Frustrated by government’s response in accommodating medical students returning from war-stricken Ukraine, Anjali Kumari has already given up her dream of becoming a doctor and is eyeing admission in B.Sc. course in the upcoming session.
Anjali had gone to Ukraine in 2019 and taken admission in MBBS in the Zaporizhzhya State Medical University before returning to India in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, 2022.
“I waited and expected the government to do something to secure our future. But after seeing the delay of 6-8 months in its response, I have lost all hope and decided to give up MBBS. I will take admission in Bachelors in Science in the upcoming session. It’s a big deal. But what can I do?” said Delhi resident Anjali to Patriot.
“I wanted to become a doctor since my school-days but what can I do now? I have completed my sixth semester and have already spent a lot of money on my medical education. My studies have been at a halt for a year now. Earlier, we thought we would hear some good news from the government or the Supreme Court but since we returned, the government has done nothing.”
Anjali is just one of the students who has suffered from what they say is government apathy.
Her family can spend money to send her to Ukraine again and complete the studies. But she has refused saying that her conscience doesn’t permit her since the cost of studies and stay has increased due to the war.
“I belong to a middle-class family. If I go back, I need around 15 lakh rupees. My family can manage but my conscience is not permitting, because already a lot of money has been spent on my education,” she says.
Returning to Ukraine is still fraught with risk. Even though the government continues to advise against travelling to Ukraine for non-essential services, medical students are being forced to return.
Harsh Goel is trying to get a visa to go back to Ukraine to complete his MBBS degree after his every effort to continue his studies here failed. His visa application has already been rejected once.
“Some students have returned to Ukraine and tweeted that if anything happens to us, the Indian government will be responsible for this. Because the war is continuing. Only two days ago, I talked to my friend and he said that they have been hiding in a bunker the whole day. People have also started to troll us with jibes like ek baar to sarkar bacha laayee, fir chal diye (The government saved them once, still they are returning). There is no peace of mind for us,” said Goel, who belongs to Muzaffarnagar in UP and even sat on hunger strike at the Capital’s Ramlila Maidan. He has even written a poem on the problem. It is titled Hamari kya hi galti thee (What was our fault, after all).
“Our situation is do-or-die now. Ab hum kare to kare kya? hamari kya hi galti thi? Ye hmare sath kyu. (What do we do now, what was our fault and why did this happen to us),” he says in exasperation.
Delhiite Shalini Chauhan has completed her third year in MBBS at Zaporizhzhya State Medical University, where she was studying since 2019.
But she remains uncertain about her future.
“The Supreme Court had asked the government in October to make a portal within a week for the students. It was supposed to help them in their study updates, university transfers, fees among other things so that students could be saved from the agents. But even after four months, the government has not made the portal. The government is doing nothing. There is no guidance from their side. We want only guidance or support from the government so that our future is safe but wo bilkul bhi nahi mila (we didn’t get that at all),” says Shalini, who is the main petitioner in the Shalini Chauhan vs Union of India case in the Supreme Court.
Humiliated by government
“Even the government has humiliated us. They responded in court in February saying that they can’t adjust these students here because they get low scores (in Indian system) and go abroad to study since medical education is cheap there. The government says it can’t compromise on the quality of education. The reality is that a lot of students have got very good marks here. I got over five hundred marks. But we can’t afford private colleges here because they are expensive. In the last one year, we sat multiple times in protest, hunger strikes. We met many ministers, filed a case in Supreme Court and did what we could but our situation hasn’t changed,” she complains.
Shalini says that the affected students had filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in August, 2022, arguing that they needed to adjust in a medical college here to secure their future. But there has been no headway.
“We had asked in the memorandum to adjust only five to ten students per college,” she says.
“I have already spent over Rs 20 lakh on MBBS. My family’s business got impacted due to Covid and they cannot arrange Rs 8-10 lakh needed for my transfer to another country. Even if I want to transfer, I can’t, since my documents are still stuck with the agent. The agent charges are at an all-time high.”
Most students who go abroad to study, she says, belong to middle-class families and take loan for studies. Since she is a single child, her family could bear the expenses. But she feels that they she can’t stretch them far.
“If the government doesn’t do anything, and shuts its eyes, then I will be forced to think about something else. I will leave MBBS, because I have no option. Then my three-four years of study will go waste.”
Sanskar Virmani, a Kharkiv National University student who also hails from the national capital, is banking on the Supreme Court hearing on the matter. The hearing was scheduled on March 15 but has been delayed to May 10.
“I am waiting for the Court’s decision. Hopefully, it will be the last hearing and a decision will come in our favour. I have no plan of returning back, but if nothing happens then I will have to go back or change the course, because I have no option to continue my studies here. Over 5,000 students have already gone back. In my batch too, 5-6 students have returned.”
Virmani is currently undergoing his classes online.
“Online and offline study has a huge difference, especially in medical science. Jameen-aasman ka farak hai (The difference is vast). We don’t have enough money to get a transfer either. I had already taken a loan in 2021. When we were rescued, the government officials had promised in the plane that something will be done. But we have been left alone.”
Tired of the lack of government response, some students have managed a transfer to other countries by spending money.
Kothural Kalyan is one of them. He has moved to Uzbekistan to continue his dream of becoming a doctor.
He took admission in Zaporizhzhia State Medical University in 2019 and studied there for three years. When the war started, he returned to India and continued his classes online. Then, in December, he got transferred to Uzbekistan.
“Nothing was going in favour of students. Our case is pending in the Supreme Court and it has only got delayed. So, I waited for the judgment first and then decided to transfer,” said Kalyan to Patriot on phone from Uzbekistan.
The students’ demand to accommodate students returning from Ukraine in Indian universities is not unusual. There have been such examples in other countries as well as India.
“The government has accommodated students earlier, like when they were stuck in war (Syria and other countries). So, there is a precedent. Our batchmates in Ukraine, who belong to other countries, have already been accommodated in their countries’ colleges and are completing their course. But it has not happened with us in our country,” says Anjali.
Lawyer Aishwarya Sinha, who is handling this case in the Supreme Court with another lawyer, says that the government’s response has been negative.
“Since the last one year, the government’s response has been against the students. Only courts are forcing the government again and again to do something. But ultimately, the response of the government and the National Medical Council remains negative.”
‘Govt not concerned’
Chairman of parents’ association, R.B Gupta says that they have made a lot of efforts to reach out to the government and extract a positive response.
“In the last one year, we made many efforts but we have realised that the government does only those things that benefit it in the elections. When they evacuated the [around 20,000] students from Ukraine through ‘Operation Ganga’, there were elections in Uttar Pradesh and other states, and it all painted a positive picture of the government. But after the elections, they have not done anything. The students are in a trauma and some have lost mental peace. We have met all the ministers, done protests but nothing has happened.
“Around 60% of the students have left the course. Some, who were in their first year in Ukraine, are preparing for the NEET exam. Some have got transferred to another country and only around 20% are waiting for the court’s decision. The government has said in court that a committee has been formed in this matter and has asked for more time.”
He is also very upset with the way the court has progressed in the matter.
“The court orders only what the government wants, we have realised this in the last one year. So, we will also run a campaign against the court. We and the students have lost faith in the legal system, ab court kuch kare na kare, koi farak nahi padta (now we don’t care what the court does),” Gupta concludes.