NEW DELHI/DHAKA: The government on Tuesday advised Kashmiri students stranded on India-Bangladesh border to return to Dhaka in view of their own safety and the risks to other people due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A group of 70 Kashmiri students studying in Dhaka are stranded at Benaport, the border area between India and Bangladesh, after their colleges were shut due to the novel coronavirus pandemic that has left over 16500 people dead worldwide.
India went for a countrywide lockdown on Monday with curfew at many places to ensure social distancing and homestay. The government has also suspended international flights, sealed all the borders, ports and entry points, in a bid to contain the epidemic. So far, over 510 people have tested positive and 10 people died in India due to COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan city of Hubei province in China over three months ago.
Around 7000 to 10,000 Kashmiri youth study in Bangladesh, out of which most have returned to Kashmir in the last couple of months, sources said.
Official sources in the ministry of external affairs acknowledged that there were videos circulating in social media of a group of Indian students in Bangladesh wanting to cross the India-Bangladesh border at Benapole.
"In view of the advisory on restrictions in movements from other countries into India and within India itself, border crossings are suspended. Students are therefore advised to go back to their hostels in the interest of their health and safety and also of the community," an official said.
"The Principal of the college has denied reports that students have been asked to vacate the hostel and has confirmed that they would be accommodated in the hostels. The students reached the border despite advice to the contrary by the High Commission of India in Bangladesh and knowing fully well the restrictions in force in India due to Covid-19," sources said.
Such large number of Kashmiris study in Bangladesh primarily because of several reasons. After the Pakistan sponsored Islamist militancy hit Kashmir's education system badly, parents began sending their children for education across India and to neighboring countries. "Since Kashmiris prefer white collar jobs, especially medicine, there weren't any easy and cheap options in India. Getting into medical colleges is highly competent and also expensive here. So many parents sent their children to Central Asian countries and Russia to study MBBS. However, Russian degrees in medicine were not recognized by Medical Council of India. So the next best option was medical colleges in the neighborhood. Though Pakistan offered special scholarships for Kashmiri students, security clearance remains a problem. That is why Bangladesh has been easier and far more accessible," Javed, a Kashmiri parent said.
In 2009, around 10 to 15 Kashmiri students went to Bangladesh. By 2016, the number rose to 500 and in the last few years, around 900 students go every year on an average.
Bangladesh is a popular destination for Kashmiri students, also because many rely on scholarships offered to India under South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). "Moreover, Bangladesh, unlike Central Asia, is culturally similar to many places in India. Indian languages like Hindi and Urdu are easily understood, food is similar, colleges are English medium and travel is affordable. Above all, Bangladesh is also Muslim-dominated and therefore more comfortable and relatable," Touseef, a young career consultant in Srinagar said.