Over the last few weeks, users of social media have sifted through, cross-checked and reshared posts and videos of Indian students stuck in Ukraine. However, one video, in particular, stood out. The subject of the video, Rashid Rizwan, a student of medicine in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk national medical university, can be seen remarking in a video posted a few days ago, “Isse acha toh mar hi jaate,” (We might as well have died instead of suffering this way.)
Even a superficial viewing of the video makes it clear that Rashid was distraught. His eyes, still glassy with leftover tears speak volumes. He asks how long he can cope. (Kitna sambhale khud ko?) As the video progresses, Rashid says, in a shaky, fearful tone that “yahan par puchne wala koi nahi hain. (There is no one her to enquire after our well-being)”
While a big chunk of social media, reshared this video hoping to convey the anxiety of the trapped students, another part of the Twitterverse (spearheaded by the right-wing) chose this moment to dig up Rashid’s old tweets to invalidate him.
Rashid, who is a native of Gopalganj district of Bihar, was critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act introduced by the Union government in 2019 and in fact protested against it in his university in Ukraine. He also stood in solidarity with the countless victims of the 2020 northeast Delhi riots. And for that reason alone, some people argued that he did not deserve to be rescued from a war-torn country.
How the right-wing maligned Rashid bit by bit
Popular right-wing website OpIndia.com, known for spreading fake news, called Rashid an “avid supporter of rioters and Islamists.” Communemag.com, another questionable media outlet accused the student of peddling a narrative against the government. Yet another online portal accused him of fake propaganda. All of this is aside from the hate Rashid has had to deal with on Twitter.
Islamophobia and Political bias
“Kuch logon ne Twitter par DM karke toh ye bhi kaha ki mujhe marr jana chahiye. Main gaddar hoon. (Some people messaged me on Twitter and said that I should die because I am a traitor),” says Rashid while speaking to Siasat.com over a WhatsApp call. As per his account, he was subjected to further scrutiny. There were verbal abuses hurled at his mother and sister (maa-behan ki gaali) and some people said that they wished a “rocket would hit Rashid”.
“After all this, I had to delete my Twitter account. I couldn’t deal with this and with the war at the same time,” he added.
When asked about why he was attacked, Rashid was fairly certain that the anti-Muslim hate rising in the country was a chief reason. “I don’t know why it was a problem to speak against CAA-NRC. Main apne father se zidd nahi karunga toh aur kisse karunga? (If I don’t insist on certain rights with my father, who else will I do the same with?)” he asks justifying his stance on criticising the government and likening its role to that of a parent.
Further, Rashid clarified that he was open to the Citizenship Amendment Act but was uneasy with one community alone being sidelined. “Constitution toh WE the people se shuru hota hain na ma’am? Ab woh WE main Muslims nahi aate kya? (The Constitution starts with We the people no? Does that not include Muslims?)” he asks.
Victim-blaming students stuck in Ukraine
When asked about why he stayed put in Ukraine, when the advisory asked them to leave, Rashid stated that universities in Ukraine demand 100% attendance. If they left without coordinating with the universities, they would lose out on an entire year of education and further waste a huge sum of money.
This was made worse by the fact that Turkish visas were not readily available and the students could not book tickets to India directly. “The flight ticket prices kept soaring. At a point it was between 80,000 and 1,20,000 INR,” says Rashid.
After countless hours of debilitating panic (nearly two days), embassy officials approached Rashid and his companions at the Hungary border, to aid their return to India.
Indian government’s negligence
Rashid is among the countless students who have criticised the ruling dispensation for their negligence vis-a-vis evacuating Indian students in Ukraine.
“We were asked to go to the nearest west Ukrainian border and so we obeyed. I, along with a few others was at the Ukraine-Hungary border. Then a new advisory stated that only students who could arrange for cars or buses should move towards the borders of the country. If we knew this in advance, we would have stayed put. Why are we being judged and maligned?” asks Rashid.
“It was only after my video that someone from the Indian embassy reached out to us. We were worried, our families were a wreck,” he adds. “I kept consoling the sobbing kids (1st and 2nd year medical students) that somebody would come, help us out. But I had to stop at one point because I had lost all hope myself.”
Rashid also tried to coordinate with the embassy and the university from February 14 but was met with either a tepid response or no response at all. He also wrote letters to the District Magistrate of Gopalganj and MP Alok Kumar Suman for aid the day Ivano-Frankivsk city was attacked.
A Doctor’s dream:
Towards the end of his narration, this reporter asked Rashid why he chose to become a doctor. He said that there was no doctor in his village for a very long time. “In Kapoorpur village (in Gopalganj district of Bihar), we don’t have a readily accessible doctor. Anyone seeking treatment has to travel 12 kilometres to the nearest dispensary. I wanted to relieve some of the distress caused by poverty,” he simply remarked.
At the time of writing this article, only 3,352 Indian students have returned to India from Ukraine as per government estimates.