Pune NGO to “adopt” 1,000 Afghan students
Sarhad NGO writes to PM, transfers funds, enables scholarships, launches a helpline
With Afghanistan in turmoil following the Taliban takeover, Pune-based NGO Sarhad, which works for students living in conflict zones, has said it would “adopt” 1,000 Afghan students till the situation stabilised in their country.
Sarhad founder Sanjay Nahar said he had written to Prime Minister Modi on the matter.
“After Delhi, Maharashtra and especially Pune, has the largest population of Afghan nationals, most of whom are students while others are professionals. While we have announced that we would be providing for the education, upkeep and livelihoods of 1,000 students, the task of selecting students lies with the Central government. Accordingly, we have written to the Prime Minister seeking permission and cooperation to expedite aid,” said Mr. Nahar.
Since the Afghan issue is politically sensitive, the NGO could not select students without the Central government’s permission, he said. “Without the selection of students, the humanitarian work we want to undertake cannot materialise. We are not asking for any financial assistance from the Centre, but a change in policy,” he said, observing that the Afghan consulate in Mumbai had done little thus far to help its students.
Sarhad said that it would also be helping Afghan students facing visa problems.
Sarhad has begun depositing small sums of ₹5,000 and above into the accounts of students who are not being sponsored by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR). The Sikh community will be providing the students adopted by Sarhad with scholarships named after Guru Tegh Bahadur, Mr. Nahar said.
Of the estimated 5,000 Afghan students and nationals in the State, more than 1,300 are in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, with the majority of students enrolled at the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), Symbiosis University, the Maharashtra Institute of Technology and the Vishwakarma Institute of Technology. Less than 40% of them are sponsored by the ICCR.
Last week, Sahar launched a helpline (number 8007066900) for assisting students, which has been inundated with calls for help, especially after the Taliban seized Kabul. Mr. Nahar said that a majority of the calls had come from a batch of more than 500 students enrolled for online courses at various educational institutes in Pune, including the SPPU.
“Of these 541 students, only a handful have financial support in the form of scholarships from the ICCR. Most of them are self-financed and now, after the Taiban’s seizure, their small businesses and other channels of income have dried up. They want to come back to India and resume their education in Pune’s secure environs. Only yesterday, a boy messaged me from Afghanistan saying that he did not even have money to buy food. While Sarhad has taken a humble step, it could serve as an example for other private outfits to come forward in this grave humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Nahar said.
“Help from eminent psychologists also will be taken wherever necessary. Sarhad will also try to provide jobs to needy Afghani students,” read a statement issued by the outfit last week.
SPPU’s Vice-Chancellor Nitin Karmalkar has announced that the varsity, too, would do everything it could to alleviate the distress of Afghan students.
“It is the need of the hour that we help Afghan students as a matter of policy. Canada, Australia and other countries have come forward. Leaving aside political and strategic priorities and the question of terrorism, we need to adopt a humanitarian approach to this problem,” said Mr. Nahar.