Iranian Students in Pune,
A Written Interview with Ahmad Reza Taheri
PhD Research Fellow at the Yashwantrao Chavan National Center of International Security & Defence Analysis, University of Pune
by Sanjay Godbole, an Indian scholar who is currently carrying out research on Indo-Iranian studies
Sanjay Godbole: How many Iranian students live in Pune?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: The accurate information about this can be found in the records of different universities in the city. However, generally their number might be around 6000. Some believe that their number is more than 6000 and it could be close to 7000, but some others believe otherwise, saying there are 6000 including their families.
Sanjay Godbole: What type of Iranian students are in Pune and are they in Pune really for education?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: Roughly speaking, we can classify them into three groups: First, those who are between 18 to 26 years old and have come to Pune for their graduations. Most of them are not familiar with English. Since they are young and inexperienced some may be diverted from their main aim i.e. education. But, this is not true with all the Iranians. Many of them when come to Pune look for selective disciplines such as Pharmacy, computer Science, information technology, etc., without having enough knowledge. They enroll themselves and start attending the classes, but after a semester or two, a number of such students realize that these disciplines are tough and cannot be continued, so either in the next year they change their disciplines and go for some so-called easier ones, or they may change their universities or look for some other colleges in Pune. A number of these students give up and return to Iran, but many others continue to stay and pursue their studies.
Secondly, those who come for Master degree course. Usually, this group is more successful and finishes Master's course in time, though their English may not be up to the mark.
Thirdly, are those who come for Ph.D. This group can be divided into two major classes: those who are on scholarship from Iranian government who number a few and those who come on their own. Whatever the case may be, one thing is in common among majority of the Iranian students whether they are at graduation level, post-graduation level, or PhD level, they lack proper English communication skills.
Sanjay Godbole: If it is so that many of them don't know English or cannot even communicate properly then how do they succeed in their studies?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: I believe that many Iranians who don't know how to write or speak English well; their self-confidence helps them a lot. These students (generally), at graduation and post-graduation levels memorize their lessons and accordingly faring their exams. At doctorate level, they have to complete a thesis in which they can get the help of those who know English or in few cases they write thesis in Persian and translate it into English. Generally speaking, while defending themselves they simply read thesis in brief. In other words, it has nothing to do with the ability to communicate in Standard English. Of course, let me remind you that same is true with the majority of Iranian students in other countries e.g. I myself have seen many Iranians who have received their PhDs from UK, America, Canada, Australia, etc., but their English is not up to the mark. However, I do not claim that all Iranians are the same. In fact, there are a number of highly educated and well versed Iranian PhD scholars in Pune who work very hard.
Sanjay Godbole: Why do Iranians prefer Pune for education? Is it because of the low level of education in Iran? Or are there some other reasons?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: Well, the issue of low level education could be a motivating factor for some Iranians. But, some may not agree with that. Coming to Pune is not new. Many Iranians for years have been coming to Pune and completing their studies in Pune. But, it's true that in recent years their number has increased considerably. There can be several reasons. First, compared with other countries, education in Pune is not that expensive. Second, Pune University is recognized by the Ministry of Science and Education of Iran. In fact, recently Pune University has been selected from amongst the top most universities in India by the Ministry of Science and Education of Iran. Thirdly, Pune is close to Mumbai where many Iranians can easily travel from Tehran to Mumbai and from Mumbai to Pune which is only around 150 kilometers. Fourthly, Pune has a very nice climate. In winter season people normally don't use heater and in summer season people don't use AC. Finally, Pune has already turned into a suitable habitat for many Iranians and foreigners; therefore, Iranians feel more at home in Pune than other Indian cities.
Sanjay Godbole: Why Iranian girls and women are more interested in Pune than Iranian boys or men? I'm asking this question because there are more girls than boys in Pune.
Ahmad Reza Taheri: I don't think so. You might be right, but there is no such record available in this respect.
