Living in two worlds

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Thousands of Kashmiri students brave cultural differences, hostile climate, and home sickness to pursue professional degrees in outside cities. While the state loses crores as revenue to these cities annually, with time, the students find it hard to return. Ibrahim Wani reports

Each year more than 3000 Kashmiri students head to outside cities to pursue professional degrees mainly in engineering medicine and management. Most of these end up in cities like Bangalore, Pune, Mysore, Delhi and Gurgaon, where private professional colleges are doing a booming business.

Bangalore has more than 35 engineering colleges while Pune has eight medical colleges. Similar is the story for other cities as well. Colleges like Gousia, Ramayah and Garden City in Bangalore and D Y Patil and Symbiosis in Pune have become part of common parlance among parents and students in Kashmir.

Last year some 1900 Kashmiri students went to different cities in Karnataka, some 500 went to Pune and Gurgaon each. Most of the students face an entirely different world from what they had conceived.

First experiences

Adil Lateef left for Bangalore in 2007. He is pursuing a B.Tech degree in Genetic Engineering from a city based private college.   “Kashmir is completely different from the rest of the country. I realized this as soon as I landed in Bangalore. This is a completely different world,” said Lateef.

“From air to weather, language to food everything is different. Every day is a constant struggle with the Idli’s, Sambar’s and the Dal Roti.”

For those students who are on their own for the first time the situation is particularly difficult. Mixed feelings of freedom and responsibility define the future for them. It is the first time that they have to take responsibility of their chores.

“From washing clothes to purchasing toiletries everything is to be done yourself,” said Arif Hamid who is doing MCA from a college in Mysore and was used to a comfortable life back home.

In the colleges too, the students face an unexpected situation. “The prospectus of the colleges show a different picture and then when we visit the colleges the situation is completely different,” said Aadil Dar who is studying in a college in Bangalore suburbs. A number of students have had to face a similar situation where they had hoped for reasonably good colleges and ended up in rag tag professional colleges which have come up all over these cities. Another issue is also of constant consternation – that of identity and ethnicity.

“Even in the colleges we completely stand out because of our accent and colour. Being a Kashmiri always gives you a particular distinction and peculiarity,” adds Arif Hamid.

“No hartals or curfews, no frisking and no air of fear. No overarching supervision of parents. You tend relax a bit,” says Tahir Mushtaq who is a management student in Chandigarh. This is a common observation by all the students who are not used to a conflict free situation. “There is that feeling of normalcy and you do not feel that fear every time you step out,” he adds.

A common trend witnessed among the Kashmiri students is that most of them leave their hostels within first three months and start living in private rental accommodations preferably with Kashmiri roommates.  “With the situation back home, the hoteliers see you with an air of suspicion and you find yourself answering uncomfortable questions,” says Yasir Rashid a BBM student from Pune.

Kifayat who is doing his MBA in Bangalore hails from Baramulla. He had a pizza at a fast food outlet for the first time in Bangalore. “You are answerable to no one here and there is an increasing tendency to experiment,” he says.

The exodus of students from Kashmir for professional studies witnessed a boom with the start of militancy in the 1990’s. “There was a collapse of the education system and an increased sense of insecurity. As a result, parents, mostly from middle class families started sending their wards to Indian cities for higher education,” says sociologist Prof B A Dabla. Dabla adds that the ever increasing competition for professional course at home is also a contributing factor. Aspirants unable to secure admission in Valley colleges head for other cities.

Aneesa Shafi, Head Department of Sociology at Kashmir University says that infrastructural problems also play a big role. “The unavailability of quality private educational institutions imparting professional education is one of the responsible factors”. Kashmir, she adds, has only a handful of professional colleges.

Saleema Jan, a faculty member at the EMMRC, University of Kashmir, says that the presence of multinational companies offering ample placement opportunities in these cities also plays an important role. “A professional degree from these places is often considered a sure shot career option”.

Her point is corroborated by Mohammed Shafi Mir whose son is pursuing an engineering degree in Pune, “The chances of my son getting a job now are much higher compared to if he would have been doing a degree from Kashmir.”

Then there are many courses which are not available in Kashmir. Sameer Mushtaq went to Bangalore after completing his higher secondary education for a course in Aeronautical Engineering. “I had no other option but to come to Bangalore since no institution in the valley offers this course” said Mushtaq.

The practice of sending children outside has become a sort of a status symbol too. “You always find people bragging about their wards studying in colleges outside,” said Tahir Iqbal a Kashmir university student who chose to stay back and says has had to face constant taunts from cousins studying outside.

