Thursday, June 8, 2023

An Afghan student’s incredible efforts to finish her master’s degree at IIT-M

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The master’s programme in chemical engineering is anticipated to be challenging. However, no one else in Behishta Khairuddin’s class performed lab experiments with a microwave, test tubes, borrowed beakers, and extremely slow WiFi. The 23-year-old Afghan student had barely begun the study at IIT-Madras when the Taliban seized control of her nation. She was forced to finish her studies remotely, with a lot of assistance from IIT-Madras. She is now prepared to graduate. Behishta, who is at home in the northern Afghan province of Saripul, was the subject of our conversation regarding the challenges faced by women who want to pursue higher education while the Taliban are in power.

What can you tell us about yourself?

My mother is a doctor, while my father has a degree in social science. My older sister is a PhD candidate at IIT who is currently stranded in Afghanistan because of political and immigration complications. My brother studied social science, while my second sister majored in law.

After completing my BTech, I was accepted into Jawzjan University’s chemical engineering degree. But the knowledge I gained throughout my two years at IIT-Madras is not equivalent to the knowledge I gained during my BTech course.

How was the IIT-Madras course created?

Unfortunately, on August 15, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan after I successfully passed the interview to enrol in IIT. Together with professor Raghunathan Rengasamy, I made contact with the IIT-Madras global engagement section.

I received a scholarship from them and began my studies one month later than other pupils. The first two semesters were quite difficult for me because everything was so new to me. But I persisted.

I was only getting four to five hours of sleep every night, and the rest of the time I was studying and attempting to keep up with IIT-Madras standards. Even though I don’t think I did, I did get a lot of knowledge.

Tell us about the IIT-Madras course.

My mentor, Professor Basavaraja Madivala Gurappa, suggested that since I couldn’t access the labs, I could do a simulation-based study instead. I had never worked on a project like this before because I had been studying in Afghanistan.

I had a lot of software issues in the third semester because a lot of stuff wouldn’t install on my laptop. Every time I read that the application wasn’t available in my country, my mind was blown. Because numerous programmes are unavailable in my nation, we are constrained not only by the Taliban but also by the rest of the world. However, by my fourth semester, perhaps my understanding had grown and things had become simpler.

You established a lab at home?

I chose the Introduction to Macromolecules course for my first semester, which included a project in which I had to create bioplastics. I required a digital scale, a microwave, some beakers, and test tubes. Instead of the chemical microwave, I was using my sister’s kitchen microwave, which I had borrowed.

I borrowed three beakers from the university and paid around 850 Afghanis (nearly Rs 900) for a digital scale from a jewellery store. My brother had to go since I was unable to go.

Will you attend the convocation?

After the difficulties I’ve experienced over the past two years, I would love to be a part of the convocation, shooting pictures and enjoying myself. I don’t hold out much hope, though.

Your experience in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime?

Everything was open for girls before the arrival of the Taliban. However, following that, they began to treat us as though we posed a threat. There has been a formal restriction on women entering all classrooms, libraries, labs, and other spaces for the past eight months.

I want to express my gratitude to the IIT-M teachers for keeping me out of depression over the past two years. My schooling was somehow being continued online. When I wanted books, I always bought them online using links that were open to everyone.

I wonder how we can survive in this nation now that I have finished my MTech and if I am unable to carry on to my PhD.

Will you study for a PhD online?

I dislike remote learning, and I wish to use other campus facilities to my advantage. For the first two years of the PhD, I could use distance learning, but I would really like to visit the campus for the research.

What advice would you give young women in your nation?

I would tell them right now that everyone must oppose cruelty and that you must take part in the fight to end cruelty. Study if you want to struggle. The only option is this.

Therefore, I would advise the females to do their best to study. Study at home, read a book, and take in all the information. Avoid getting depressed over how you’ll handle it. We’ll fight against this harshness and alter them.

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