Syed Basharat Ahmad Shah, renowned veterinary scientist from Bijbehara who was recently made honorary judge in Bonn, Germany, tells Saima Bhat that how systemic nepotism forced him to leave his motherland
Syed Basharat Ahmad Shah (SBAS): I am from Bijbehara in south Kashmir. My father was a school teacher who unfortunately passed away in a road accident during my studies. At the time of my father’s retirement I was just 4 years old. My father struggled a lot to educate my siblings and me.
After four graduations and one post-graduation in India, I went for my Ph.D in a foreign country with a higher scientific niveau. Corresponding with different universities by post (in 1992 there was no IT facility in Kashmir) did not yield any fruitful result. Finally, I took my passport, necessary documents and my savings with me and went to Delhi. The details are lengthy; cutting short, German embassy issued me a visitor visa for Germany. In Germany I met some Professors, got the placement for Ph.D, returned back, applied for scholar visa at German Embassy in Delhi, returned back to Kashmir and did my job for some time to save money for the initial financing and travel and then left for Germany. After arrival in Germany I had first to learn the general German language and then the scientific German.
KL: Tell us a bit about your academic background?
SBAS: Due to having taken two double promotions during my schooling, I was underage after passing my BSc part I, to apply for any professional course. Therefore, I did my B.Sc final and applied for professional trainings, got selected for BVSc & AH at Ranchi (those days there was no Agriculture University in Kashmir). Parallel to my BSc, I had additionally done BA (part I) and after BSc, BA part II in arts subjects. After returning from Ranchi with Bachelor in Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry (BVSc & AH), I got appointed as Vety: Assistant Surgeon with the state department. Immediately I started doing LLB privately. Meanwhile, I appeared for the competitive exam of the Indian council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) for a Junior Fellowship. When results came out, I stood 1st in Animal Sciences throughout India and got the Fellowship. After completing LL.B, I went for Master of Veterinary Sciences (MVSc) with my fellowship. For my PhD I worked in a joint project at the University of Bonn, Germany, University of Leuven, Belgium and University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover, Germany. I did my post doctorate research for one and a half years at the University of Bonn.
In order to open my opportunities to work as a Veterinarian in Germany, I needed to get my Indian veterinary qualifications revalidated to German standards. For this purpose I had to pass exams in ten subjects and was then admitted to the diplomateship of the German Medical Board of Veterinary Surgeons. On 4th September 2012, I was honoured with admittance to the prestigious membership/diplomateship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS) London, (U.K), in recognition of my qualifications and professional excellence. I am presently the only person with MRCVS from J&K. The first person was Dr Mohi ud din, who passed away in 2012.
KL: You were awarded with the IAAVR award at the 4th Indian Veterinary Congress in 2004. I guess you are the only Kashmiri who has received this award. How does it feel to get such an award?
SBAS: It was overwhelming to receive the award. In addition to the presence of a galaxy of dignified and accredited scientists from all over India and abroad and the chief guest, there were vice chancellors of 10 Indian Universities present on stage at the award giving ceremony.
I remember, when I returned to my seat in the auditorium after receiving the award, a lady sitting on my right (an editor of the science Magazine of CSIR – Indian council of scientific and industrial research) asked me astonishingly, as to how could I make it at such a young age? Since the recipients were aged professors of around 63-65 years of age.
Two or three such awards are given at the congress in recognition of outstanding contribution in veterinary sciences based on qualification, academic career and research publications to candidates of eminence. This is mentioned in the citation of the award.
KL: In 2006, you were given a document of recognition for civic engagements declaring you as a respectable citizen of Cologne, Germany. What was that about? Is that the only reason you were selected as the judge at the Landgericht Bonn?
SBAS: Being engaged with some charitable and non-governmental organizations since my arrival in Germany, I used to help and assist foreigners of Asian origin particularly Pakistanis and Indians on humanitarian grounds, who seek political asylum in Germany or otherwise live here, to cope up with their common daily problems. This comprised of reading their German correspondence, translating and writing their applications and assisting them in solving their problems. This was possible due to my languages Urdu, Hindi, English and Punjabi. It is strange that through this interaction, I learned to speak fluent Punjabi while living in Germany.