Sanjay Godbole: What kind of problems do Iranian students face in Pune?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: As pointed earlier, their first problem is communication. Majority of the new arrivals from Iran cannot speak English and Hindi. This is because the medium of instruction in Iran is Persian and not English. So, they face a number of problems such as finding flats or apartments, educational matters like lack of understanding their textbooks, etc. However, it should be added that the Iranian Islamic Association in Pune is always there (within its limits) to help students e.g. many Iranians can stay in the association until they find a suitable accommodation. Or there are special courses being taught such as English and Computer which are also beneficial. The second major problem is their unfamiliarity with Indian culture. This occasionally leads to some disputes between Indians and Iranians. Thirdly, since most of the Iranian students are not familiar with English language, opportunists such as agents (Iranian or non-Iranians) can pounce on these students by taking bribe or cheat them without solving their problems (in number of cases) of admission, finding flats, etc.
Sanjay Godbole: How do Iranians in Iran get information about study courses in India? I believe that there are agents in Pune to assist for admissions and provide information for newcomers. In that case, many agents cheat Iranians. What is your opinion?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: Many Iranians receive information through their friends or relatives who are already in Pune. For example, many Iranian Baloch come to Pune by this way. But, there are also some other sources like agencies which provide information and help students to come to Pune. Some of these agencies are reliable and some are not. Cheating, unfortunately, is a matter of great concern. Recently, both university of Pune and Iranian Consulate has put up some notices on the board of the foreign cell at the university of Pune about this problem, requesting Iranians to report such cases if unauthorized agents are involved. There are also many Iranians who come to know about Pune University via internet.
Sanjay Godbole: After getting education in India or Pune, does it enable the Iranians to get employment in Iran?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: It depends on their qualification, level of education, as well as, approaches, as is the case with the developing nations. Certainly, those with PhD degrees easily can apply for academic membership. Those with Master degrees can start teaching at various universities; however applying for academic membership for such degree holders can be difficult unless there are vacancies. Those with Bachelor degrees cannot enter into academics. Apart from university, there are also many other organizations where they can apply. In this case, they don't need to complete their post-graduation. On the whole, getting a degree is a pre-condition, but that does not guarantee a position. Having knowledge is another issue which can help.
Sanjay Godbole: Why the senior Iranians e.g. above 40 are interested to do PhD or doing PhD?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: Most of these people are already academic members of various universities in Iran who have years of teaching experience. In order to get academic promotion, PhD (doctorate of philosophy in any discipline) can help them a lot. Besides, within the university system, a Master degree holder would always have inferiority complex towards a PhD holder. So, in order to bring oneself to the standard level, many lecturers would like to apply for PhD. In Iran one cannot simply pass the filters to get an admission for the degree of PhD, there are very strict rules. But, this is not the case in outside Iran. In many countries, people if qualified can easily register for PhD. There are many Iranians spread all over the world doing PhD.
Sanjay Godbole: Apart from that I have realized many Iranians are interested in doing PhD, while such a strong tendency cannot been observed in others like Indians, why?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: In today's Iran, in general, having a PhD has become a fashion. It has become a source to increase esteem and social status. Even many high ranking officials are trying to get PhD from whatever source which is available like distance education, etc. Many would like to be called as doctor or engineer. It has become a practice. But, in India or if I am not mistaken even in Europe and America, people don't have such a concept, unless those who are really interested in research and teaching may go for highest university education i.e. PhD. It is interesting to add that in Iran the moment you register yourself for PhD or a medical course, your people start addressing you a doctor.
Sanjay Godbole: Here another question may come: are such people you just mentioned-above to the same extent motivated to enhance their knowledge of specialty then?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: Many are interested and many are not interested.
Sanjay Godbole: Let's go back to the topic, why the lives of Iranians especially the girls in Pune have two dimensions: some are wearing scarf and some do not wear Islamic dress!?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: Well, this is a personal issue and in India one does not question them as to why they wear such and such clothes. As you know well, India is a democracy and there is no compulsion in wearing types of attires. Let's take example of Indian Muslims themselves: some like to wear Islamic dress and some like to wear e.g. Sarri and some like to wear jeans. It's all depends on individual tastes of people.