A sudden transition from sleepy towns and remote hamlets to glittering metros takes a toll on young minds. A cultural transformation starts taking place slowly. The students start waking up to the new found independence and the world around them. “I visited a cinema hall for the first time in my second month in Pune and since then I have been visiting almost every alternative weekend,” says Rameez Mushtaq who is doing electronics engineering in a city college. “It was also the time I woke up to the multiplex culture and the McDonalds and KFCs.”

With the passage of time a comfort level develops with the new surroundings. Tastes and dress sense also witness change.

“Fashion consciousness develops among Kashmiri students. I only wear original Levi’s and Hilfiger jeans and Provogue shirts now,” said Tawseef Wani, M.sc IT student in a college in Bangalore.  Tawseef who hails from Kulgam knew nothing about brands back home.

“We start living in two worlds”. From picking up words of the local languages to change in general tastes, everything starts changing.

The darker side

In the initial year of their courses students have an increasing craving to visit their homes in Kashmir and they pounce on every possible opportunity. But slowly they lose interest.

“Even though we may relax a bit for a few days, but then it becomes boring and dull. There is no life here in Kashmir,” says Gibran Ali, a communications student in Gurgaon. Most of the students start missing the open life of these cities and have an increasing urge to head back. “After just three to four days here I want to return to the college”.

Added to this is the general tendency to increasingly look outside Kashmir for work.  Most of the students want to go abroad for jobs. And usually the second preference is the city of their alma mater or a metropolis. “Nobody among us wants to work here (Kashmir). It somehow does not serve any purpose”. The ones who return are usually from business families who return to join their family enterprises.

At their colleges, their seriousness towards studies sees a change. “Hardly 20-30 per cent of the students here are serious with their study,” says Younis a BBA student in Garden City College in Bangalore. There is a realization of the independence and at this age there is always a level of susceptibility.

“Most of my friends from Kashmir are routine takers of alcohol,” he says. He laments the fact that most of the students are duping their parents. “Hard earned money of their parents is going down the drain and they have no clue”.
Another major problem is of drug addiction. Though no studies are available, it is estimated that almost 40 per cent of these students are into drugs. “The drugs become a part of life for some. And quite naturally many a students become drug pushers either to come out of debt traps or to earn quick money,” says a student from a law college in Bangalore who did not wish to be named.

Night life and Bars are an added attraction. “Live in relations are also on the rise,” says Tufair Ahmad who recently visited his brother in Bangalore.

As a result of all this, many students keep failing in their exams “but it does not reflect in their mark sheets”. A lot of students pay money to organized syndicates usually referred to as ‘jugaads’. “You pay 10,000 rupees per paper and the mark sheets get changed.” says Tufair.

Capital angle:

Getting a professional degree from private colleges is a costly affair, to say the least.  Annual tuition fees usually range from Rupees 80,000 to 1.5 lakh per year and more. Fee structure varies with the field of study and the location of the college. Heavy donations ranging from rupees four to 12 lakh are a norm. In some instances donations have exceeded 20 lakh rupees. Add to that the cost of living in the metropolis.

“The flight of capital on account of this has a very negative effect. This could have otherwise been spent on the development of educational infrastructure in the valley” said Dr Mushtaq A Khan, Associate Professor at IMPA Srinagar.

Everyday local news papers are full of advertisements by consultancy agencies claiming to offer admissions at the lowest rates. Most of these are middlemen acting as commission agents for the colleges. A number of parents have been duped by these agencies in paying 20-40 per cent extra. Usually with each donation case the agency ends up making a profit of Rs two to three lakh.

Considering the expenses of accommodation, food, clothing  in these cities, a students ends up spending Rs 2 lakh annually.
There are almost 4000 students from Kashmir in Bangalore alone. Thus Bangalore only takes in almost 120 crores per year. The situation is similar for Pune, Gurgaon and Chandigarh. By conservative estimates the state ends up losing 650-700 crores per year to these cities.

Solution

There has been a talk of opening special economic zones in Kashmir by politicians, more so for public consumption. Given the state of affairs in already established SEZs and a big question mark on their feasibility in this region, it would be worthwhile for the government to explore the possibility of setting up Special Educational Zones in the valley. That would not only provide ample opportunities for students to pursue higher education without having to move out but will restrain reverse the flight of capital. That though needs some big thinking, a lot of initiative and more importantly the political will.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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