in Bangladesh?’ Some even thought that most of us are there in Bangladesh on the controversial PM-type scholarship. It was totally crass and canard attempt to disrespect our hardwork and talent.”

That public spectacle, however, soon turned ugly when many dismissed these doctors as “second hand” professionals — thus confusing the second-hand clothes aka “Bangladeshi maal” with this budding medical force of Kashmir.

“This mindset is problematic,” continues Ruqaya. “People need to understand that Kashmiris have least opportunities available to them at home. Not all of us can quality NEET or make peace with the paltry education being imparted in North Indian institutes. Bangladesh for some of us is a preferred option, for its quality education and least distance. English as a medium of language further makes it a convenient campus for Kashmiris in the entire south and central Asian countries.”

Medical students during lab work. Representational Photo.

Even as the tagging has since then thawed just like the pandemic, the growing culture for Bangladeshi campuses is now determining a new routine and reality in Kashmir.

Apart from the preferred overseas campuses, like Ukraine, Singapore and Malaysia, Bangladesh has emerged as the most-desired medical destination for Kashmiri students since 2010.

Around 8,000 students from the erstwhile state are reportedly studying in medical colleges across Bangladesh. Further, around 2,000-plus students from J&K annually move to Dhaka for medical studies.

Apart from tagging, the tense and terminal state of affairs is now creating the same challenging situation for these students as faced by their predecessors in Russian campuses once.

Kashmiri student Seema was found dead in Bangladesh early this year.

It was the night of January 12, 2022, when a 22-year-old Kashmiri girl in Bangladesh breathed her last. Seema from Budgam was a second year MBBS student and a topper of Addin Sakina Medical College Jessore. Her untimely demise sent shockwaves across the valley and unsettled everyone including Kashmiri students studying in Bangladesh.

The death, many Kashmiri students say, exposed the searing stress for degrees in Bangladesh campuses. Many Kashmiri students called home and broke down. “When that angel-faced Budgam girl died, I became so restless that I cried for home like a child,” says Hadiya, 23, a third year medical student. “I remember telling my parents: ‘I’m fine but nobody knows what happened to Seema. She was a brilliant student and everyone is coming up with their version of stories. I’m worried’.”

Those who follow a grueling routine to bring home medical degrees from these overseas campuses know how vicious the campus life gets at times. The grading system is so ruthless that it even tests the best in business, says Hadiya. “It works on a simple formula,” she explains. “Bigger the campus, bigger the burden. At the end of the day, these institutions are mostly concerned about impeccable results for their own brand building and promotion. Sadly, it all comes at the cost of the young medical students.”

Such is the level of stress that a few days before Seema’s death, a Kashmiri girl attempted suicide but was somehow saved by other roommates.

Back home when Hadiya’s parents knew about it, they became worried. “If we’ve had enough options to admit our children in native medical colleges,” Hadiya’s mother told Kashmir Observer, “then we would’ve never thought of sending our wards to Bangladesh.”

Much of this classroom stress stems from the medieval mindset, says Sakeena, another Kashmiri student pursuing Medicine in Bangladesh.

“Teachers there hold grudges over little things,” she says. “Sometimes they don’t like your way of talking and sometimes they don’t like your style of greeting. All this nonsense becomes too much to tolerate and takes a toll on our mental health.”

Before caught in the vortex of tagging and tension, students come to Bangladesh with dreams in their eyes. Not easy to pockets, few Kashmiri parents sell their land and some spend their whole lifesavings to fulfill the wish of their children. Same happened to Arshi, a girl from North Kashmir’s Baramulla district.

Her parents took a loan of Rs 40 lakh for supporting her medical education in Bangladesh. But in 2021, her father died due to Covid and she went into depression.

When she went back to college, she faced hostility of her teachers. “I’m so afraid and even get anxiety attacks because I always think, ‘What if my teacher fails me in an exam?’ I can’t afford to fail. I sometimes feel that we’re just being treated as money-making machines but it’s not so.”

Kashmiri students come from a disturbed place and are already harbouring a distressed mindset, Arshi adds. “Once a teacher asked me a question and I responded in the best possible manner. But I don’t know what pinched him. He told me in front of the whole class: ‘These Kashmiris have very weak English.’ I was embarrassed in front of students of different nations. It’s too much to bear. We’re not there for facing this recurrent embarrassment.”

These silent classroom cases often take an ugly turn. In the beginning of the year 2022, the management of the International Medical College in Dhaka issued a notice to a Kashmiri student—suspending him for six months.

When the Kashmiri students approached the management and pleaded that the issue pertaining to a football match was solved on the pitch itself, their pleas fell on deaf ears. The cold response forced the student to do the unthinkable.

On January 26, 2022, when the students were going for dinner, they heard noise coming from the hostel area. They rushed to the spot and found the suspended student hanging to the ceiling.

Somehow his friends saved him. Regaining his senses after 12 hours, the student once again tried to commit suicide with the oxygen pipe.

“We face a lot of problems in Bangladeshi colleges,” says Saima, a Kashmiri student. “Students from other countries are also sailing in the same boat. I don’t want to get expelled from college so please don’t mention my full name.”

On the face of it, these issues might appear the routine campus matters, but their frequency in a stifled academic atmosphere is making the Bangladesh a traumatic training institute for Kashmiri students.

“We don’t complain much despite people calling us lesser doctors for choosing Dhaka as our medical training institute, but somewhere down the line some sanity should prevail to make these campuses as student-friendly,” Saima says.

“Let me tell you an incredible account of my friend. In her fifth year, she appeared in the exams almost six times but couldn’t make it. When she enquired about it, she was shocked to learn that she had passed the written exam but was deliberately failed in her viva. Things like these take a huge toll on students. The movers and shakers of these campuses should go for some course-correction.”

Kashmir Observer contacted many of these campuses for their take on the allegation leveled by students. Most of them either shrugged the matter or called it a routine campus matter “which will be tackled for the good of students”.

But amid labeling and laborious routine, Kashmiri students in Bangladesh have a lot of stories to share but due to the fear of being expelled from college they don’t want to share anything.

“How much can we say,” says Hadiya. “We can’t say everything. We only think about our parents and try hard to focus on studies. That’s it.”

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