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Afghan Students Travel to India in Search of Higher Education

For two days he ate only bananas. The Indian food was too peppery and oily for Safa Sarwary who came to the capital, New Delhi, for his undergraduate studies.

“Food and hot weather are major hurdles yet India attracts Afghan students because it is peaceful and cheap here,” said Sarwary, 24, an undergraduate student at Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College, Delhi University.

Safa Sarwary, an undergraduate student at Delhi University. Photo by Bijoyeta Das

Like Sarwary thousands of Afghan students flock to major Indian cities, attracted by low cost of living, easy visas and scholarships. Most of them are enrolled in Bachelor’s, Master’s and diploma programs in Delhi, Bangalore and Pune. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations offers 675 full scholarships to Afghans, the maximum for any country. In a year, ICCR offers over 2000 scholarships.  India and Afghanistan share a common heritage and in recent years the two nations enjoy good political relations and India is playing an important role in the reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Traditionally, Iran and Pakistan received most of the fleeing Afghan refugees and aspiring students. Not anymore, Sarwary explains. It has become increasingly difficult to get visas to Iran. Students do not want to go to Pakistan because of unstable political conditions. Thus in the last couple of years India has emerged as the top destination for Afghan students who travel abroad in search of peace and hope.

Good reputation and familiarity with culture

The evening call to prayer sounded from Sayedhamed Sayedzada’s cell phone, filling the small room. His roommate, Muhavallah Nazari, stopped the folk music playing from his IBM laptop. A few minutes later Sayedzada emerged from the washroom dressed in an immaculate white cotton tunic, baggy trousers and a cap. After prayers he made Afghan tea with shriveled green leaves and laid out almonds and dark chocolate.

Sayedhamed Sayedzada from Afghanistan is pursuing a bachelors degree in India. Photo by Bijoyeta Das

Indian education has a “huge reputation” in Afghanistan, said Nazari, a student of business administration at Global Business School, Noida, as he flopped onto one of the two mattresses lying on the floor. But Delhi’s dust has slowly ruined the shine of the maroon rug, he added.

Nazari fiddles with his laptop that is playing songs in Dari praising the resilience and bravery of Afghans. Sunlight streams through a window into the square room with moss green walls. On one end is the kitchen counter with a small sink and a two-burner gas range. Pots, pans and bottles of vegetable oil and spices are neatly arranged on narrow shelves. “It is a sad period in our history but the youth are restless, they are hungry for good education, good jobs,” he said.

Sayedzada chose India because English is used as the medium of instruction in most colleges. “Knowing English is a ticket to lots of jobs in international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations mushrooming in Afghanistan,” he said.

Language is another factor. Hindi is similar to Urdu, a language most Afghans understand.  Also, Afghans are great fans of Hindi films and television serials, he said.  So there was no culture shock. “Even before I arrived in India, I was familiar with the language, culture and lifestyle, thanks to Bollywood.

Hurdles aplenty

“But life in India is not easy,” said Sayedahmed, the 21-year-old with bright brown eyes and a soft voice. He had a bumpy start. He joined a business program at a local institute and soon realized that the University Grant Commission of India did not recognize it. “Many Afghans rush to India with no information and join non-accredited institutes and suffer,” he said.  After three months he found a recognized institute willing to admit him in the middle of the semester.

He is excited about new friends and his upcoming internship. “But in the beginning it felt awkward sitting in the same class with girls, I was naturally shy,” he said. Now he makes friends with girls easily and knows his way around. He advises newcomers to choose recognized courses and takes them on a tour of Delhi and Agra.

“I always dreamt of visiting the Taj Mahal, now I have seen it uncountable times,” he said, laughing.

But like many Afghans, Sayedahmed harbors dreams of returning home and working for his people. “There is scarcity of skilled people in Afghanistan. It is my duty to go home and work for the reconstruction of the country,” Sayedahmed said with a smile.

