It took last year’s unprecedented situation to reveal how many Kashmiri students are training as doctors in Bangladeshi medical schools. In the second wave, most of these students are only conveying a hostage sense in the erstwhile Pakistan due to delayed exams.
Saima remained grief-stricken despite her classmates taking turns to give her a crying shoulder in a faraway land where longing for roots almost withered her in plague.
Behind her breaking point was a dispatch from home — announcing the sudden death of her beloved elder.
It was in a Srinagar hospital that the man who taught Saima valuable life lessons lost his battle with breaths.
He was subsequently put in a wooden box, ferried to a forlorn cemetery in an ambulance and brusquely buried in a pit.
“My grandfather died in ending April,” said mournful Saima, a 26-year-old MBBS student.
“He had raised me with love and care all these years. Not seeing him when he left for heavenly abode feels like a curse! Distance does matter when you lose your family member. I can’t console my family from a distance of 2,694 km, especially when they need me the most.”
Saima is among the thousands of Kashmiri students—pursuing MBBS in several Bangladeshi colleges, under the aegis of Dhaka University—stranded in a hostel from the past seven months.
Most of these students are scorching in the hot wave as the campus administration has not been able to announce a specific date for their examinations.
In this wait, some of these students have lost their families back home, while others have run out of means.
Miles away from her home, Mehr mostly lays on her bed at a girls’ hostel in Dhaka.
The 25-year-old final year MBBS student of Bangladesh Medical College is habitually an energetic person but has been confined to her bed for a while.
“It has been two weeks since my brother told me that he’s singlehandedly attending Covid-positive patients back home in Kashmir, including my father, mother, sister and grandmother,” Mehr said.
“I’m unable to sleep ever since I came to know about it. I should’ve been there, with my family right now, but this uncertain exam is neither letting me go home, nor serving any purpose of coming here in pandemic.”
Mehr and other Kashmiri students were officially called back to the Dhaka campus in November 2020, with the promise that their exams will be conducted on March 26, 2021.
“But due to the Covid surge in Dhaka, three date-sheets were subsequently cancelled,” the medical student told Free Press Kashmir from her hostel in Dhaka.
“Since April, the region reports almost 8,000 cases daily. And therefore, we’re only asking our college authorities to issue a specific date, so that we can mentally prepare ourselves and decide accordingly.”
However, as the exam is endlessly getting delayed, these Kashmiri students are either breaking down over their fallen family members, or losing sleep over their pandemic patients back home.
Many of these students are also finding it hard to manage in the ongoing financial crisis which has rendered their parents back home workless.
“Living with futility in a pandemic makes you more vulnerable,” Mehr said. “Even then there’re no classes and exams in sight.”
But while the likes of Saima and Mehr are grappling with pandemic pathos, many of their counterparts who managed to reach home in April this year are waiting for the campus call.
A group of around 100 Kashmiri students came to Kashmir in the first week of April when the second wave of coronavirus hit India and subsequently forced Sheikh Hasina government to seal its borders with the neighbouring country.
“Some of us came home after the authorities verbally informed us that the examinations will be conducted after Eid ul Fitr,” Danish, a final year student, told FPK.
“But now, we’re being told that there might be viral surge by the end of June in Bangladesh. A student among us has tested positive for Coronavirus a few days ago there. He’s on his own. No one even visited him to see if he’s fine. We’re anxious and uncertain. God forbids, if more people get infected, the repercussions would be disastrous.”
Due to the prevailing plague, most of these students have already lost an opportunity to appear in the exams conducted by the Medical Council of India (MCI).
“We’ll lose the opportunity again, as our basic qualification for this exam, our degree, is still work in progress,” Danish said.
Notably, MCI or the National Medical Commission grants registration to medical practitioners and accreditation to medical schools.
“We’ve repeatedly contacted the Indian Embassy and the Dean of Dhaka University but no attributions were made and no response has been given so far,” Danish said.
But now, when there’s no lockdown in Bangladesh and the borders are open for an exit, many students want to go home for some breather.
“If only the university announces a particular date, we can go back home for some rest and recuperation, and return afresh for the exams later,” said Parvez, another student enrolled in Dhaka.
“Staying in these crippled campuses amid disturbing home updates is only taking a huge toll on us. What if Covid surges in India and Bangladesh, and we remain trapped here!”
To get an official word on the delayed date-sheet, this reporter contacted Imadadul Haque, the dean of Dhaka University. But repeated calls went unanswered.
Amid this apathy, Saima is mourning her grandfather’s loss by regularly gazing at the sunsets.
“I relate the setting sun with my grandfather,” she said. “He also left like the sun – warm and far – gleaning lights of sorrow and darkness. It’s so heartbreaking to lose your family member while we vainly wait for exams here.”