‘I dedicate my scholarship to Kashmir and its talented, vibrant youth’

  • Kashmir Ink
  • Publish Date: Nov 10 2017 8:19PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Nov 10 2017 8:19PM
‘I dedicate my scholarship to Kashmir and its talented, vibrant youth’

Sameer Rashid Bhat is the first Kashmiri  who has been awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship 2018 to study a post-graduate course in law for a year at the Oxford University. Rhodes scholars are chosen after a rigorous three-step process. He is also the first student from Gujarat National Law University to make it to the prestigious community of the Rhodes Scholars. Bhat plans to study Comparative Human Rights Law, Criminal Justice, Security and Constitutional Theory at the Oxford. 

In an interview to Kashmir Ink,  Bhat urges young Kashmiri men and women to explore the wide range of opportunities that are available to them outside the valley, particularly in educational institutions like National Law Universities. He says he  will be glad to assist the youth in this regard and requests them to reach out to him on any social media in case they require any help. 

Tell us something about yourself, your journey from a remote village to a Rhodes scholar?

I was born and brought up in Pushroo, a remote village in the south-Kashmir district of Anantnag. I studied at Modern Public High School, Nowgam till grade V. Thereafter, we moved to Srinagar where I continued my studies from Iqbal Memorial Institute, Bemina (IMI) till grade XII. IMI is where I met my guide, my teacher Mr. Majid Jehangir who has been one of the most influential persons in my life. Although I studied science at the higher secondary level, I was not keen on pursuing it further. On the suggestion of one of my father’s friends, I wrote the 2013 Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), a national level examination for admission to National Law Universities in India. Fortunately, I made it to Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar (GNLU). I was thrilled to explore the possibilities that law and a national law university threw open to me. Here, I discovered the depths of the discipline and its potential to engineer social change, to protect and strengthen the institutions of human rights and education and, to remove social inequalities. I got involved in the working of a lot of committees and centres at GNLU right from my first year of study. I continuously participated in a wide range of academic exercises such as conferences, moots, research projects etc. Notably, I represented my University at the Nelson Mandela World Moot on Human Rights organised by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The diversity at GNLU and the support from each of the institutions that I have been a part of have been instrumental in my growth as an individual in general and in this achievement in particular. 


Rhodes scholarship is considered the world’s most prestigious scholarship. And you are the first Kashmiri to get it?

The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the world’s most prestigious international scholarships awarded to students to study a postgraduate course of their choice at the University of Oxford with all tuition fees paid and a living and travel allowance provided. The Rhodes Scholarship is named after British mining magnate and South African politician Cecil John Rhodes and is administered by the Rhodes Trust. Rhodes Scholars are chosen after a rigorous three-step process.  According to the Rhodes Trust, the overall global acceptance rate of the Scholarship stands at 0.7 percent, making it one of the most competitive scholarships in the world.  Annually, there are 80-85 Rhodes Scholars from around 65 different countries around the world.

I am told that I’m the first Kashmiri to get this Scholarship. I have not come across any other Rhodes scholar from the valley, especially in the field of law.


How did you get the idea to apply for the scholarship? And how did you prepare for it?

As I mentioned above, Rhodes Scholarship is considered to be the world’s most prestigious scholarship in the world. It is a dream for many students, especially those studying at National Law Universities. However, I had never given any serious thought to applying for Rhodes until last year. I was one of the senior students of my University who took moot court classes for the first year students (GNLU batch of 2016-2021). It is during these classes that my interest for academics and higher education was piqued.  Another significant event that strengthened the resolve to apply for Rhodes was my role as a Teaching Assistant for the Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University in May-June, 2017 where I taught human rights and international law to a cohort of 200 post-graduate Young India Fellows.

I don’t think there can be any ‘preparation’ for the Rhodes Scholarship. The criteria that the Rhodes Trust looks for are such that it is nearly impossible to per se prepare for any of them. Therefore, I think, one’s journey (especially at the undergraduate level) is the preparation itself.


What they look for in a Rhode scholar?

The Selection Committees for the Rhodes Scholarship look for “outstanding leaders who are motivated to engage with global challenges, to ‘esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim’, and to promote international understanding and peace.” The Scholarship is awarded to young women and men of outstanding intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service, and who demonstrate a strong propensity to emerge as ‘leaders for the world’s future’.

The recipients are selected on the basis of literary and scholastic attainments; Energy to use one’s talents to the full; truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship; and moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one’s fellow beings.


Can you take us through the application process?

There are three stages in the application process. You have to first submit your written application which includes a statement of purpose of 1,000 words, where you basically supposed to tell your story – what your motivation is, and how you have applied that in your life. You also need to mention what particularly you want to study at Oxford and how you are going to contribute to society. With that, you have to submit six referrals – three academic and three non-academic – along with your marks transcript and your CV.

On the basis of the application, around 15-20 applicants each from streams like law, political science, medicine, engineering etc. are shortlisted for the preliminary interview. This is a discipline-based technical interview conducted by a three-member panel.

Then, around 15 students from all the disciplines are shortlisted for the final interview, which is conducted by a panel consisting of noted academics, practitioners and eminent persons from concerned walks of life. The final panel for this year was headed by Mr. Gopal Krishna Gandhi. Among the 15-odd finalists, 5 Rhodes Scholars are selected in India.


You have become an inspiration for the youth in Kashmir. What is your advice to them?

I am glad that things worked in my favour to reach where I am now. Having achieved this feat, I think I have a greater obligation to work for the betterment of the lives of people around me, especially those who are less fortunately situated.

My journey from a remote village in Kashmir to the Rhodes Scholarship is testament to the brilliant prospects that education provides to us. There is no alternative to education, especially for the people of Kashmir who have suffered for decades now. I hope this is the beginning of many more scholars and potential world leaders emerging from Kashmir. I urge young Kashmiri men and women to explore the wide range of opportunities that are available to us outside our valley, particularly in educational institutions like National Law Universities. I will be glad to assist the youth in this regard and I request them to reach out to me on any social media in case they require any help. 

My request to the parents is to allow and support their children in exploring disciplines of their interest apart from just medicine and engineering.


What are your plans?

I plan to read for the Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) at Oxford. My courses include Comparative Human Rights Law, Criminal Justice, Security and Human Rights, Constitutional Theory, and Public International Law and Law of the Armed Conflict. On my return from Oxford, I wish to engage in advocacy, policy-making and academics in human rights and constitutional law, focusing mainly on Kashmir.


Who would you like to thank for your success?

Any achievement is not the achievement of an individual alone. The list of people that I have to thank is endless. I’m highly indebted to my six referees who wrote recommendation letters for me, my professors at GNLU, teachers at IMI and Modern Public School and the staff at each of these institutions. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my family, friends and a whole lot of well-wishers. Special thanks are due to my batch-mate Gayathree Kalliyat, who is an inspiration to me.

I dedicate this to Kashmir and its talented, vibrant youth who are my hope of a better future for Kashmir.