Denied a scholarship, this Kashmiri girl decided to expose ‘Favouritism’ at SAARC

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Her meritorious journey faced a hiccup when lesser deserving candidates managed to get the SAARC medical scholarship over her. But rather than discouraging her, the selection rot motivated the former Mallinson schoolgirl to launch a justice campaign for the shunted out meritorious students. 

When she posted her tearful Instagram video message on January 10, 2018, it instantly rekindled a sense of injustice with merit, evoked empathy and created solidarity for her. But Taha Firdous Shah, 19, soon deleted her video, wiped off her tears, and decided to fight.

Like other meritorious students, she was shunted out for admissions in Bangladesh under South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) quota for MBBS course for students in India. The scholarships are being given annually due to the bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh.

Taha had applied for MBBS in Bangladesh through SAARC free quota after securing 95.8% marks in Class 10 and 94.8% in Class 12.

“I met all the criteria for the scholarship,” she says, assertively. “I was even assured by the concerned consultant through whom I applied that I would be 100% in the first list only.”

But when the selection list was released recently by Director General Health Services Bangladesh on its official website, Taha’s name was mysteriously missing.

“I don’t know what forgery took place,” she wonders. The results left her in a traumatic state of mind. But then, she realised, she must fight back.

While scanning the selection list, in the very first instance, she sensed that the three students—with serial numbers 14, 17 and 19—have been selected either at behest of “sponsored support” or some “mischief” with the marks.

Otherwise a shy student, Taha then became a justice campaigner.

She began calling the attention of the who’s who in the state officialdom and civil society through social media where she highlighted her case and that of her meritorious tribe, sidelined by some “influential lobby”.

For example, she says, one of the selectees doesn’t even meet the eligibility criteria despite her amended marks.

“It’s not the overall marks that count,” Taha continues, “which is equal for all the students having marks ranging from 450-500. But her biology score is lesser than me.” Biology, she says, becomes the competing criteria in the SAARC scholarships for MBBS.

Similarly, Taha says, another two selectee students’ biology score is less than her. “If all of the three candidates were eligible,” she asks, “then on what basis, did they send someone with a lesser score in biology?”

All of the three selected students are personally known to her: two from Mallinson Girls School, one from Presentation Convent.

“I’ve nothing against them,” she affirms. “But this injustice has to stop.”

Taha’s justice campaign is mainly driven by the sense of collective injustice with merit, which is otherwise an old grumble in Kashmir society. In this case, too, Taha isn’t a single shunted out meritorious case. Her friend Sana Imtiyaz is also sailing in the same boat.

“Sana scored a total 99 in biology with Cumulative Grade Points Average (CGPA) of 10,” Taha says, eloquently. “But like me, she also didn’t figure in the list. This is totally unjust.” And there’re many more students with 97 score in biology, she continues, who’re nowhere in the list.

Once the final selection list came, Taha tried to re-verify her marks in a bid to plead for her case better. But she was shocked to find the results, up until recently, suddenly vanished from the official website of JKBOSE.

To take up the issue, Taha met Joint Secretary JKBOSE. “He was shocked to hear about the removed results from the website,” she says. “But like everyone else, he too said, he’ll look into the matter.”

But, time is running out for Taha and her meritorious class. Bangladesh is already calling the selected students, including the ‘least deserving candidates in the list’. Sensing the urgency, Taha has decided to spread the word on social media, where many netizens have already come to her support.

“Corruption has eaten up the vitals of our society, now it is eating dreams of our bright and young,” a netizen Mohammed Afaaq Sayeed wrote in Taha’s defence on his Facebook account. “This is an awakening call. We need to do our bit for her by raising our voice against this gross injustice.”

The matter, Sayeed demands, needs to be investigated and those complicit in depriving a bright student of her chance to fulfill her ambitions should be taken to task.

Reacting to Sayeed’s post, one senior citizen and retired Engineering geologist, Jalal Ud Din Shah said, “This selection list is under the scan of the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh, particularly for fake diplomatic recommendations and fabricated marks sheets by agents from outside the state.”

Shah’s inputs only exposed the old rot in the SAARC Scholarships that came under question by rights groups in 2015.

Then also, the selection list did not show the names of students who were recommended as meritorious students by then MPs, Mehbooba Mufti and Tariq Hameed Karra, MLA Basharat Bukhari and Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Instead, the students listed were those recommended by Bangladeshi Ministers with a tacit understanding with some Kashmir-based influential lobby. “Everything was done on the basis of merit,” the Bangladesh High Commission in India had denied the charges.

But resurfacing of the selection rot two years later has again put the Bangladesh High Commission in India on radar, making Taha’s justice campaign an uphill task.

She, however, isn’t giving up, despite people advising her that it takes connections and money to get her deserving seat.

“I’m trying to fight for justice,” she says. “And I request the concerned authorities to help me out, so that truth wins and I along with my meritorious friends get the seat that we deserve.”

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