Future in Limbo, Ukraine-Returned Med Students Protest for Admission in India
A ground report by The Quint on the protest by medical students who fled the war in Ukraine.
Cameraperson: Ribhu Chatterjee
Video Editor: Harpal Rawat
"I don't see the war ending anytime soon. I've been reading articles about the war. I don't get any sleep at night. There is nothing to do during the day, and there is no sleep at night. All we students are doing is coping with anxiety and depression," says 21-year-old Ankit Bhardwaj, who studied at Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University in Ukraine before being forced to come back to India after the Russian invasion began on 24 February.
On a humid afternoon in Delhi on Monday, 25 July, dozens of students held a protest at Ramlila Maidan, demanding from the Indian government that they be admitted into Indian medical colleges in order to secure their future. This was the third day of a planned week-long protest that is expected to last till 27 July.
Taking shelter under a pitched tent, the protesters, who are on a hunger-strike, hung banners with faces of Mahatma Gandhi and Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudar, a 21-year-old Indian student who was killed in Russian shelling on 1 March.
Many of the students have travelled from states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and even Tamil Nadu, to attend these protests, and some of them are accompanied by their parents as well, who chanted slogans and applauded the protesters throughout the day as a show of solidarity.
The Quint spoke to some of the students and parents to understand their demands, their concerns, and how they have spent the last four months back at home, longing to sit in a classroom.
Main Demand of Students: Accommodation in Indian Medical Colleges
Given that the war has been going on for more than 150 days and is still raging in the east, the students have no hope of going back to their previous lives. What they do hope for, however, is a helping hand from the Indian government that could ensure the security of their futures and careers.
"The government can accomodate four or five students in one class, because in every MBBS class, there are anyway two or three seats that are left vacant, I have friends who also study in this field," says 22-year-old Mohammad Aquil Raza, also of Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University. "Please help us save our future, so that we can do something for the future of India."
A lot of the anger of the students seems to be directed at the NMC – the National Medical Commission – a regulatory body concerned with medical professionals. It replaced the Medical Council of India in 2020.
"If the NMC wants, it can finish the process (of accomodation) in two days. If it doesn't want to help us, then nothing can happen," asserts 22-year-old Om Prakash Mahto of Bukovinian State Medical University, who has travelled all the way from Bihar to attend the protests. He is a third-year medical student.
"Egypt. Ghana. Nigeria. Pakistan. Despite being such small countries, they have accomodated their students (who fled Ukraine). We live in such a big country, with so much infrastructure and so many medical colleges. Why can't we be accomodated," Mahto adds.
Additionally, 22-year-old Aditya Narayan Patra, a fourth-year Kharkiv National Medical University, who hails from Odisha, throws in some numbers to put his point across.
"We are only 12,000-14,000 students demanding accomodation, and there are around 600 medical colleges in India. So, per college, there will be 15-20, and per year, there will be 5-6 or even 2-3 students who will be added. So, you (the government) don't need to add any infrastructure or add any extra teachers to any college," he says.
"I just want a seat in India. See, I've been wanting to become a doctor since my childhood. It's a big profession and we are fighting for it because we really kind of deserve it. We are going to serve people in our future."
There has been no official response from the Indian government regarding the protesters' demand of accomodation.
Dealing With Anxiety and Depression
"We are getting sudden anxiety attacks, like while sitting, we are just crying. Subconsciously, this thought is there that how will we survive, what will we do in our future," laments 24-year-old Vaishnavi, a fourth-year student at Odessa National Medical University.
She adds that ever since they camer back from Ukraine, they have been trying for observed shifts in hospitals in order to gain the practical skills which they are not exposed to any longer.
Shalini Chauhan, 24, of Zaporizhzhia State Medical University, who recently completed her third year, says that while the Indian media is focusing on the war in Ukraine, "what about the internal war that is going here? Children and parents are fighting daily. Nobody seems to care about that."
There is a lot of societal pressure as well, which adds to the anxiety. 20-year-old Deepak Kumar from Bihar, who studied at Ternopil National Medical University, that he is being taunted by his friends and relatives.
"Why did you go there? You should not have gone there in the first place. You wasted all your money. It really hurts to hear all this. I have spent a lot of time and money on this MBBS. My father sold his land for this. Now that our future looks so dark, we request the government to accomodate us."
"See, parents are being supportive, because they know what we are going through. But our relatives are also pressing our parents about our future," Shalini adds.
"'What will she do after this? Are you not tensed? Are you not scared about your future', this is all we hear from our relatives and friends," another student (who wishes to remain anonympus) tells The Quint. "This puts even more pressure on us, as if we don't have enough of that already. As if we wanted to be put in this situation!"
'Why Not Operation Saraswati': Parents Speak Out
The protest site was filled with worried mothers and fathers, who also voiced their concerns regarding their children's future and their mental health, and their own finances.
"As a parent, we are in the dark. Kids have studied for two-three years already. Imagine studying for and giving NEET again, and that too, we don't know if they'll get through," says Babita Roy, mother of Apoora Roy, a medical student who hails from Bhopal, and could not make it to the protest.
"The government is just refusing to cooperate and communicate. They launched such a good rescue operation – Operation Ganga. Why not launch Operation Saraswati as well?"
Then there's the money factor.
"Money is the reason why we sent our daughter to Ukraine. The medical colleges here demand a fee that is unaffordable for us. We have invested more than Rs 10 lakh in her studies in Ukraine. If we want to make her a doctor, then we may have to invest money again and I don't know if we can afford to do that," says Sanjay Kumar, father of Sanjana Kumar, a 17-year-old first year student at Uzhhorod National Medical University, hailing from Haryana.
Similarly, Saroj Chauhan, mother of Shalini Chauhan, says that her husband's business got ruined by the pandemic. She too has had to face questions from relatives about Shalini's future.
"I don't want to say any more than this," she says while breaking down. "I only beg the Modi govermment to take back India's children," she concludes as she is comforted by Babita Roy, who is sitting next to her.
Sanjeev Kumar, father of Shilpa Verman who is in her first year of MBBS, and one of the organisers of the protest, tells The Quint that all these thousands of kids are like his own.
"All the thousands of children and all their parents are so sad and stressed. We don't the government to give them jobs. Just let them finish their education," Kumar pleads.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.