Srinagar: Clutching a small notebook and a pencil box under his arm, Mirza Saaib Beg loved to be taught by his grandfather in his cozy room that smelt of old books neatly stacked in glass-fronted bookcases.
Little did he know that one-day he would draw inspiration from the valuable lessons of his grandfather and proudly represent his community at the prestigious University of Oxford.
Mirza Saaib Beg, a 31-year-old lawyer, became the first Kashmiri who has been awarded the Kofi Annan scholarship and the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship to study public policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.
The scholarship aims to cultivate and nurture future leaders by providing scholars to pursue fully-funded studies at the University of Oxford, and combine it with a comprehensive program of leadership development, long-term mentoring and networking.
“I grew up with my maternal grandparents in Srinagar. My grandfather, G. M. Waiz has been one of my biggest mentors and guides throughout my life. He used to teach me English, Urdu and Farsi. He would always encourage me to participate in debates and extra-curricular activities,” Beg said.
Beg completed his primary and secondary education from Iqbal Memorial Institute, where his active participation in inter-school debates honed the public speaking skills in him.
“In 2008, I cleared the national exam Common Law Admissions Test (CLAT) for national law universities. I studied law at NALSAR University of Law,” Beg told Free Press Kashmir.
Due to his extraordinary speaking prowess, he was elected as President of the student union.
“I was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s gold medal upon graduation. Further, as a student, I interned with various institutions, senior judges and lawyers to hone my understanding of law,” he said.
Later, Beg worked a few years in the legal department of the capital markets regulator and handled issues concerning legal policy, securities regulation and litigation.
However, things took a different turn for Beg after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 and 35-A in August 2019.
“I gave an interview to BBC radio in London where I criticized the Indian government’s decision to amend Article 370. I was informed that disciplinary proceedings would be initiated against me for my comments on social media, based on an interpretation of the Employee Service Regulations that did not permit comments on policy decisions of the central government,” he said.
In protest, he resigned from the post and began preparing to apply for his second masters.
“Since the tuition fee of the course I was looking for is quite high, I had to apply for a scholarship, but wasn’t aware of the one well suited for my choice of course and college. It was then that one of my college seniors told me about the Kofi Annan scholarship and the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship,” Beg said.
The scholarship valued over Rs 75 lakh, covers all costs of education at the University of Oxford, including living expenses and a monthly stipend.
“The selection criteria look at leadership qualities, academic excellence and commitment to public service. A good application is one that is able to convey these aspects with brevity,” he said.
Beg has also been recipient of several other awards and scholarships. During his time as a law student at Nalsar University of Law, Beg’s team won India’s oldest and one of the most prestigious national level moot court competitions, the Bar Council of India Moot.
“As best speaker, I was awarded a scholarship by the Bar Council of India,” he said.
Beg is equally intersted in sports and has cycled and raced thousands of miles across western, central and southern India in ultra-endurance campaigns, fundraising rides for education of financially restrained students.
“In the first edition, I successfully donated 6 lakh rupees towards the education of children at Rahat Manzil orphanage, one of the largest orphanages in Kashmir,” he said.