Kashmiri girl Zeenat Shakeel has felt “discriminated against in India” all her young life. Now, cooped up in a small Calcutta hotel for more than three weeks, the would-be doctor wonders if she is facing “discrimination even by Bangladesh”.
Rubena Assadullah, Birjees Habib and Zeenat, three Kashmiri women in their early twenties, have been in the city since December 20, waiting for visas to travel to Dhaka and start classes at the Sirajul Islam Medical College and Hospital, a private medical school where they have enrolled.
Neither have the long overdue visas arrived, nor any updates from the Bangladesh deputy high commission, located less than 100 metres from their central Calcutta hotel.
A senior official of a company that offers consultancy to those seeking overseas education said the Bangladesh high commission in Delhi had stopped issuing visas to applicants from the Valley since December 20 although it had made no official announcement.
While Bangladesh foreign ministry sources have not confirmed any such decision, Kashmiri students have been running across the country --– to the deputy high commissions in Guwahati, Agartala and Calcutta --to seek remedies.
“Many students from the other north Indian states have got visas from Guwahati or Agartala, but the visa applications of the Kashmiri students haven’t been entertained. Isn’t it discrimination?” asked an official from another education consultancy firm, echoing Zeenat.
Rubena, Birjees and Zeenat, who had been expecting to receive their visas anytime around December 20, had travelled to Calcutta early lest the situation in Kashmir prevent travel outside after the visa arrived from Delhi. Someone they knew was to bring their visas to Calcutta and hand them over.
“We have been waiting in Calcutta since December 20. Students from the other Indian states have already got their visas, travelled to Bangladesh and started their classes, but we don’t know when we will get the green light,” Rubena, a Srinagar resident, said sitting in her 10ftx10ft hotel room.
The trio said they were among at least 350 young men and women from Kashmir who had secured admission to various medical colleges in Bangladesh and were waiting for their visas. All of them had already paid around $20,000 in fees for the first semester MBBS programme.
One of the consultancy company executives said that Kashmiri students, especially aspiring doctors, preferred to study in Bangladesh as the course fees and the cost of living were relatively low there and the medical curriculum was similar to India’s.