BA and Venkatesh Sundaram
Source of image: https://indianexpress.com/article/education/indian-mbbs-students-ukraine-war-russia-7798041/
A tragic war that has started in Ukraine in February 2022 has had repercussions in India, because nearly 20,000 students were stranded there and were caught in a situation from which it became difficult to extricate themselves. Whereas international observers have been saying for a long time that the Ukraine would be a flashpoint for the differences of opinion between Russia and the NATO, it was not clear when it would become an open conflict. The leaders of the US and UK had `predicted’ that such an invasion would take place, while the Government of India did not issue any real warning to its citizens.
As the war broke out and as it became clear that something serious and timely would have to be done, from the highest level of governments came a barrage of insulting comments, including from ministers who remarked that many of these students were medical students who went to Ukraine because they could not do well in the entrance examinations in India, and the Prime Minister himself asking why students choose to go abroad when they could be studying here, including at private medical colleges. Such shockingly ignorant comments come at a time when private education in India has become exorbitantly expensive, with students opting to go to cheaper destinations abroad keeping in view the incomes and resources that their parents can avail. Various students and parents who were interviewed exposed the utterly callous comments, pointing out that they are in fact excellent students and that the education system in India is completely broken and is a money-making machine for the owners of colleges and institutions.
Many of the students have had to walk for very long distances and have had to cross into safer countries on foot, braving harsh winter conditions and in darkness. One student who was stranded has been killed in an incident of firing while waiting for buy food at a supermarket. These events have been covered in mainstream media. There are also reports that some students were beaten by Ukrainian border guards as a retaliation for the abstention of India in the vote in the United Nations Security Council. The suffering and humiliation of Indian students in Ukraine will stay in public memory for a long time to come. As if to make up for the adverse publicity, a team of Union Ministers have traveled to safe countries to `oversee’ and `supervise’ evacuation efforts. One student pointed out that such a measure was not necessary because they had already arrived in a safer country, and it made no sense to be “evacuated” from such a situation.
In the mainstream and social media, there have been several articles and posts blaming students as if it is their own fault that they sought education and training, and that they had themselves chosen to put themselves at risk. At the heart of this the question of what really the role of the Government is. Is it not security and well-being of the people, and of education and the future of youth? If that is indeed the issue, the situation of Indian students in Ukraine demonstrates clearly that there is a total abdication of duties of the government. No number of demeaning posts and cover-up articles can hide the facts (a) that there is a great need for trained doctors and medical personnel in India (b) the number of seats of relatively affordable colleges is severely limited, not only in regards to the needs of the people of the country but also to the number of students willing to undertake such arduous education (c) it is precisely because the governments over the years have abandoned their duty to set up adequate number of affordable medical colleges all across the country that students have to travel far and wide. From Russia to Ukraine to the Philippines and China, braving harsh climates and living in unfamiliar conditions, to try and get medical education!
It is contingent on a decent government to apologise to the victims and their families and the people of the country, rather than to be arrogant and to brush aside they genuine needs and demands. All democratic minded persons should demand that the Government carry out its duty in a sincere manner.