A 21-year-old youth Shubham Yadav from Alwar, Rajasthan, is not oblivious to his achievement. On 29 October, he bested 93 candidates to become the first non-Muslim and non-Kashmiri to top the all-India entrance exam for a Master's course in Islamic Studies at Central University of Kashmir (CUK).
But Shubam says he doesn't think it's a big deal either. "I have been getting several calls, including from journalists, who thought it was a big deal to crack the entrance exams. It really isn't. It's like any other subject dealing with law, culture and behaviour," Yadav told The Print.
An aspiring civil servant, Yadav said that he got curious about Islam after seeing the "growing Islamophobia and religious polarisation across the world".
"Growing Islamophobia and polarisation have made me think that understanding each other's religion is extremely important in this day and age. Unfortunately, there is a lot of stereotyping of Islam and Islamic studies as well," Yadav said. "Islamic Studies is not just about the study of Muslims but an exploration of Islamic law and culture."
"I believe that, in the future, the administration will need conciliatory mechanisms between Hindus and Muslims and, for that, the administration will require people with greater understanding of religion. I would like to be there if that happens," he added.
Prof. Hamidullah Marazi, the head of the CUK religious Studies Department, who oversees the course, called up Yadav to congratulate him.
"It was a delight to see Shubham's name at the top of the list. I started the department in 2015. Since then, many non-Muslims from across the country have come to study here. Students from all religions have joined the two disciplines we offer — Islamic Studies and Comparative Religion," he told ThePrint.
"But it is the first time that someone from outside Kashmir has topped the list. Not that identity should matter, but students taking interest in studies to explore different cultures is a welcome step," said Marazi, adding that he is hoping Yadav decides to study in Kashmir.
Yadav, who completed his graduation in philosophy and is awaiting the results of many other entrance exams, may not take up the Islamic Studies course. His first preference is to pursue law at the prestigious Delhi University. Results for Delhi University's law programme entrance will be declared on 18 November.
"My first preference is to study law but I also want to prepare for UPSC exams in the future. Being at Delhi University is just the right thing to do if one wants to study for civil services," he said.
Yadav, whose father owns a small business in Rajasthan and mother is a history teacher, said his parents "are very liberal when it comes to my education".
"They have been happy with my results and have clearly told me to pursue whatever field I like. If I am not able to crack DU exams, Central University of Kashmir will likely be my go-to place. Religious and study of Islam is something that I will pursue irrespective of the field I am in," he added.