SRINAGAR: Mirza Saaib Beg, is the first Kashmiri to bag the prestigious Kofi Annan and the Oxford –Weidenfeld-Hoffman scholarship at Blavatnik School of Government where he is currently attending classes.
Beg, a lawyer, from south Kashmir’s Anantnag, maybe in one of the world’s best academic spaces but his heart is in Kashmir. Interestingly, Beg belongs to the first-ever cohort (five) of Kofi Annan scholars of the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann graduate programme. These scholarships are named for the former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kofi Annan (1938-2018), who officially opened the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at Mansfield in June 2018.
In 2015, he started an ultra-cycling campaign to raise funds for securing the education of hundreds of financially restrained meritorious students in Kashmir and also outside in other law universities in India. He was able to raise lakhs of rupees to set up scholarships in Kashmir as well as in a few law universities in India.
After the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was undone in August 2019, he quit from his legal consultant job with a government organization as some of his comments on the decision were considered “inflammatory.” He was working for the capital market regulator in India.
Beg continued writing about the federal government’s decision and delivered lectures in Oxford, Cambridge, SOAS, and other international universities. However, it didn’t go down well with the organisation he was working at.
“I spoke about the government’s unconstitutional decision in Kashmir on media portals and social media platforms,” he told The Wire website. “However my comments were considered ‘inflammatory’ and I was asked to refrain from criticism of the central government’s decisions.”
On his career from his days prior to joining the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR), Hyderabad, Beg reveals that he grew up with his grandparents in Srinagar. Both his parents are doctors.
“My grandfather GM Waiz retired as Joint Registrar, Cooperative Department. He has been my mentor and guide throughout my life,” Beg said. “During my schooling years, I had no access to the internet but I was lucky to have good libraries and bookshops in Kashmir.”
Beg did his schooling at Iqbal Memorial Institute in Bemina, Srinagar.
“I would save lunch money to buy books from the Sunday market where all kinds of books were available for Rs 10 to Rs 30.”
After clearing the Common Law Test (CLAT), he studied law at NALSAR University of Law, “In my final year I was elected as president of the student union. I was also awarded as Vice Chancellor’s gold medal.” He had done masters in Public Policy also.
“I was doing my LLM in the United Kingdom when the clampdown post-August 5 was launched in Kashmir. So I was able to access the internet and complete my application unlike fellow Kashmiris who still have no access to the internet,” Beg told TVNews18 website. “My fellow Kashmiris had to travel outside the Valley to complete similar applications. Many were not able to complete their application due to internet blockade.”
“I am not the only one who has bagged a scholarship but many Kashmiris have won scholarships like Rhodes and Chevening as well,” said Beg.
“So there is no dearth of excellence in Kashmir. But there are many students who are better qualified than me but do not have exposure and information for such applications. This advantage is exacerbated by the physical and mental trauma living in a conflict zone,” Beg opined.
Meanwhile, the scholarship values over Rs 75 lakh covering all costs of education at the University of Oxford, including living expenses and a monthly stipend.
The application process, Beg says, is very easy and for this batch, the application deadline is till the end of this month.
“Since a lot of people aren’t aware of the scholarship, I have been in touch with some students who are looking for someone to help them with the application process,” he said.