Uncertainty clouds the future of Afghan students in India

Alex Michael Binoy
Friday, 27 August 2021

Two Afghan students in India express their grief over how the recent developments back home can reshape their lives.

Attending online classes, talking with various non-profit organisations, giving hope to her fellow country folks and longing for meeting her family again- this pretty much sums up Farzana Amiri’s daily routine since the Taliban seized Kabul on August 15. But if you manage to get hold of Farzana in between her strenuous duties, you surely won’t recognise the private despair behind the facade of her smiles and chirpy conversations.

“Everyone around me is having a lot of stress and mental issues. But it is my job and I have to be strong and be there for my friends,” said Farzana, a final year student at Pune University and coordinator of the Afghan Student Association, Pune. “ If I break down, then it will affect everyone else’s morale. So, I have to stand firm and help other people.”

To achieve her dream of starting a business that merges resources and culture from both Afghanistan and India, Farzana left her family in the war-torn country two years ago to study International Business. But the recent developments back home have put her future under a grey cloud.

To garner international support, the rejuvenated Taliban has shown a relatively calmer appearance since it captured Kabul. But Farzana is still skeptical of the Taliban’s promises of peace and inclusivity along with extensive women rights. Going back home might mean that all her years of education would amount to nothing. “Before the recent developments, my plan was to go back to Afghanistan after my course. But now, I wish to study further in India and be able to stand on my own feet here.”

Unfortunately, because of India’s laws, foreign students are not allowed to work while they are studying. This has put them in a tight situation because they don't have any money coming into their pockets to survive right now. Due to lack of jobs back home, parents are unable to send money to their kids who are studying in India. The lucky ones who managed to keep their jobs are also unable to send money due to the closure of banks resulting from the ongoing unrest. “We are barely spending money for food. The owners of some of our apartments are asking for rent. It is an extremely hard time for us,” said Farzana.

Farzana is just one among at least 300 Afghan girls who are currently studying in Pune. After ruling out a return to Afghanistan as an option, her efforts are going into bringing her family and her friends’ families as refugees into India. “I’m just praying to God to let me meet my mother and sisters. But they are not getting flights or visas...nothing!” she said frustratingly,“ It’s all just hopes right now.”

While some are trying to escape their homeland, some see a light at the end of the tunnel- an end to the turmoil that prowled across the Afghan soil for decades. One among them is Wali Rehman Rehmani, a final year student at the Fergusson College in Pune. “If I was graduating this year, I would be willing to go back to Afghanistan. This is the time our country needs us,” he said.

A student of Political Science, Wali brought to the forefront a crisis his country will soon face due to mass migration. “All the educated people are leaving Afghanistan. The Taliban is not more than one lakh and 99% of them are illiterate. So, how are they going to run the government? If all the educated people leave the country, then it will be only the Taliban left behind to run the country. Definitely, this is more of a crisis and danger than the Taliban itself.” he cautioned.

As the President of Pune’s Afghan Student Association, Wali is currently trying to help his fellow Afghan students with the help of non-profit organisations like Sarhad. Sanjay Nahar, Founder of Sahad told The Indian Express, “...those who paid from their own pockets to study here have run out of money to even pay their college fees. Some students and working professionals, who went back during the pandemic, now want to return but are facing visa issues. Many students want to return to complete their degree courses in Pune. Some students, who are here, have been able to contact their families back home while others have not been able to establish any contact with their families…,”

Born into a family of seven- father, mom, two brothers and two sisters, Wali has already lost a dear one to the Afghan war. One of his brothers, who was in the Afghan army, died at the hands of the Taliban. But instead of harbouring a grudge against the Taliban, he is looking forward to the end of the war. “I would still open my arms to the Taliban, call him brother, and tell him that we shouldn’t continue this proxy war anymore. This wasn’t our war. Our land was selected for the war. There was an international war that was fought over there but the sacrifice was only borne by the Afghans,” he said.

“The US, Taliban or Pakistan didn’t lose the war. The only people who lost are the common folks of Afghanistan. It was our people who got killed, injured or displaced,” he expressed sorrowfully.

Still, some Afghan students are hopeful for a better future. They believe that a repeat of the Taliban’s previous reign or the violation of the fundamental rights that men and women achieved over the last 20 years would be troublesome for the forthcoming government.

“Some generations are called the sacrificed generation. We are, unfortunately, the generation that needs to sacrifice,” Wali said. “For a better life for the coming generation, we have to sacrifice.”

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