Sanjay Godbole: Europe and America are choice destination for the Iranian students! Why India then has become an immediate choice between these two states for the Iranians?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: Truly speaking, nowadays it has become very difficult for many Iranian students to go to Europe and America. It is because of several factors. 1. because of current political developments such as terrorism. 2. Living expenses and educational fees are very high compared with countries like India. 3. Rules for admissions are tougher than those of India. For example, if a student wants to study in England, he or she has to first of all prove that he/she is rich enough to support himself financially. Moreover, they have to pass some English tests like TOFEL. For many Iranians passing such tests is not easy. Therefore, all these factors combined together make it difficult for many Iranians to go to America or Europe for education. Thus, when a student can easily get admission in India without much trouble and much expense, why then take the trouble and have a headache, especially when India too is also quite famous in the world for education.
Sanjay Godbole: Given that Iran lacks culinary culture, why do Iranians hate Indian food? Given the fact that Indian foods are famous all over the world?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: First of all, I do not agree with the term "lack of culinary culture". In fact, in Iran like any other country of the world we do have a culinary culture, but, vis-à-vis India, Iran has a less developed culinary culture, but not total lack of culinary culture. Secondly, many Iranians like Indian food though many do not. It is just like the question that why Indians don't like Iranian food? In a similar way, there are many Indians who do not like Iranian food! It is all about one's palate.
Sanjay Godbole: Do Iranians prefer a conservative life style in Iran or do they prefer freedom in India?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: See, freedom is a relative concept and depends upon the nature of the society. So, we have also freedom in Iran. But, the kind of freedom which exists in Iran is based on Islamic code of life, as asserted repeatedly by our clerics. Whatsoever, many Iranians may like Indian freedom and many may like Iranian Islamic freedom.
Sanjay Godbole: Why Iranians don't feel any affinity towards Indian Muslims even if they are following Shia sect? On the contrary, Indian Muslims do have such an affinity towards Iranians.
Ahmad Reza Taheri: Well, I think, majority of Indian Muslims follow a strict form of Islam. On the other hand, many Iranians who live abroad especially in democracies like India would come under the influence of the local Indian culture. For many Iranians this is a new encounter which makes them experience other traditions, practices, and customs. They have experienced much of their own religion and culture in Iran and so want to know more and more about other cultures. However, like any other social set up, Iranians too are different. Some want to mix with Indian Muslims and some want to know about other cultures rather than Islamic culture.
Sanjay Godbole: Why do Iranians look down upon other nationals such as Arabs and Afghans?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: If it is so, I believe that at least for many Iranians there is a historical reason behind it. But let us not go into the details because we may get side tracked. However, if some Iranians look down upon other nationals, it is because they have no basic knowledge of their surroundings and mostly are narrow-minded. Otherwise, an open-minded Iranian shall never hold such an attitude. In Pune, many Iranian students and Afghani students are very much in contact with each other. However, if what you say is true, it can be restricted to some sections of the Iranian society and could not be generalized.
Sanjay Godbole: Why there are differences in public life and private life of an Iranian, in other words, why they have double personality?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: These characteristics are inbuilt in every human being and therefore are not confined to the Iranians only. Every human being has a double personality, but the nature and extent of double personality differs from person to person. However, the answer can be found in the state-society relationship.
Sanjay Godbole: If Iranian students are so proud of Iran, why do most of them desire to leave their country forever?
Ahmad Reza Taheri: What is wrong in that? There are many Iranians who are proud of their country and that is natural, simply because, usually every national is proud of his/her country. But, many Iranian students leave their country in search of better education, better pay, and better life. This does not necessarily mean that if they are proud of their country they should not leave their country. Indians and Pakistanis are also proud of being Indian or Pakistani, but many are studying in America and Europe.
The Persian translation of this written interview will be published soon on this site.
Interview with Ahmad Reza Taheri (PhD Research Fellow at the Yashwantrao Chavan National Center of International Security & Defence Analysis, University of Pune) by Sanjay Godbole, an Indian scholar who is currently carrying out research on Indo-Iranian studies.
20 Jan,2009 Pune, India www.ahmadrezataheri.org