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‘What about my future?’ — Afghan students on Indian grant caught between Taliban & visa rules

For the 2021-22 academic session, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has granted scholarships to 650 Afghan students. 

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New Delhi: The fate of several Afghan students who have been granted scholarships by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and received admission to central and state Indian universities for the 2021-2022 academic year, continues to remain uncertain even as the ICCR has asked the government to find a way to bring them to India, ThePrint has learnt. 

ICCR, an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of External Affairs, annually awards 3,940 scholarships under 26 schemes to foreign students from about 140 countries.

According to ICCR sources, it wrote to both the MEA as well as the Ministry of Home Affairs last month to explore a way to bring students who have got admission in Indian universities to the country. However, nothing seems to have been worked out yet. 

For the 2021-2022 academic year, about 800 ICCR scholarships were offered to Afghan students, of which 650 were accepted.

However, with the Taliban taking control in that country, and subsequent changes to Indian visa rules, several students across Afghanistan remain stuck, a source told ThePrint. 

While some of these students had valid Indian visas, they have not been able to travel to India as the Taliban has suspended all international flights since 16 August. To add to their troubles, on 25 August, the Indian government invalidated all valid visas for Afghan nationals and introduced an e-visa system. 

Another source said that classes in the universities will begin according to the usual schedule and the academic session cannot be delayed for the stranded students. The source also said that some of the universities have not been able to organise the classes online for the Afghan students.

Also read: Support for Taliban in Pakistan goes beyond military and maulvis now

‘What’s happening to my future?’

ThePrint spoke to four Afghan students, aged 24-25 years, who have received ICCR scholarships and admission letters to universities such as Panjab University in Chandigarh, the Indian Institute of Technology (Roorkee) and Central University of Punjab, Bathinda.

The students told ThePrint that they are yet to receive clarification from the ICCR on whether their scholarships stand cancelled and if not, whether they can avail of financial aid with a e-visa instead of the previously prescribed student/research visa. 

Some of the students claimed that they had applied for an e-visa soon after the fall of Kabul on 15 August but have not received any update from the Indian government yet. They also claimed that the ICCR has been “unresponsive to their emails” inquiring about the status of their scholarships.

Faridullah Lalzai, 24, based in Khost Province, told ThePrint that he applied for an e-visa to India around 17 August. He then emailed the ICCR with his e-visa ID number to inquire about his scholarship but has received no response.

“I get the feeling that there is not an active administration at ICCR. Either that, or they are ignoring us. I want to know if my scholarship is cancelled. What’s happening to my future? I don’t even know,” he said.

In an email to ThePrint, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, said admissions will not be cancelled for Afghan students. “Once they arrive in India, all administrative and academic support will be provided to them,” the email said.

Further, an official in the university administration, who refused to be identified, said that if Afghan students do not arrive in time for their classes, which are to begin in October, online classes will be arranged for them.

For 25-year-old Rahmanullah Sangin, who received admission to IIT (Roorkee) for an M.Tech in civil engineering, classes have already begun and he is struggling with attending them online. 

“My classes commenced in late July and early August. I miss them sometimes because of internet problems. Now, mid-term exams are approaching and I am very nervous,” he said.

Confusion between e-visa and student visa

Meanwhile, 25-year-old Madiha Yosufzai from Kabul has not yet applied for an e-visa, fearing it could jeopardise her ICCR scholarship that initially required a student/research visa.

“I’m scared to apply for e-visa. What will happen to my student visa then? What if I arrive in India but can’t avail the benefits under the scholarship?” said Yosufzai, who has been admitted to Panjab University in Chandigarh.  

“Afghan women face a lot of limitations once married. I want to study as much as I can. I’m invested in my future. If I lose this scholarship, it will be devastating for me,” added Yosufzai, who wants to return to Afghanistan to work as an English teacher.

Najia Mohammadi, 25, has also not applied for an e-visa for similar reasons. She said that she emailed the ICCR on 2 September with some queries but is yet to receive a response.

Mohammadi, who got admission into Central University of Punjab and hopes to work for the World Bank one day, described her situation with dread.

“A feeling of hopelessness has pervaded my whole being. I cannot do anything for my people and my country,” she said. “The women carrying out demonstrations have not yielded anything so far. I try my best to think about a different future but sometimes my efforts are in vain.” 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Afghan women are telling Taliban ‘Don’t touch my clothes’. It’s a new culture war


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