Afghan Students at SAU Say University Is Withholding Stipend, Showing No Empathy

Mumbai: On September 8 this year, as dozens of women marched down a street in Kabul against the Taliban takeover, several young male activists, students and research scholars joined them. This protest was a show of strength against the Taliban forces.

Thirty-two-year-old Habib Farzad, a PhD scholar at the South Asian University (SAU) and originally a resident of Kabul, was also a part of the protest. He, along with a few more male protestors, was detained and beaten up. Farzad’s hand was broken in the attack.

Two months later, as Farzad continues to recuperate, he is hoping that his university in New Delhi releases his stipend money. The humble Rs 25,000 per month would not just have helped him in getting timely treatment, but also taken care of his family whose source of income was abruptly snapped with the collapse of the government in Afghanistan. Farzad has since been petitioning the SAU seeking disbursement of his funds.

Speaking to The Wire from Kabul, Farzad says, “The university wants me to be in India to be able to claim my stipend. This is when there are no flights to India and there is no way I can leave the country.”

Habib Farzad. Photo: Special arrangement

Farzad had planned to return to India in August. He had even applied for a visa. “But within days of the collapse, the Indian embassy in Kabul shut down and my passport, like of hundreds of other Afghani citizens’, was lost.” Farzad has applied for a new passport but under the Taliban regime, is not hopeful.

There are at least 40 other masters students and PhD scholars from Afghanistan enrolled at the SAU who have had a difficult time convincing the university to intervene. Each one of them has said the university has ignored their numerous emails, calls and petitions.

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The Wire too sent SAU administrators messages and tried to call them, but received no response. First, The Wire approached the dean of student affairs Deepa Sinha for her response. When she did not reply, the acting president, Ranjan Kuman Mohanty was contacted through the public relations officer, Aheibam Prahlad. In his response, Prahlad said that Mohanty is travelling and will be back in India on December 13. “We would have to let go of the opportunity to participate,” Prahlad wrote back on the queries.

Although most colleges and universities in Delhi have been conducting offline classes now, at the SAU, the classes are still online. This, a faculty member said, is mainly because students are unable to return to India because of the COVID-19 restrictions in other south Asian countries.

But what about those students who are already in India? Many have accused the university staff of threatening them and denying them permission to stay on campus. A 21-year-old Afghan student, Aimal Nasrat, who recently secured admission in the masters course, shared that he was denied entry into the campus even when he pleaded and told the university staff that he has no place to go.

He, like four-five other students, was studying at Bangalore University. “I secured the Silver Jubilee scholarship and admission at SAU. I assumed I would be allowed to stay on campus since I am already in the country. But that did not happen,” he says. The student, hoping to find a way to stay on campus, has already moved out of his earlier accommodation in Bangalore and is currently staying in a hotel in Delhi. And to make things worse, the university has not disbursed his scholarship money yet. “That means I have had to pay the annual fees and also take care of my accommodation. My parents, who are held up in a village in the North Province, are borrowing from relatives and funding my stay in India right now,” Nasrat claims.

The university has very few female students from Afghanistan. Their troubles are even worse. One female student, also a well-known rights activist back home, was evacuated days after the Taliban takeover and is residing in the United Arab Emirates. She told The Wire that she had hoped for some support from the university. “My children and I have been living all by ourselves with very little money in hand. The university has not disbursed my stipend of Rs 25,000 per month for close to a year now,” she says. Another female student says that she feels all her time at SAU was a “waste” as the university lacked empathy when students needed it the most.

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Some PhD scholars from Afghanistan who are staying on campus presently say they too have faced pushback from the university management. They say the hostile attitude is essentially reserved only for Afghan nationals. A student who recently completed his masters degree in international relations and is stuck in India because of the non-availability of flights to Afghanistan says that he was allegedly threatened with a police complaint by the security guards and the boys’ hostel warden. “My books and clothes were thrown in the corridor. I was told that they can’t trust an Afghani on campus. I was humiliated in front of my classmates,” he tells The Wire.

The student has since been hiding in the room of another student. “There are so many empty rooms. We are only asking for shelter until we find a way to return to our country. Why can’t the university extend a humanitarian approach towards students from a war-stricken country?” he asks.

This article was first published on The Wire

Featured image: South Asian University. Photo: MEA website