The Bangladesh government has utterly dismissed claims emanating from certain sections of the Indian media that it is not granting visas to students of Indian-administered Kashmir. Dr Momen said, “It’s not true. Nothing like this happened. We are granting visas to everybody.”
Quoting Kashmiri students, Indian media outlets reported that Bangladeshi missions in India "are not giving visas to Kashmiri medical students for a long time after being instructed by the Indian government."
Nearly 350 Kashmiri students headed for Bangladesh to undergo medical education have been stranded in Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati and Agartala for nearly a month now, after failing to get student visas. Students from other Indian states are getting the visas without any problem.
Rubena, Zeenat and Birjees - three Kashmiri girls seeking student visas to study medicine in Bangladesh, have been holed up in Kolkata since December 20.
"We have already paid the first semester fees but we can’t go to Bangladesh unless we get student visa. I cant understand why we are not getting it," said the three Kashmiri girls.
Educational consultancies sending students for medical education to Bangladesh say they are in a soup over the ‘inordinate delays’ in securing visas, because parents who have paid up for the courses are asking for their money back.
“Our boys and girls are stuck in hotels in Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati and even Agartala since mid-December. Usually Kashmiri students apply and get visa from the Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi but this year, we were told visas will only be given if equivalence certificates were received,” said one educational consultancy manager who sends students for medical education to Bangladesh, China and some other countries.
But he spoke on condition of anonymity and was not even willing to allow his organization to be identified because he feared “adverse consequences of media coverage.”
“But please write because our students are in a desperate state,” the official told this writer at Hotel Rockstar in Kolkata.
“The Bangladesh diplomats are giving visas to students travelling to the country for medical education from other states of India, but they are telling us we have some problems with Kashmiri students,” the official said.
“Some Kashmiri students, about twenty of them, have already got visas and gone and joined the medical colleges in Bangladesh. So we are wondering whether there is something that has happened since mid-December and if they have any instruction from Indian government not to give visas to Kashmiri students,” another manager of an educational consultancy said.
He said the Bangladesh Assistant High Commissioner in Guwahati is on long leave, so the assistant high commissioner from their Agartala mission Mr Kirity Chakma was in Guwahati in the last two days.
“He cleared the visas for other students going to Bangladesh for medical education but held back on the applications of the 15 odd Kashmiri students who had applied in Guwahati after being told that the Bangladesh high commission in Delhi was not issuing visas. Mr Chakma said it was not possible for him to issue these visas,” the manager said, again strictly insisting on anonymity.
“Our expenses are going up. The boys and girls have been lodged in hotels since mid-December and many guardians are with them. We are all caught up in huge uncertainty,” the manager said.
Bangladesh missions in India usually insist on an “equivalence certificate” on visa applications for study in their country, meaning that the Indian certificates are accepted as “equivalent” to those in Bangladesh.
“But since at least 600 students from Kashmir and thousands from rest of India go to Bangladesh for medical education, the missions are aware of the Indian certificates and don’t insist on equivalence certificates any more ,” said the owner of another educational consultancy.
The press secretary at Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi Fariq Hossain told senior Kashmiri journalist Altaf Hussein (formerly of BBC) that there was no policy to deny student visa to Kashmiris.
“He told me the delay in visas could be for some technical issue but he was not very clear,” Hussein told this writer.
A Bangladesh diplomat in Kolkata told this writer that Kashmiri students are supposed to apply for visa at the country's high commission in Delhi which takes care of northern Indian states.
"Our missions have clear territorial jurisdictions and we usually stick to it," he said, but was not willing to be identified.
Bangladesh has emerged as a popular destination for medical students from India and elsewhere in South Asia.
Bhutan's present Prime Minister is a doctor by profession who graduated from Mymensingh Medical College in 2001 and later completed his post-graduate degree in surgery from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in Dhaka.
The website of the Smile Consultancy says MBBS degree from Bangladesh is increasingly attractive for Indians who find it difficult to clear tough entrance exams back home or are not able to pay high fees in private colleges in India.
"Quality of medical education in Bangladesh same as India. Same MBBS program in English followed in Bangladesh. Same Indian author Medical books studied in Bangladesh. FMGE or NEXT Passing rate highest for MBBS from Bangladesh. Affordable Medical Study at Low Package for Indian best option for MBBS Study Abroad." says an entry in the consultancy's website.
For Kashmiri students who have limited opportunity for medical education in their own state and are increasingly finding it tough to study elsewhere in India, Bangladesh has become ever more attractive.
Speaking at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry organised for the prime minister’s three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that began on Sunday, he also expressed concerns over the killings of Bangladeshis by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) along the border between the two countries.
He also said that Dhaka has already communicated with New Delhi to bring the killing to nil. “We are concerned like you. We have already sent a message to New Delhi so that no killing takes place along the border,” Dr Momen said.
After a decline in 2018, the killings of Bangladeshi civilians by the Indian BSF increased manifold in 2019. In the first twelve days of 2020, there have already been multiple killings by the BSF.
“India has agreed to stop the killing. But, despite that, these (the killings) are happening,” said the foreign minister, adding that India will be asked to comply with what was taken, at least on this side of the border, as a solemn pledge. “We are concerned like you. We have already sent a message to New Delhi so that no killing takes place along the border. India has agreed to stop the killings. But despite that, these (the killings) are still occurring. ”
After steadily declining over a four-year period starting in 2015, the killings of Bangladeshi civilians by the Indian BSF increased over three-fold year-on-year to reach 46 in 2019. Thereafter the first couple of weeks of 2020 have already witnessed the BSF in the belligerent, trigger-happy mode that turned the 4,096-km border between the two countries into the world’s bloodiest - of course all of it on one side, and even more remarkable for demarcating the territory of two supposedly friendly states.
Additional reporting by Subir Bhaumik, a senior Indian journalist and author.