This academic year has been topsy-turvy for the Kashmiri students studying in Pune.
They have been battling the COVID-19 pandemic fears, monetary issues, and lack of proper infrastructure for online learning.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the woes of outstation students in Pune including those from Kashmir have been compounded, particularly in respect of their studies and exams.
Irfan Aslam, a BCA 3rd year student from a prestigious college in Pune, said, "My parents are worried about the pandemic and asking me to stay home. Initially, we had to make do with the 2G internet network, which was very slow and erratic. We somehow managed to attend online classes by sharing notes with each other. Now, 4G is available and we will take online exam soon."
He said that he could not afford to pay the exam and admission fees amounting to Rs 3300 and was supported by an NGO.
Another BCA 3rd-year student from another college in Pune, Aadil Yousuf had similar problems.
"We could not attend classes properly due to the slow 2G network. That issue has been resolved as the 4G network is now available for the past 15 days. However, the financial problems remain. I had to borrow money from friends to pay my fees. Now, we can take the online exam for our fifth semester exam," he said.
Convenor of Jammu and Kashmir Students' Association in Pune, Aqib Bhat said that the financial condition of the families of majority of students was weak due to job and business losses.
"Kashmir has witnessed two major events in the past two years, which dealt a blow to its economy due to consistent lockdowns after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 and the pandemic last year," he said. "The students from Kashmir studying in Pune have been facing many problems. Some students got calls last week from their colleges that classes will begin soon and exams will be held. Some of them managed to buy expensive air tickets. Some came to know that their colleges changed their decision. These students had to cancel their air tickets and suffered losses."
Bhat said that the Kashmiri students were fed up with the scenario and wanted to go out of Kashmir to pursue studies and take up jobs.
"Scholarships were arranged for some students. NGOs such as Sarhad have been taking care of students from weaker sections in J&K," he said.
Many Kashmiri students in Pune also work to support their studies.
Many of them have lost their jobs and returned to Kashmir while those who stayed back are working at half the salaries.
"Some landlords have been demanding COVID-19 negative certificates from them. There have been issues with verification of the certificate," Bhat said. "However, Kashmiri students feel safer in Pune compared to other cities."
He demanded help from the government so that the Kashmiri student community gets some relief from the multiple problems they are facing.
"The internet service in Kashmir was not functioning properly for the past two years. It was restored last week. However, students could not submit their assignments or attend online classes or take exams due to poor connectivity," Bhat said. "Will they be compensated for this loss?"
Underlining the practical difficulties these students were facing, Jammu and Kashmir Students Association Coordinator Zayeed Bhat said, "Road and rail transport has remained suspended due to snowfall in Kashmir. Air fares have skyrocketed. Kashmiri students willing to come to Pune can't afford these exorbitant air tickets."