Malik Nisar and Mir Aiyaz
It is 11 am in the morning and Sajad, instead of attending conferences, is busy fencing the apple garden on the outskirts of his village. This may become a routine as India’s education body, University Grants Commission is likely to put a brake on his studies.
Sajad completed his Mphil from Quad Azam University, Lahore but is yet to receive the certificate. In August 2021, while returning back, the interrogation by officials at the Wagah border was “very traumatizing” for the 30-year–old researcher. What has added to his ordeal is the recent advisory issued by UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) for students planning to study in the neighbouring country Pakistan.
On 22nd April 2022, UGC and AICTE jointly issued a public notice, advising students not to go to Pakistan for studies. Those who do will not be eligible for higher education and government jobs in India.
However, migrants and their children who have acquired higher education degrees in Pakistan and have been awarded citizenship by India would be eligible for seeking employment in India after obtaining security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
When the family of Sajad came to know about the change in policy, the reaction, according to him was “total shock.”
Parents could not believe that with the issuance of such an order, two years and the hefty sum paid may turn out of no use. “Studying in a Muslim country like Pakistan was my childhood dream,” says a visibly dejected Sajad whose partly fulfilled dream may become a roadblock in his career.
For Zahid, a fourth-year MBBS student in Faisalabad, the news was initially taken for granted thinking it to be fake news.
“When the news about this sudden advisory reached us, we thought it to be fake,” Zahid told over the phone accompanied by his friends from Kashmir.
But, later on to his utter surprise the news item turned out to be true. The dream of Zahid’s parents to have a doctor in a family is faced with an uncertain future.
After finishing 12th class exams tried to get into medical colleges in India but could not qualify for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test commonly referred to as NEET.
“Taking into consideration many things, the cultural affinity, language, and affordability convinced me to choose a country in sync with my culture,” says a fourth-year MBBS student.
Nowhere to go
What has added to the confusion is an ambiguity in the notice. The notice doesn’t mention the start or end date. In this regard Maktoob contacted UGC but the commission did not respond.
Academicians from both sides of the border are not in favour of this change in policy. They believe exchange programs must continue because students get to know each other and interactions help build relations.
Degrees from Pakistan or any other country should not be dismissed and seen as any sort of disqualification, says Dr Tarushikha Sarvesh, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, Aligarh Muslim University.
“If the logic is to bring educational qualifications at parity with Indian regulations a few tests or extra qualifications can be asked for before entering the educational institutions or workforce in India.”
She further told Maktoob that this should not be made exclusively for students studying in Pakistan.
Terming the move of the top education body violative of the fundamental rights of the constitution, Assad Jamal, Lawyer, consultant Dean College of Law, Lahore says, “education is the basic right of every human being no matter from which class or creed you are. Depriving and banning students who have earned their degrees in Pakistan is totally a wrong move.”
Govt of Pakistan, according to him should come forward and engage with India regarding the move to save the future of thousands of students.
In a statement issued by its foreign ministry, Pakistan has allegedly called the advisory issued by UGC and AICTE an ‘openly discriminatory and inexplicable action by India’.
“We have sought clarification from the Indian government with reference to the said Public Notice. Pakistan reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response to this openly discriminatory and inexplicable action by India,” reads the statement issued on the 25th of April.
Many had expected a thaw in relations after the swearing-in of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharief following the ouster of Imran Khan.
But the latest move is seen as a step further delaying the process of resumption of talks, which are already put on hold after doing away with the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019.
Official data not available
As of now, there is no concrete data on the number of students admitted to various colleges in Pakistan. It’s believed that thousands travel to the other side of the border for studies, most of them from Kashmir.
According to Pakistan-based representatives of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), over 500 Kashmiri students are studying in Pakistan, and 50 to 100 students graduate from Pakistani institutions each year.
Although scholarships are provided to students from Kashmir, some had to sell their land, and a few borrowed money for their studies. Fear of repercussions and the recent wave of silencing of voices have deterred many from voicing their opinion even with assurances of a change of identities.
According to Lawyer turned politician, Irfan Hafiz Lone the issue is of grave concern because the careers of hundreds of students are at stake.
The abrupt change in policy is violating the rights of students. “UGC and govt of India must reconsider this decision,” says Lone.
“In these circumstances students should use all legal measures, expecting justice will ultimately prevail.”
Zahid, who is a year away from being called the first doctor in the family, last 20 days have been spent in consoling each other. “If this is not reversed, the life-like nomads from one country to another will continue, without getting to serve at the place of birth.”