BY ANCHAL PATHAK, SWATI DEOGIRE, TARANA ARORA
A tall, well-built 19 year old boy leans on the railing outside his classroom. In broken English and with a shy smile on his face, he converses with his Indian classmates. His eyes, however, skim the room, continuously looking for others like him. With his own people he laughs boisterously while his mannerisms become more conscious around others. This is just another moment in the life of Idrees Kamawal, one of the many college students from Afghanistan who is trying to make a home away from home in India, more than 1800 kilometres away from his own country.
Pune being the ‘Oxford of the East’ has kept up to its sobriquet by being a host to students from various countries such as Mauritius, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Afghanistan. Every year, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) offers 700 full scholarships to students from Afghanistan to pursue their higher education in India. The subjects pan from performing arts to commerce, law, arts and many more. On his recent visit to India, President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai was promised by New Delhi that 300 more scholarships will be provided to Afghani students in the field of agriculture, thus providing further scope to the youth of Afghanistan.
Though Kabul and New Delhi share warm vibes, S A Boxwala, Vice Principal of Nowrosjee Wadia College in Pune paints a different picture of Afghani students in the city. “(They) find it hard to blend with the Indian students”. Trisha Singh, a third year, B. A. History student agrees, “They don’t mix much and prefer to stay with their own people. Out of a group of twenty, maximum four or five people will step out and mingle with Indians.” Also when it comes to talking about their country, faculty and students agree that they remain reserved and only bring up Afghanistan after a lot of probing or in class discussions, not so much during normal conversations.
Even though Afghani students face trouble in communicating with their peers, a large number of them still opt for education in India because of its geographical proximity and, most importantly, for the funding. Professor Pramila Dasture from the Department of History, Nowrosjee Wadia College explains, “There is an issue of funds. They find it cheaper to live in this country rather than going to the western countries.”
Idrees Kamawal’s response to the same is in the affirmative. He says, “Studying in the west is very expensive. India is the best option in Asia when it comes to education.” When asked why he didn’t pursue higher education in his own country, the response was quick. “The situation there is not so good. There is no standard of higher education in Afghanistan”.
“India offers a maximum number of scholarships annually. Also, people love the culture and tradition. The most important thing is that mostly students are poor in terms of economic conditions and they will always prefer India over London or anywhere else where a burger is sold for $5.”, Says Mustafa Kazemi, Senior Editor, Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Dr Boxwala offers another viewpoint, “India is more liberal when it comes to religion and tolerance. These students may not find the same acceptance in the western countries. In India anyone and everyone is welcome”.
Scanning various Pune colleges for pretty Afghani faces, one senses the reluctance of Afghani parents in sending their daughters abroad for education. Very few girls come to Pune for education in spite of many scholarships available. “You will only find one or two girls in each batch of Afghani students”, asserts Prof. Dasture.
Noori, a friend of Kamawal and fellow scholarship student reaffirms, “We send very few girls outside the country. It’s mostly the boys who come for higher education”. According to common observation made by Taranish and Prachi, third year B. Comm students; “When it comes to international students, we notice more Irani girls in college than boys. But amongst the Afghani ones, we hardly get to see any of the girls”.
Though the government figures show a large number of Afghani students pursuing their higher education in India under schemes like ICCR, SAARC scholarship scheme and Cultural Exchange Programme, do these degrees help these young minds mould a career in India? Or rather are they willing to take up a job here? The answer comes out very clearly in Kamawal’s response, “I want to go back to Afghanistan for a job. There are lots of opportunities for us when we go back with an Indian degree”. Kamawal and his friends, like most Afghani scholarship students in India, agree that they will be placed a cut above the rest when they go back to Afghanistan and apply for a job there. Observing the trend amongst these students, Prof. Dasture states, “They don’t stay here once the course gets over”.
Talking from his personal experience, Kazemi says, “In Afghanistan, most of the jobs are based on qualification. When you apply somewhere and you have good qualifications, you are hired immediately. There are a lot of opportunities here because of hundreds of NGOs, Foreign Forces, The UN, News Agencies, and Organizations hire people as they need manpower. So whenever there’s a qualified student, and if he has experience, every organization tries to grab him. The same thing happened to me”.
While talking about the mindset of the youth and thewestern intervention in his country, the editor says, “While one believes that the country is going on well, others would say that we are going backwards. Religion is also a cause of the mindset. I believe if a person is deeply religious, he is not optimistic about the future of the country.” Taking this comment forward, Prof. Dasture adds, “These students are very religiously and politically inclined. In terms of politics their thinking is way beyond ours; perhaps this is the effect of the intervention of the West in their country”.
All said and done, the Afghani youth in India enjoy their stay in the country. Their love for Bollywood films, their insatiable appetite for naans,and their ease with the Hindi language ensures they dont feel like fish out of water.
However, Kamawal and his friends say that they like staying in India but their roots are so deeply embedded in the soil of Afghanistan that in spite of the situation there they fervently wish to live in and work for their country soon.
Kazemi sums up the entire situation, “Most of the youth wants to continue living here – including myself. I and a few others like me are optimistic about the future. We believe in our forces, although not too strongly but we believe in the future very well”.
And so, with his friends in tow, Kamawal steps back in to his classroom with a hope to eventually fulfil his Afghani dreams.