Tufts for Kashmir: A Call to Action

On Sept. 2, 2014, the river Jhelum, which winds its way through the Kashmir valley, began to swell.

For the past 65 years, since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, Kashmir has been a region of international territorial dispute. The Indian and Pakistani governments both believe that the region is rightfully theirs, and today Kashmir is split between the two by a “temporary” Line of Control that was decided in 1999 by the ceasefire of the last of three wars. Furthermore, there are Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control who believe that Kashmir’s current status as a “disputed territory” denies them their agency. In the past, militant groups hoping to obtain complete independence have arisen. There remains regular conflict in the area between all three parties. In some spheres, this conflict is framed as a contentious international land dispute between nuclear powers. In others, it is seen as a struggle for the right to self-determination. Kashmir is a complicated region. And in early September 2014, the situation in Kashmir became worse.

As the local people slept, the Jhelum overflowed its banks and crept into the city streets. Within only a few days, entire neighborhoods were submerged and thousands of Kashmiris had fled their homes. For weeks, they were stranded on rooftops—awaiting supplies, searching for news of their family members’ fates and praying for rescue.

Coverage of this tragedy has been deplorable in Indian media despite the scale of the crisis. Indian newspapers have lauded inadequate military rescue operations while failing not only to report the recent declines in Kashmir-bound international aid, but also to critically examine the Indian government’s decision not to allow major international disaster relief agencies, including the United Nations, to provide direct aid or assistance. Furthermore, there remain to this day no satisfactory answers as to why appropriate precautions against flooding were not taken, and why—despite mass casualty and displacement—the government has steadfastly refused to declare the floods a state emergency.

And if Indian news coverage has not been ideal, international news coverage has been even worse. This is a humanitarian crisis in a region of immense geopolitical significance, where 1.5 million people have been affected and damages surpass $17 billion. Furthermore, the mismanagement of the crisis is an effect of Kashmir’s political situation. This is clearly an issue that people should care about — but even at Tufts, a school that takes pride in its internationally-minded student body with a passion for active citizenship, the situation in Kashmir has been given no attention.

As Kashmiris strive to return to the tenuous almost-normalcy to which they have grown accustomed, the international community needs to not only help financially support flood relief efforts, but also call attention to the admirable and unwavering resilience that has been shown under very difficult circumstances. Crises such as this unarguably deserve our attention, and it is our duty to learn, empathize, support and celebrate the Kashmiri spirit in the difficult road to recovery. Tufts students are passionate about international relations, security, health, development, politics, economics and—most importantly—human rights and our shared humanity. The floods in Kashmir should certainly be on our horizon and be a part of on-campus dialogue. We spend much time focusing on events and situations around the world that touch on these themes. The Middle East is one such example of a region that rightfully receives substantial on-campus attention. We ask: Why not South Asia too?

Through the year-long Tufts Kashmir Initiative, the South Asian Political Action Committee (SAPAC) aims to create understanding and dialogue about the situation in Kashmir on campus. We ask you to join us for the first of many events, Qaid: A Camp-in for Kashmir, on Wednesday, Nov. 12, on the roof of Tisch Library. Qaid is Urdu for “imprisonment” or “confinement.” It represents our standing in solidarity with the Kashmiris who faced terror and uncertainty as they sheltered on rooftops in anticipation of help as their supplies dwindled. SAPAC calls upon the Tufts community to join us in a candlelit vigil to celebrate the resilience of Kashmiri people. Learn about the historical and cultural traditions of Kashmir through walk-through exhibits and live poetry recitals in Urdu and English, and reach out to Kashmiri youth by writing messages on postcards that they will receive. Renowned conflict trauma specialist and journalist Justine Hardy, who will be joining us directly from Kashmir, will also be sharing her emotional, firsthand experiences of working with victims of the floods. We ask you to “camp-in” with SAPAC as we hope to raise awareness of the Kashmiri ordeal, spark dialogue on this too-often-overlooked region of the world and celebrate the courage displayed by millions.

This is an op-ed by Vidya Srinivasan, Angad Bagai, and Jahnvi Vaidya. It originally appeared in the Tufts Daily on November 12, 2014.