Despite shutdown and lockdowns, many Kashmiri students and professionals have bagged fellowships to study at prestigious western universities, reports Syed Samreen

Mohammad Tabish

Mohammad Tabish, 29, applied for the Chevening scholarship program on the last date. Little did he know that he would be among the very few fortunate students to be selected. Tabish hails from Rawalpora and is currently working for the government in the Social Welfare department. He is the program manager in the integrated child protection program.

Tabish has graduated in English literature from Amity University, followed by masters in International Relations from Jindal School of International Affairs.

Tabish had decided to apply in 2018 but somehow it did not happen. He did it in 2019. Unfortunately, the time of submitting the application and the fallout of the revocation of Article 370 coincided. But this didn’t stop Tabish from achieving what he had aspired for.

“I faced a lot of difficulties in the process of my application but I’ve always been of the thought that we should try to make the best out of the little we have,” Tabish said.

In September, Tabish moved to Delhi in order to fill the forms and submit his application. “All the interviews that followed were cancelled and instead conducted online. Managing that was really difficult knowing that there was no high-speed internet available in Kashmir,” he said.

After the application was completed, Tabish was the first scholar to be announced from Kashmir. He had applied for the University College London (UCL), London School of Economics (LSE) and the King’s College London (KCL). Out of the three, he got acceptance from UCL and the KCL. He chose to study a one-year Masters in Public Policy at the King’s College London. The scholarship covers everything; from tuition fee to the living expenses.

When asked why he chose to study Public Policy, Tabish replied: “The trend is changing now. There’s more policy-based governance. There’s a dearth of experts in public policy in the Government and I see it as my goal to bring scientific and academic knowledge to the government. Chevening will help me bridge the gap.”

Scholarships like Chevening and the sorts are readily available every year, to every student across the globe who wishes to study abroad. The question is how many students know about such opportunities..

“I’ve always taken criticism positively. Yes we all have difficulties, but I believe that overcoming them is the only way ahead,” he said.

Tabish said every Kashmiri student can fulfil his dream of studying abroad. “It just takes effort and resilience. Being successful is secondary, what counts is the effort,” he said.

Husnain Mustafa Khawaja

At just 21, Hasnain Mustafa Khawaja was already the first president of Saaya– Shadow of hope’ – a  non-governmental organisation that was co-founded by him. Hasnain is the second Chevening scholar from Kashmir who bagged the award. He attributes his social work for the award. Chevening scholarship is something that does not just focus on the academic background of a student. Chevening looks for world leaders who can reap financial rewards and have an insight into what’s happening on the global level.

Hasnain hails from Bemina area of Srinagar and is a law graduate. He has completed his BA, LLB from the University of Kashmir. Hasnain carries the genes for law and advocacy from his father, Tasaduq Hussain Khawaja, a senior advocate at the J&K High Court.

At an early age and after working tirelessly during 2014 floods for the relief distribution and financial assistance of affected people, Hasnain thought of forming his own organization that would be youth-centric and would work for the underprivileged children aspiring to learn. So, he started ‘Saaya’.

“We’ve helped children financially. We have distributed books among them. I genuinely feel that there must be someone whose good wishes and prayers have led me to where I am. I’m just 25 and getting this scholarship is truly overwhelming.” Hasnain said. “The whole heart of the matter in getting any kind of scholarship abroad is, a student being extracurricular active”.

Usually, in Kashmir, the main focus of a student remains on getting good grades and excelling in exams. The number on the sheets is given the utmost priority over any other thing. While as the whole point of education is the application of the curriculum on the ground.

According to Hasnain, everyone has dreams but only a few have the urge to fulfil them.

“I had a dream of studying in London but for a common Kashmiri like me, it was really difficult spending approximately 40 lakh rupees per year abroad. And I think that if I could do it, any other Kashmiri as well can,”’ he said, insisting he has chosen the Queen Mary University of London and will be pursuing a Masters in Law with a specialisation in Human rights. “I want to come back to Kashmir and work on Juvenile rights, broadly human rights. We all know that there is a vacuum and I wish to fill it,” he said.

Sehreen Shamim

With a desire to shun patriarchy and sexism, Sahreen Shamim set out to achieve her aspirations and dreams a long time back, when she packed her bags and left to work outside Kashmir.

Shamim, 29, hails from Natipora (Srinagar) and has been offered a place in the Oxford University, United Kingdom. Shamim has chosen to study Masters in Public Policy.

”I wish to come back and frame fruitful policies for Kashmir. Studying public policy, that too in The United Kingdom will be like a dream come true for someone like me, someone who was pressurized to study the traditional subjects after twelfth grade,” Shamim said.

Shamim couldn’t handle the cultural conditioning and the societal pressure and chose to break all the fetters that besieged her. Shamim graduated from Mount Carmel College Bangalore in Economics followed by a masters program in the same subjects from Amity University.

Shamim has worked as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) official and also helped tribal women with livelihood generation. For a long time, Shamim found herself under-appreciated for the different types of work and lifestyle that she had chosen.

“I was often name-called and looked down upon just because I chose to live the life I had dreamt of,” she said. “But somehow, I had a hunch that one day everyone around would be proud of me. I just care about my parents being proud of me. They are the happiest people right now. Getting into Oxford is everyone’s dream and today, their daughter did it.” She wants the youngsters to “stand up for yourself” even if your parents are not supportive.

Sehar Iqbal

Mother of two kids, Dr Sehar Iqbal is the first Kashmiri woman to be awarded the Women’s scholarship by Saïd Business School, Oxford University.

Sehar will be a fellow at the Lady Margaret Hall, one of the first Oxford Colleges to admit women. It has been the Alma Mater of Malala Yousafzai as well as Benazir Bhutto.

Sehar has two kids under seven years of age.

From the very beginning, Sehar has had global exposure and experience and even now, after being in wedlock, she will pursue the programme at Oxford.

According to Sehar, it’s just a matter of effort and desire to achieve whatever a person wishes for. She said that more and more Kashmiri women should apply for scholarships abroad regardless of their financial status or any other condition.

“There’s no ideal time to do anything. I think that I’m no different. Having children or being married shouldn’t be a determinant of what a woman deserves in life. I have a highly supportive husband who pushed me to study further. I’m thankful that I am surrounded by supportive people” she said.

Sehar is a development expert with 15 years of experience working in disaster-affected and conflict areas in India, Tajikistan and Bangladesh. Her grassroots work includes livelihood support for abandoned women, building community infrastructure and disaster risk reduction. She has consulted for agencies like the Aga Khan Development Network, American Red Cross, European Commission, the Asian Development Bank, and the Ministry for Rural Development Government of India.

In 2012, Dr Iqbal was the fellow of the inaugural class of the India Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Initiative by the Asia Society, Rockefeller Foundation. She has a PhD in Social Sciences. She studied Human Development in Jammu and Kashmir under Prof. Jean Dreze, a world-renowned economist. She did her PhD when pregnant with her second child.

“Every woman needs to make time for her dreams and aspirations. Every mother who pursues education sets an example for her children to put their education first,” she said. “Every woman who works after marriage demonstrates commitment and hard work as the foundations of success to her children. If you value yourself your child will learn to value women.”


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