The Germans and almost all European nations’ appreciate, value and cherish this type of cost free civic and humanitarian engagement of an individual and confer him recognition.
This has absolutely nothing to do with my appointment as honorary judge.
On September 19, 2009 I spoke in the symposium on “Family – Foundation Stone for Peace” organised by the German branch of the Universal Peace Federation, (an organisation registered with UNO) at Duesseldorf (Düsseldorf), Germany as an invited guest speaker. I presented the Islamic perspective of peace in family and the nation as a whole. The speech was in German language; this appeased and moved the audience and the organisers. There was lot of applause and in the end I was presented with a citation awarding me the title “Ambassador of Peace”.
KL: You were recently made an honorary judge in a country you are not a native of?
SBAS: It is an honour and it is amazing for a person with a different profession, foreign background, no expectation to be once called a judge in his life, to wear the judge’s dress (robe) and sit with other judges on the judge’s bench (podium) in a German court with its traditional prestige and decorum and at the same time be the son of a poor teacher from Bijbehara Kashmir.
What a coincidence and destiny. In order to make me a judge and give me this title, Allah has brought me to Germany, where such rules exist.
KL: What if you were in Kashmir and not in Germany? Would it have affected your career?
SBAS: In fact, I had done the entire struggle to serve my own people in Kashmir and not elsewhere. That is why I came back to Kashmir immediately after finishing my studies here. My all hopes of a better future were brought to zero in Kashmir. Simple permission to join my service took one year, the period I had to wait without pay. For petty and routine official formalities you need to pay, otherwise your file doesn’t move. At each and every step hurdles were created and old colleagues were full with jealously. I could experience in Kashmir that if you are a relative of a politician then you can grab a higher position with meagre qualification otherwise no chance.
Qualifications and experience could not help me, since I had no political background. Mufti Mohammad Syeed, our neighbour from Bijbehara and a pupil of my late father was Chief Minister of the state at that time. Although I had no hope with him but on persuasion of some well wishers, neighbourers to meet him, I tried to seek an appointment with him which he personally refused.
Through a known security personnel in the new secretariat Srinagar, I could seek an appointment with the then Chief Secretary Vijay Bakaaya but he did not even receive my representation instead gave me a funny answer saying you have achieved a lot, seen the whole world, what more do you need.
Ultimately disappointed and dishearted after a period of around three years, I renewed my German contacts and returned to Germany.
KL: Do you think every Kashmiri can be at the position where you are today? Where do Kashmiris lack?
SBAS: Yes, of course, no doubt. Kashmiris are generally intelligent but extremely emotional and at times lack self confidence. However we have come a long way, where we were 30-40 years back.
KL: How different is justice system in Germany from Kashmir?
SBAS: The justice system in Germany is very much fair and without hurdles, as in Kashmir. Furthermore, “justice delayed is justice denied” and this is true in Kashmir.
In Kashmir there are no regional courts between district court and high court. However in Germany regional appellate courts (Landgericht) exist, which expedite cases and appeals above the dispute values (litigation values) of District courts and below the dispute values of High court respectively.
KL: Do you have any plans to come back?
SBAS: Yes, of course. I often dream myself roaming in the Gali-kuchas (streets) of my childhood Bijbehara. I love my Kashmiri culture, heritage and hospitality. I have a house in Kashmir. I am eagerly waiting for my school going children to attain the age of bearing responsibility, so that I can leave for Kashmir. Eventually if a proper opportunity arises, I will be back to Kashmir.
KL: How was your experience as a Kashmiri in Germany? How do Germans see Kashmir in light of its present troubled history?
SBAS: Life is easy for every common man in Germany, because every thing is properly regulated and well disciplined. The state takes full responsibility of the basic requirements of every citizen. Kashmiris generally have like features as Germans, so a Kashmiri is not eye-catching in Germany.
Generally Germans are little concerned about a dispute far away from their boarders but are fully aware of the troubled situation. Among political circles and people with interest and knowledge about the trouble, the general feeling is that the leadership is not practically honest; it is divided with scattered opinion which makes a mess of the things giving the stake holders an opportunity to delay any settlement of the dispute.