Dhaka Despatches

Kashmir’s desperation to have a doctor in a family helped Bangladesh emerge as the new destination for medical training. After a medical student’s mysterious death recently, Raashid Andrabi talked to many students and found everything is not hunky-dory

Kashmiri students stuck in Bangladesh demand immediate evacuation, a March 2020 photograph

Kashmiri parents are literally busy in a race to have at least one doctor at home. Triggering huge commerce, this race has converted Dhaka into Kashmir’s major destination for medical studies. An average of 700 to 800 students fly to Bangladesh in a year. In five to six years, parents foot a bill of not less than Rs 40 lakhs.

But not every student in Bangladesh is all right. Many of them have stories to share. These disturbing stories may not be everybody’s story and it may not be happening in all the colleges where Kashmiris study but these stories do exist.

Of the dozen-odd students approached last week, four were able to pen down their problems and give vent to the crisis they believe they are in. They could be a minority but they are facing it. All of them agreed to write only after being assured that their names would not be revealed.

‘I am On Anti-Depressants’

I’d always wanted to be a doctor, but I couldn’t get into a medical school in Kashmir. As a result, I persuaded my parents to allow me the opportunity to continue my education in Bangladesh. As a foreigner in Dhaka, I had to contend with several challenges, which are to be expected in a new country. Our teachers are mostly doctors. Some are friendly, but others perceive us as simple Dollars going around. Teachers are the role models of the students, but what if the teacher you look up to traumatizes you or wants money or other favours in exchange for him not purposefully failing you in exams. Imagine all of your hard work is for nothing. In Kashmir, there is a popular idea that Bangladesh grants degrees to anyone who throws money at them, but this is all a lie. I don’t feel like I have a life now.

I am on anti-depressants for one year.”

People carry the body of an MBBS student, who died in a Bangladesh College on Wednesday at her native village in Budgam on Saturday, January 15, 2022

“I Need A Doc Before Becoming One”

“Our offline classes started in September 2021 after Covid lockdown ended. Because of a visa snag, I arrived in Bangladesh in the second week of October.  On the 13th of October at approximately 10 pm, I arrived at the hostel and was about to enter when the guard stopped me and asked for my name, Id(entity), and other information, which I provided. He told me that I could not stay in the hostel. I was a little worried, so I asked him why he couldn’t let me in. He replied, “Your registration has been revoked, and your admission has been cancelled by the college administration, thus you are not a student of our college, and as a fact, I am unable to allow you to the hostel. It was 10:30 pm, and they asked me to go to any hotel. I had flown from Kashmir alone, without any friends. I asked them to please let me stay at the hostel because it would be problematic for me to find a hotel at 10:30 pm as a female, but they wouldn’t even let me sit inside for 10 minutes.  Then I headed for a one-hour walk on the road. I contacted the college secretary and the hostel in charge, but no one answered for an hour.

After an hour, I begged the hostel in charge to let me remain for the night, she eventually agreed. The next day the secretary told me that staying here was pointless.  I was trembling and wailing because they were telling me to return home after two years. My registration was cancelled because I returned home during the epidemic and my agent failed to submit my certificate. My agency persuaded the college secretary to try to handle my equivalency, although he was unable to do so for three months in a row. I was not allowed to eat in the hostel for more than three months.

I wasn’t allowed to join classes for three months, so I was confined inside a hostel room. Today, I have my certificates and my registration is complete, but our exams began on January 2nd and as a result, I was unable to sit in the exams.

Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladesh premier with, Prime Minister Narendra Modi

“We Thought of Suicide”

“I am a third-year medical student at an international medical school. We have a lot of issues here, such as the issue of favouritism and negligence by teachers. These actions have caused many students to take antidepressants.  They set their own rules and show favouritism to kids who excel academically. We have already lost a lot of time that our parents, as well as ourselves, are counting on us for.

Mentally, I’m at my lowest point; I’ve never felt so hopeless before. Nothing makes sense when you feel like you’ve lost self-control. We even feel suicidal or use medicines in order to sleep peacefully, if only for a while. I urge all foreign students in Bangladesh to keep an eye out for one another.  Seniors, in particular, should look after their younger ones. Perhaps you’ll be able to save someone’s life.

With so much money and hope on the line, it’s impossible to simply quit.

Second flight carrying stranded students from Bangladesh to reach Srinagar today, a May 2020 photograph

“They Humiliated My Family”

I’m currently a third-year student here and like the rest of us, I have suffered my share of mental trauma. I never wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to study literature and was interested in the arts. My parents didn’t approve and neither did anyone else in my family. I wanted to go to Delhi and study in some good college. My parents got me admitted here instead. I protested a lot, in the beginning, I eventually gave in to their wishes. When I got here it was nothing like what I had expected.

I knew I would have to study a lot but it wasn’t just that. I had never stayed away from my family for a single night. Now I was alone in a whole new country. On top of all that I was already struggling with my mental health. In such a state the smallest gesture can either make a person better or throw off their balance completely.

I was trying hard, barely slept. We used to study till fajr but still kept failing. Our teachers were not even humane leave alone encouraging. They call you a failure at your face. Even if you have a medical emergency they say it’s no excuse because it isn’t their fault.
I was attending all classes. Some nine months passed this way and I used to cry every day. I couldn’t tell my parents because I thought they’d get worried.
Then Article 370 happened and I couldn’t talk to my family for two months. That pushed me into a spiral of depression I couldn’t get out of. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder with anxiety. I got self-destructive, got insomnia, lost weight and eventually got suicidal. I remember crying every night wishing I would die.

Once I called a friend at 3 am, crying, telling him I wanted to die. He talked me out of it, stayed on the phone till morning and told me we would visit a doctor. And then forgot about it. That’s how it is here.

A group of Kashmiri students in a Dhaka (Bangladesh) medical college protesting against the unfair suspension of one of their colleagues. The suspended student attempted suicide in frustration on January 26, 2022 evening. KL Image: Special Arrangement

Sometime later I decided to go home when I wasn’t getting better. All the medicines had made me numb and lifeless. I used to sleep for days altogether. When I got home my father cried looking at me, I looked miserable. I had just got home and came to know my aunt had recently passed away. I had planned on seeing her first when I got back. She was sick and I hadn’t seen her in years. That guilt and grief tore me apart. I stayed home for 8 days and went back.

In a few days, corona hit, and lockdown happened. When we got back home we were treated like a biohazard. All of us were quarantined. Those days of staying in the hotel with strangers in the state of mind I was in, was a cherry on top.

But Covid was a blessing in disguise as I got to stay at home which made me better. I even stopped taking medicines. When we had to come back nine months later for final exams hell set to lose again. All the while we had appeared in exams online. And the same HOD called me up and accused me of changing my number so didn’t have to appear in the exam. She insulted my family and said it was the fault of my upbringing.

Students of International Medical College Dhaka protesting against the suspension of a Kashmiri student. KL Image: Special Arrangement

Finals went over like that, crying and not sleeping. I failed a subject. Our supplementary exams were announced in the middle of lockdown. Flights were suspended so we had to travel by road. We were turned away at the border for not having complete documents. The embassy was closed for the next two days. Stayed in a hotel for a few days until eventually flights resumed.

A day of sanity and the rest of the week is a rollercoaster ride. There is already a lot of pressure on studies. But having a toxic environment and no support is what breaks one back.

I heard some people debate about this girl’s death. They said if she didn’t want to be here why didn’t she just go back home. But I know it isn’t that easy. There is this guilt of not being enough that comes with it, of letting your parent’s expectations down. When you can’t do anything about all these things, the helplessness is unspeakable.

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