MRINAL PATHAK | 11 MARCH, 2021
The ‘Mass Migration’ of Students from Kashmir
‘How many students can three or four colleges accommodate?’
Rikza Wani (name changed), a medical student at the Maharishi Markandeshwar University in Ambala, wonders if she would ever have got the chance to get a good university education in Kashmir.
A student of medicine, Wani says it was the lack of opportunities in Jammu and Kashmir that drove her out of the former state. “Many of my batchmates have gone to Bangladesh for higher medical studies,” she says, explaining that the inadequate provision of colleges is one of the main reasons for the “mass migration” of Kashmiri students.
“There are only four medical colleges in J&K: three government, and one private. How many students could three or four colleges accommodate?” she asks.
Her parents are doctors, and wanted their daughter to become one too. “I chose MMU Ambala because it is closer to home. My parents studied in the south, but they found it hard to adjust to the climate. So most Kashmiris prefer the north Indian states for higher education.”
The prospect of “exposure” to more of the world also attracts thousands of Kashmiri students to study outside. “For me, it was a very welcoming start,” says Wani, though adding that if she had the chance to study the same course in Kashmir, she would have stayed back.
Like her there are a good number of Kashmiri students studying in various private colleges in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
It was the chaos and conflict in Kashmir that forced Mateen Naqshbandi to move out to pursue a career in engineering. He is currently enrolled in the department of mechanical engineering at Amity University, Noida, where repeated lockdowns have led to extensions in the time given to complete a degree.
Students say even the 24 engineering colleges in J&K are not enough to cater to all the engineering aspirants. For Naqshbandi, “J&K has good professors and colleges, but who would want to study in such a chaotic environment?” He thinks students’ drive to enrol in better institutions is what sends thousands of Kashmiri youngsters outside Kashmir each year.
Frequent shutdown calls in the recent past have slowed down the entire education process in J&K. According to Tehleel Manzoor, president of the Global Student’s Union in Srinagar, “Me and my friend started pursuing graduation at the same time. I am in the seventh semester, but my friend who stayed back in Kashmir is still in the second semester.”
Manzoor thinks the current turmoil has forced Kashmiri students to choose institutes outside J&K for higher studies.
Salman Basheer, a B.Tech student at the Central University of Kashmir, is currently in his fifth semester. “Most of the time the environment is not conducive for exams due to the ongoing dispute,” he says, which delays completion of the degree.
“The fractured infrastructure is another major issue. It does not encourage students to take admission here.” The problem extends to faculty. According to Basheer, most faculty members teaching in various institutions across J&K are not appointed permanently. “It decreases their efficiency,” he says.
Manzoor also points to the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) begun by the UPA regime as a factor drawing students to universities outside Jammu Kashmir.
Conducted by the All India Council for Technical Education for students from the region, the PMSSS covers tuition and hostel fees, books and miscellaneous charges for undergraduate students enrolled in engineering, medical or general degree courses.
Qamar uz Zaman Khaki, a Srinagar resident, enrolled in the Quest Group of colleges in Jhanjeri, Punjab under the PMSSS, which gives him 1 lakh rupees each year. “The annual hostel and mess fee at my college is around 60,000. Of the remaining 40,000 I buy books and bear other additional expenses,” he says.
He says that initially the financial condition of his family was not very sound and the PMSSS helped him and his family immensely. There are a good number of other students from J&K who have gained enrolment under the scholarship.
Apart from big private tycoons, a good number of government universities in northern India are home to many Kashmiris. Kanwal Garg, a professor at Kurukshetra University, thinks the exposure this affords them is of utmost importance. “Exposure to the academic world is the biggest driving force in getting Kashmiri students to KU,” he says.
He asserts that no one discriminates against them, and they spend their time on campus peacefully and happily. The claim is repeated by Rohit Kaushik, a professor at Amity University Noida: “There are many Kashmiris studying at Amity University, and I personally have not come across any case where a Kashmiri student was harassed.”
With a large number of Kashmiris studying in various private colleges in the north, many fell into the traps of agents of a few private colleges while taking admission.
Tanveer Mattoo, who studies at a private college in Punjab, was told by a college agent that his campus would be in a prime location. But to his surprise, he found the college was in the interior area of a remote village near Mohali. “At first, I was very disappointed. The state of infrastructure in that college was in tatters.”
Like many other students hoodwinked by such agents, Mattoo was forced to accept his fate.
Baramulla resident Bushra Riyaz says an agent lured her into enrolling in a private college for an anaesthesia course. Once she showed up on campus, Riyaz was dumbstruck to see its location and the state of its building.
She decided not to continue with the course, and returned to her hometown. With sadness she shares, “I paid a sum of 50,000 rupees to that agent.” That money was never reimbursed. “Me and my parents felt extremely cheated, since we had borrowed the amount from one of our relatives.”
The academic scenario in Kashmir has witnessed many ups and downs since the uprising of 2008. Prolonged uprisings followed by stringent lockdowns together hamper the education of tens of thousands of students.
Recently the J&K administration introduced a semester system in all educational institutions of the erstwhile state, but the policy could not cope with the regular hartals and curfews imposed in the newly formed Union Territory from time to time.
Nasir Khuehami, national spokesperson of the Jammu and Kashmir Students Association, thinks these disturbances are one of the biggest reasons for the “migration” of students to other north Indian states.
“When I was pursuing my higher education, I once completed a six-month semester in a year.” He says there are many students like him suffering similar problems.
He receives many complaints from Kashmiri students about the condition of the infrastructure in various private institutions that charge exorbitant fees. “Many students complain that the state of the college portrayed to them by various agents is far from reality,” he agrees, saying he has received hundreds of such complaints.
He says there are lots of discrepancies in the fee structures of many big private colleges. “Ultimately, students suffer because of the mismanagement in these institutions.”
Of the J&K government response, he says “I met many senior officials and urged them to look into the matter, but they never found the urge to resolve the issue.”
On the PMSSS, “The government claims that they give scholarships to around 5000 students every year. But, contrary to this, there are many students who have not received any amount yet under this scheme.
According to Khuehami there is a “huge fraud” going on in the admission process of some of these colleges. “These private colleges fleece the money from students and harass them by not admitting them.”
According to many teachers and student activists, the lack of democratic space available to the student fraternity is to blame for the current state of higher education in the valley. They fear more students will start leaving Kashmir if the trend continues.
“In the current scenario, students are unable to highlight their day to day issues and problems faced by them,” says Khuehami.
If the government wants to reverse the migration of these students, he thinks, it will first have to hear what they are saying.
Cover Photo: BASIT ZARGAR / The Citizen
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