With Pakistani MBBS degree invalidated, Kashmiri students at a dead end

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Already facing difficulties, students now face invalidation of MBBS degrees from Pakistani medical colleges in India

Already facing difficulties, students now face invalidation of MBBS degrees from Pakistani medical colleges in India

The dream of becoming a doctor was a daunting journey for Kashmiri students who aspired to study in medical colleges in Pakistan. They alleged that they were harassed when crossing the border, that they had nagging questions about their ideology and that they were summoned by the J&K police upon their return, which they would suffer for the sake of their education. Then in April this year, the Center declared all such MBBS degrees invalid in India.

Farid Ahmad (name changed), is one such student from downtown Srinagar. His grandfather and great-grandfather were renowned doctors. Unable to gain MBBS admission in India through the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) or pay fees at private colleges, Mr Ahmad opted for medical school in Pakistan as a last resort in 2018 .

He appeared for a pre-qualifying test in Islamabad. “I was not able to get a full scholarship but I managed a medical seat within the paid quota at Quaid-e-Azam Medical College, Bahawalpur. It only cost me ₹40,000 per year including accommodation costs. Students with full scholarships were not required to It was the cheapest way to get an MBBS degree in a reputable government-run medical school in Asia,” said Mr. Ahmad.

However, it was not all easy. Pakistani students, many of whom have seen students like Mr Ahmad eat into their seat quota, would question his ideology. “I was asked if I believed in staying with India or Pakistan or in azadi (freedom). Believe me, all I cared about was my MBBS degree and getting a job back home as soon as possible,” Mr. Ahmad said.

On his first trip back to Kashmir from Pakistan, he was summoned by a special J&K police cell and asked to divulge full details of his university and courses. “It’s not easy for students to face frequent questioning at police stations. There was a sudden spike in early 2019. They [the police] indirectly suggested that we should drop out of 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When J&K’s special status was withdrawn on August 5, 2019, Mr.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 nearly three months in a communications blackout. When he returned home, he was unable to return to Pakistan as air and ground traffic had been suspended. Like dozens of other students, Mr Ahmad decided to leave the Pakistani medical school in 2020 and transfer to a medical school in Europe. Many others have opted for Central Asian countries.

It used to cost Mr Ahmad ₹5,000 to get to his university in Bahawalpur, a four-hour bus ride from the Wagah border in Punjab. “It was not easy to study in Pakistan. I remember how we were stopped at Wagah border and harassed as students,” he added. Where he studies now is a four-hour flight and then a bus ride.

Confidence Building

According to an unofficial estimate, about 100 students traveled to Pakistan each year, mainly to take MBBS courses. Around 2002, under the rule of Pervaiz Musharraf in this country, the number of Kashmiri students in Pakistan increased and 100 scholarships were announced in different courses including engineering, veterinary science and pharmacology. The initiative was then seen as a major confidence-building measure between the two countries. It was also in line with a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) agreement on student exchange programs.

Besides Pakistan, three medical colleges in Pakistan have occupied Kashmir (PoK), including Azad Jammu and Kashmir Medical College, Muzaffarabad; Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Medical College, Mirpur; and Poonch Medical College, Rawalakot, offered 6% reservation for J&K students. However, these degrees were declared invalid in 2017 since India does not recognize PoK as part of Pakistan.

In April this year, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE) announced that students with Pakistani degrees would not be eligible for higher education or employment in India.

Security agencies say at least 17 young people, who left with student travel documents, have joined activism in Pakistan. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the State Investigating Agency (SIA) are investigating the role of Kashmiri students in militancy and money laundering. According to the police, the separatists were also raising funds through the “sale of MBBS seats” and funneling the funds into militancy in Kashmir.

Many students studying in Pakistan, including victims of violence and wards of separatists, belong to Kashmir’s ambitious middle class. According to students studying in Pakistan, there is not yet a single recorded case of medical students turning to activism. They say those who picked up guns on a student visa never joined a vocational college in Pakistan.

No choice

Had he not accepted the transfer, Mr. Ahmad would have lost a year of his MBBS programme. “I wrote to my college in Pakistan that I was stuck in Kashmir but they couldn’t help me. I wrote to all senior officers and union ministers in India to enable me to pursue my MBBS but there was no response. I had hit a dead end in my career,” he said, explaining the change.

Mr. Ahmad now pays ₹6 lakh in fees per year plus ₹50,000 in rent per month. “I had a breakdown when I was stuck in Kashmir during my third year of MBBS and couldn’t travel to Pakistan for my exam,” he added.

He says he started receiving threatening messages in WhatsApp groups created by Kashmiri students studying in Pakistan, asking them not to take any classes in the neighboring country. “It looked like such groups had been hacked,” he said.

Many students who tried to take the Dubai route to reach Pakistan after 2019 to continue their studies now face the threat of having their passports confiscated if they expire while they continue their studies. The future of hundreds of Kashmiri students studying in Pakistan is therefore now in limbo.

About 70-80% of Kashmiri students currently studying in Pakistan are women. For example, the Jinnah Medical and Dental College in Karachi currently has 40 Kashmiri students enrolled, 25 of whom are women. Similarly, at the Fatima Jinnah Medical University (FJMU) in Lahore, 40 out of 60 Kashmiri students are women.

Talk to The Hindu from FJMU, a medical student, speaking on condition of anonymity, said she opted for Pakistan only because her father could not afford the high fees in India, after he failed to get a MBBS headquarters through the NEET.

“There are always good guys and bad guys. There may be illegal activities, but the majority of students do not do such things. My dad is a businessman but not that rich. I have three other 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 was selected from every country, but the medical colleges in Pakistan are better than those in Bangladesh or Turkey, so I came here. I am passionate about medicine,” she said.

She said the decision to declare Pakistan’s MBBS degrees invalid has permanently cut off students like her from their families. “We now have to look for higher education and jobs outside India, although my first choice would always be my own country. I want to work in my home state. I hope the Indian government revokes the decision and makes it easier for all of us,” she says.


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