When the rains began falling on the Indian-Pakistani region of Kashmir on Sept. 2, relatives of Aaminah B’hat ’18 living in the area were warned about the danger of rising floodwaters. Her grandparents, as well as some of her aunts, uncles and cousins remained in their houses to ride out the storm.
After days of limited communication with her grandparents, one of B’hat’s uncles managed to get a phone call through to their home.
“We are fine. We are at —.” Then the line went dead.
B’hat’s grandparents survived and were evacuated from their home via rescue boat days later. She is now one of the several students on campus striving to raise awareness about the disaster.
In response to the massive devastation and a lack of international attention, the Yale Kashmir Relief Initiative, a recently formed student organization, is working to raise awareness about the disaster and collect funds for regional relief efforts.
Regardless of the political controversy surrounding the border state — both India and Pakistan historically claim ownership of Kashmir — YKRI organizers are urging campus groups to come together at a time of crisis.
“This might be a moment of hope,” said Marios Falaris ’14 of YKRI. “If we can work together on this [fundraiser], we can work together to find a broader political solution. This is not a time to think about what the region stands for. Making a political statement would be the wrong approach.”
Falaris and his co-coordinator Shalmoli Halder ’15 started YKRI shortly after reports of extreme flooding in Kashmir surfaced in early September. Both said they wanted to raise awareness about the disaster, as there has been very little media coverage of the crisis.
Through multiple fundraising events this week, Halder and Falaris are working to raise at least $10,000 for the cause. They said they plan to send the money to the Edhi Foundation and Pragya, NGOs working on the ground in Pakistan and India, respectively. YKRI organizers also set up an online campaign through YouCaring — a free online fundraising site.
On Saturday, YKRI co-hosted a cultural fair on Old Campus with the student group Yalies for Pakistan.
Azzah Hyder ’16, co-president of YPAK, said the fair was aimed at both fundraising for Kashmir and promoting cultural awareness about the region.
YPAK members — dressed in shalwar kamiz, the traditional dress of south and central Asia — handed out ethnic foods and played Pakistani music, encouraging hundreds of visitors to donate to the cause.
“Even though Kashmir is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, we had the opportunity to come together as two different communities and fundraise for the same cause,” Hyder said. “Kashmir is also an area that not many people on campus are familiar with, so we were able to improve awareness of the region as a whole.”
Upcoming YKRI events include “Party with a Purpose” tonight at Toad’s Place, as well as a panel discussing humanitarian crises on Thursday afternoon. YKPI’s fundraising week will conclude with a benefit concert in Battell Chapel Sunday evening where multiple singing and dance groups will be performing along with Yale musicians and spoken-word performers. A moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony are also scheduled.
“We have a range of events [this week], but we are hoping to keep the conversation going about Kashmir,” Halder said. “We are interested in taking this dialogue forward.”
Halder and Falaris agreed that while fundraising is the primary goal, there is also there the larger task of uniting campus organizations to look past political differences and collaborate. They said YKRI is already working with a number of groups including the South Asian Society, YPAK and the South Asian Graduate and Professional Association at Yale.
YKRI said that getting concrete information regarding Kashmiri casualties and displaced persons is difficult because flooding has cut off all communication in the region. Halder said some news outlets estimate that six million people have been affected on both sides of the border, leaving almost 20,000 dead and 200,000 stranded.
Falaris said he has been studying the Kashmir region since middle school and wrote his senior thesis on Kashmiri identities. In coming weeks he will be traveling to the region for 10 months to conduct further research on the intersection between development and conflict.
YKRI is just one example of the growing interest in international service efforts, Public Relations Coordinator for Dwight Hall Shea Jennings ’16 said. She added that similar groups campaigning for human rights — such as Amnesty International and the Myanmar Project — illustrate a large campus trend towards global service.
“Groups like Reach Out and Global Brigades have expanded significantly,” Jennings said. “We also have established groups like Amnesty, who focus more on advocacy and awareness […] As [Dwight Hall’s] institutional capacity has grown, we’ve been able to support more groups doing more ambitious work in this area, particularly direct service on the international scale.”
The Kashmir region is home to 15 million Indians and Pakistanis.