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Scores of Kashmiri students, who signed up for medical courses in Bangladesh, have rushed to Kolkata, Guwahati and even Agartala seeking visas after the country’s high commission in Delhi stopped issuing them student visas.

“Nearly 350 Kashmiri students are stranded in Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati and Agartala for nearly a month now, after failing to get student visas,” said a manager with an educational consultancy that sends students for medical education to Bangladesh.

“Students from other Indian states are getting the visas without any problem,” the manager added.

Bangladesh has become increasingly attractive for Kashmiri medical students over the years because the course fees and living costs are affordable and fears of harassment much less than elsewhere in India.

These students applied in the Bangladesh deputy high commission in Kolkata and the assistant high commission in Guwahati and even Agartala but have not got student visas needed to stay and study in Bangladesh so far.

“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 manager said.

“Some Kashmiri students, about twenty of them, have already got visas and gone and joined the medical colleges in Bangladesh,” another educational consultancy manager added.

“So we are wondering whether there is something that has happened since mid-December and if they have some instruction from the Indian government not to give visas to Kashmiri students,” the manager added.

He said the Bangladesh Assistant High Commissioner in Guwahati is on long leave, so the assistant high commissioner from their Agartala mission 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. 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.

A Bangladesh diplomat in Kolkata told this writer that Kashmiri students are supposed to apply for the 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.

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. He can be reached at: sbhaum@gmail.com