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About The Author(s)

Bijoyeta Das

Bijoyeta Das

Journalist, photographer

Bijoyeta Das is a journalist and photographer. She has reported from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Turkey and USA and holds a masters degree in Journalism from Northeastern University, Boston USA. Currently she is a fellow at the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability at Columbia University. Das was 2011 Peace Writer for the Women Peacemakers Program at the Institute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego, USA and 2012 Summer Research Fellow at Metta Center for Nonviolence. Her work has been published in Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Radio France Internationale, Women News Network, Women’s eNews, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, Fotoevidence, and All India Radio. Her photo story “Dreams of a Goddess” won the Silver Medal at the TashkentAle-2010 photo festival, Uzbekistan. Her short documentary films “Branded Girls” and “The Saturday Mothers of Turkey” were official selections for the 2011 Women’s Voices Now Film Festival and were screened in the United States of America and the United Arab Emirates.

Comments (22)

  • esterhuizen

    Hi Bijoyeta! Fascinating account of the life of an Afghan student in India. What I would like to know is, what happens to these students once they graduate? Are they granted a working visa for India? Or are they expected to return home immediately? It would be interesting to know how many Afghans that receive tertiary eduction in India are eventually employed there? As someone that has studied in The Netherlands, of our 40 international graduates only one has remained in the Netherlands to work (that being me:-). In other words, the government often forks out a lot to support foreign students who study in their country, but what do they receive in return if the majority of graduates leave immediately upon graduation?

  • Giedre Steikunaite

    Giedre Steikunaite

    Very interesting. I, too, wonder what happens to these students after they graduate: do they come back to Afghanistan or stay in India? And what are job prospects in both? Here in the UK, graduates are finding it harder and harder to find decent jobs that would pay the bills and would be at least remotely related to their studies. Unpaid internships have become the norm, meaning that only wealthy graduates can afford to go down the career path of their choice.

  • Javid ehsas

    Hi dear! who are browsing or admin this page !
    I am an afghan students from Afghanistan(Ghazni) and don’t know how to study normally self financed in India? so i wanna study Biology or agronomy (Master) course so pleas help us by the information that u have.
    1- a university of India with in a tempered climate with a cheap annul fee
    2- the procedure for getting admission
    3- detailed Information about to semester fee accommodating
    4- an average spending for tow years in India if we were studying

    and its my E-mail:

  • Mohammad Siddiq Auzhariyal

    Hello Esteemed In charge of this useful site!
    I am an Afghan student and successfully graduated from 12th Grade. I really prefer to progress my higher education in India but i don’t know the exact ways of scholarship programmings or private studies in india so plz guide me here i need your huge patronize
    thanks before all!!!!!!!

  • tahir

    I am an Afghan student and graduated from 12th Grade. I really prefer to progress my higher education in India but i don’t know the exact ways of scholarship programmings or private studies in india so please guide me here i need your huge patronize

  • Haseebullah

    i am an afghan student. i am studding in 11th class. i want to continue my education in India,but i don’t know to find the way for it.please guide me.

  • Chakravarthy

    Dear Haseebulla

    we provide admission in India for afgan students , please call me on +91 9959925789 or email me

  • Chakravarthy

    we provide admissions in India please call us +91 9959925789 or email

  • Chakravarthy

    we provide admissions in India please call us +91 9959925789 or email …


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  • Darryoosh

    Hi sir:
    Im Darryoosh, an afghan student which i finished my 12th class last year and now Im very keen on to continue my higher education abroad my mean our good and best neighbor Indian, but i wanna know the all stages till get there and enroll myself till study there please so kind guide me to the follow wish till can get there and start my higher education in my good and best neighbor country
    Im anxiously waiting for your response….

  • Najya

    how i can apply?

  • Bilal Shohaib

    Hi, I am graduated for 12 clas high school, I dicided to continue my education
    in india, I need your help how can I apply and where I get the form, which
    colage in india should I chose and how many subjects are there for afghans
    to chose. thanks

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