Published: 13th January 2021
Meet the first Kashmiri to be awarded the Kofi Annan scholarship and the Oxford-Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship
Mirza Bég is a lawyer from Kashmir, who is currently pursuing his master's in Public Policy from Oxford's Blavatnik School of Government
It has been two years since Mirza Saaib Bég left his home in Kashmir for the academic climes of Oxford. A lot has happened in the valley since then, but the fact remains that it is a place he wants to go back to. However, owing to the pandemic, he hasn't been able to go home in a long time. "With each passing day, Kashmiris become even more vulnerable as violence in thought and action is increasingly normalised against us. It is hard to describe the pain resulting from the yearning and inability to return to one’s home when one’s house is on fire but Kashmiris — Muslim as well as Hindu, are well acquainted with this feeling," he says.
However, in the midst of all this, there is something that puts a smile on this lawyer's face. He was recently awarded the Kofi Annan scholarship at Mansfield College and the Oxford-Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship to study Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government. Incidentally, he is the first and only Kashmiri to be awarded both. Last year, activist Gurmehar Kaur was awarded the latter. "Higher studies for any programme in the UK cost a small fortune. The MPP programme is one of the most expensive ones offered by the University of Oxford. Therefore, the cost of education for such programmes is intimidating and this can often be a deterrent to many applicants. I was lucky to be guided by my mentors who helped me identify scholarship opportunities that covered all my expenses for tuition, accommodation and other living expenses including a monthly stipend," says Bég, who had postponed his dream of studying Public Policy a couple of times in the past, owing to how expensive it is.
Bég is also a cyclist
However, he tells us that proper research and mentorship helped him well this time. "One of my seniors from law school was a recipient of the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship and she guided me along the way. I spoke to students at Oxford and learnt about many opportunities at Oxford’s colleges that cover funding as well. For example, Nuffield College, where Manmohan Singh studied, provides funding for IR and related programmes. Somerville College, where Indira Gandhi studied, provides travel grants to its students," he says, adding, "There are many funding opportunities that one might miss out on because all are not listed on the Oxford University webpages. If you are interested in applying, I would recommend talking around with past and present students as much as possible to gain more information about opportunities for your respective programmes."
Bég also walks us through the application programme for the scholarships. "I was nominated by the Blavatnik School for the Weidenfeld Hoffmann scholarship. Once selection into Oxford is successfully completed, the candidates are tested on moral philosophy, leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Pursuant to a round of written applications, finalists are invited for an interview. The selection criteria look at leadership potential (demonstrable skills and qualities), academic excellence and commitment to public service. Applicants are judged on communication skills, interpersonal skills, strategic thinking; and leadership qualities such as initiative, commitment, responsibility, originality, creativity, risk-taking are also assessed," he says.
He is an alumnus of NALSAR, Hyderabad
Post the completion of his course, Bég hopes to go back to Kashmir and apply his learning and experience there. "The destruction and violation we face in Kashmir are overwhelming, but Kashmiris have long ago realised that we can not afford to grieve as those without hope. We continue to remain brilliant, fierce and radical," he says, adding that the scholarship has meant a lot to him, as a Kashmiri. "Such scholarships are in recognition of our excellence, despite all odds. These achievements are an acknowledgement of the moral resistance of Kashmiris," he says.