It has been days that Bashir Ahmad Bhat, 42, has not been able to catch a moment of sleep as he is flooded with euphoric greetings. The reason is that two of his sons have cracked the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET), a competitive medical exam, last week.

Bhat, a resident of Batpora village of Kunzar area in north Kashmir's Baramulla district, heard the news from his relative about the result of his sons - Gowhar Bashir and Shakir Bashir.

With the ongoing internet gag in Jammu and Kashmir, it was difficult to access the National Testing Agency’s (NTA) website. "Due to the heavy load on the NTA website coupled with low-speed 2G internet, we were not able to check the result. We contacted a relative whose relative works in foreign. He informed us about the results," Bhat told The Citizen.

The twin brothers have become quite a sensation in their village with Gowhar (19) and Shakir (19) scoring 657 and 651 points respectively, out of 720. The duo has qualified NEET in their second attempt.

However, the journey to reach here was not a cakewalk for these brothers. Belonging to an economically weaker section of the society, they not only lacked basic facilities but there was constant pressure of livelihood. "Despite lacking facilities, which a poor family like ours, can't provide, my sons fulfilled my dream," Bhat said proudly.

Bhat runs a private fair price shop in Batpora locality and is not able to earn enough to provide an expensive education to his children. The family comprises his wife, two sons and two daughters. In order to earn more, he and his wife remain associated with Kashmiri hand embroidery.

"We are up till late night and design fabrics with our hands which help us to meet some of the family’s expenses” Bhat said. Narrating the economic problems the twin brothers faced, Gowhar said their father would borrow money to pay the fee. "We managed to pay the first installment of our tuition only after my father borrowed the amount. Our teacher also helped us to get a concession at a tuition center in Srinagar," he added.

Owing to their parents' dedication and support, Gowhar said that to even think about cracking NEET gave them the shivers, but their determination and parental support kept them going.

The brothers were eyeing to get selected for MBBS since childhood as it was their father's dream. "In 1998, my father would distribute medicine on a bicycle, and it is then he decided that his children would be associated with a medical background."

"When we saw how our parents wish for us to become doctors, we also developed an interest in the profession and worked hard towards it," Gowhar added.

The journey was filled with disappointment and discouragement, when last year, the brothers could not qualify for MBBS. "When we failed in the first attempt, we gave up," Gowhar said, which was when their father and teachers stepped in. "My sons could not concentrate on studies after the failed attempt, so I tried everything to boost their morale and confidence. Eventually, I succeeded when they again started preparing for this year’s NEET," he said.

Gowhar said the parental support and guidance of teachers bore the fruit when the results were declared. "We took on the challenge once more with the support of our parents and teachers," Gowhar averred.

Both Gowhar and Shakir got elementary education from Islamic Public Model School in their native village Batpora. They were enrolled in Mohammadia High School Kunzar in the 9th and 10th classes. They passed their 11th and 12th from Government Higher Secondary Kunzar. After completing the higher secondary they started preparations for NEET.

Meanwhile, they also cracked Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), the engineering exam to get into IITs, last year and joined the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar to pursue B.Tech in civil engineering.

When the Covid pandemic struck Kashmir, the duo was in panic like others. "Our exam was postponed. The exam was supposed to be conducted in May but due to the Covid, it got postponed. Our time-table was disturbed," he stated.

Besides that the internet ban in Kashmir hit them hard. They had to visit the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar where students from other Kashmir districts would submit application forms, for various courses, in December.

Internet services were fully banned in Kashmir during those days. The internet ban began on August 5, a day when the valley was completely rendered incommunicado, after the Narendra Modi government's unilateral decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir's special status and split the state into two Union Territories.

The services were partially restored after five months of a total internet blackout. However, high-speed internet is still barred. Speaking about the day they went to fill their form, Gowhar said, "We reached Srinagar at about 7:30. We had to wait for more than 12 hours for our turn."

Due to the ban, the students could not come to know about the notifications being uploaded on the NTA website. "There was no way through which we could check notifications and other stuff on the website and we could not also participate in mock tests as well," he added.

On advice that he would give to other students, who have similar struggles as them, Gowhar said, "Students must be consistent and determined about their future. Those students who fail in their first attempt must point out their mistakes and weaknesses and work on them."