Ashoka’s Bureaucratic Goose Chase: An International Student’s Perspective
By Kshitiz Shah (UG24)
My first reaction to the postponement of the monsoon semester was that of panic. I had to grab one of the ever-replenishing flight tickets to India quickly, and drop out of the cohort leadership programme. Any further change in my departure meant cancelling tickets and losing a fair bit of money, which I couldn’t afford. I felt that the sudden change in schedule had been particularly unfair to me as an international student, with how complicated travelling to campus could be. Many of us did not have basic documents like sim cards, bank accounts and Aadhar cards. In fact, this semester's postponement is only the tip of the iceberg that is Ashoka’s general ignorance of international students and their needs in administrative processes.
As an international student, I had to scramble to get basic things that most Ashokans would (and should) have easy access to. Yet, after half a semester on campus, I barely managed to get a sim card, which still happens to be registered in someone else’s name, and there are no signs of me getting the rest of the documents. Unfortunately, it is the same for many other international students: whatever sim card or bank account they have acquired is from relatives or friends who had been living in India beforehand. Many international students from older batches also claim to have applied for the Aadhar card up to 6 times already–just to be inexplicably rejected on each occasion.
So, why is this perennial delay and incompetence so common for international students? This problem is especially evident for students from neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bhutan. For one, there is a genuine lack of awareness from officials on documentation requirements for international students. In my own case, for instance, I decided to get my sim card with help from the Registrar’s office. I was linked up with sim providers from top telecom companies and, after much hassle, had a functional sim card provided to me after 2 weeks. Yet, I couldn’t activate it simply because the sim-provider believed that I needed to provide a visa verifying my ‘identification and purpose of acquisition’. Over multiple meetings through the following week, I tried to make the sim-provider understand how Nepali citizens haven’t required a visa to study in India since independence. He was persistent with his belief though, withdrawing the sim card and claiming he couldn’t verify the truth of what I said in any way. Thus, even though the answer to the problem was simply a Google search away, I had to give up and borrow someone else’s sim card a month later.
Having no sim card means that international students are forced to rely upon the generally poor campus wifi to contact family members and even their places of work. In case of any technical issues, or WiFi cuts, the student could potentially be out of contact with anyone for hours. This is especially inconvenient in case of emergencies, and it means dooming the student to a logistical disadvantage.
Similar delays plagued my attempts to get a local bank account and Aadhar card as well. Sometimes, it is the government officials not responding to Ashoka’s requests to ease the documentation process that gets in the way. More often, it is just a lack of knowledge about the different types of identification documents required in other countries. While the visa issue can be one example, many other international students have also had to fill the migration form issued by the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) to even be eligible to study in India. The FRRO form is used to systematize visa creation and migration for foreign nationals. In the case of people from countries like Nepal and Bhutan, who are exempt from issuing visas to study in India, there is a lack of verifiable documents equivalent to the Aadhar card for documentation purposes.
Without a local bank account, I had to rely upon friends or carry a cash-filled wallet around for even the most basic payments. There was always a fear of losing my wallet, the issue of not having change money, and having to borrow from others was also imminent. Any online delivery had to be done from someone else’s Amazon account, and only using the cash-on-delivery option. A process that would take 5 minutes and a few swipes on their phone for most, became a much more complicated situation for me.
To make matters worse, a lot of the administration’s decision-making process doesn’t account for the needs of international students. Nepal doesn’t have an easily accessible international online payment system, so I had to ask Ashoka’s administration team to enable an offline payment portal. It took over a week for them to finally address the issue. Such a delay could impact the fee payment procedure significantly, since international students have to make their payment weeks before the money actually reaches Sonepat. Add to this the aforementioned ticket-booking and cohortship decisions, and it would seem that many choices made by Ashoka don’t really seem to acknowledge the specific situation faced by international students on campus, much less work towards resolving their plight.
The longer it takes for us to resolve these issues, the more difficult our basic livelihood on campus gets, taking away valuable time and enthusiasm that could be used to socialize or excel at other academic goals. That nagging, documentation-related worry in every international student’s mind immediately makes the campus a much more hectic endeavour for them, as compared to their Indian peers. It also creates a sense of exclusion and signifies a lack of understanding of our problems. All of this undermines the basic purpose of why international students study here in the first place: to experience an equally inclusive and accepting academic space, even as it is far from home.
Is all of this a consequence of the University not having dealt with enough international students? There is a sense of general apathy towards easing international students into the documentation process, as demonstrated here. Many international students find the faster-paced Indian bureaucratic system intimidating to get accustomed to, which adds to the already existing linguistic barriers and the students’ changed status quo within the system. There are many issues, and many questions about what Ashoka can do to make the situation better. One thing is certain though: with the increasing global bandwidth of the University, things need to change quickly for Ashoka to become a more accommodating space for international students.