BY SAFIYA NANJI
Taking place on the Tisch Library roof and featuring a guided historical tour of Kashmir, a postcard diorama and a candlelight vigil, the South Asian Political Action Committee's (SAPAC) first event of the semester was well-received by the campus community.
The event also included live poetry recitals in Urdu and English and a talk from author, journalist and psychologist Justine Hardy. According to SAPAC Chair and Co-Director Gautam Kapur, the group achieved its goal of addressing the issue of Kashmir through a humanitarian, historical and social lens.
“SAPAC was able to not only raise awareness and proceeds towards Kashmir flood relief organizations through the ‘Postcard Diorama,’ but was also able to convey some of the root causes of the conflict through our ‘Historical Walkthrough’ and the social repercussions of a natural disaster through the ‘Cultural Graveyard’ exhibit,” Kapur, a junior, said.
SAPAC’s Co-Directors Niya Shahdad and Vidya Srinivasan echoed Kapur’s sentiments.
“Last night went better than we ever could have imagined,” Srinivasan, a junior, said. “When we first announced the launch of the Tufts Kashmir Initiative, it was really well-received by the Tufts community, as well as by the overseas Kashmiri community. This was, of course, really gratifying, but I think we all definitely felt a bit of added pressure to give this event our all.”
Srinivasan explained that the interactive campsite on the Tisch roof allowed people to stop by at their leisure.
“People turned out to be very receptive to this idea of stopping by the roof to learn to care about something. Even people who didn’t know about the event beforehand saw our setup as they were passing by and chose to engage with the event,” she said.
Kapur added that he felt it was rewarding to see attendees entertain a holistic approach to understanding the issue in Kashmir, rather than simply taking part in a candlelight vigil.
Sophomores Bahar Ostadan and Elena Bell both attended the event and said it was well done and had a certain pull to it.
“It’s a cozy camp, with blankets, Christmas lights, tea — even for passersby, they’ll stop by quickly,” Bell said. “We should have more events like this on campus. There’s a lot of talks where we’re just in an auditorium.”
“It’s nice that it’s on the Tisch roof,” Ostadan added. “It makes it more personal. Everything was just very creatively done, multiple mediums to target the issue.”
Shahdad, a junior, explained that she feels particularly close to the issue as her family is Kashmiri and was stuck in the floods.
“While everyone was starting off their first week of classes, I was stuck indoors trying to communicate with people, and they were completely sort of missing,” she recounted. “We were unable to get in touch with them for about three to four days. And so at that point, I think, all that was going through my mind was that we somehow need to raise funds, because devastation has been done on a huge scale. But I think two to three weeks after that, I realized that raising awareness was almost as rewarding in experience as raising funds because [Kashmir’s floods have] been completely neglected in the Western media.”
According to Shahdad, everyone in SAPAC was ready to help and take on this issue as his or her own.
“SAPAC launched the Tufts Kashmir Initiative,” Shahdad said. “Under the Tufts Kashmir Initiative, this is the first event for what we hope to be a year-long [initiative]. For our first phase — this semester — we are … raising awareness. In the second phase — next semester — we hope we will have built an audience through which we can raise funds.”
Srinivasan added, that as a new group, SAPAC is seeking to increase attention to its initiatives.
“SAPAC is still a relatively new group, and this year we’re trying to grow it through generative connections — building networks of individuals and organizations that we believe are deeply relevant to the issues in South Asia on which we focus,” she said.
Qaid: A Camp-in for Kashmir generated much support from Kashmiris overseas and on-campus groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), according to Srinivasan.
“SJP helped us out a lot with publicity because we had conversations that tied together our groups’ supposedly disparate interests and made the situation in Kashmir feel relevant to them,” she said. “Finally, this event could not have been this successful without the tremendous support of [the Muslim Student Association]. They not only publicized our event but also sent members to be volunteer tour guides, photographers and general support. This kind of solidarity with the people of Kashmir was really humbling to witness.”
Bell described the event as educational and Hardy’s talk especially relevant.
“I knew about the flood, but I don’t keep up with South Asian news that much,” she said. “I think what [Hardy] said about rage and your anger and using it sparingly and using it for positive conversation is very applicable.”
For Srinivasan, the most poignant part of the night was Hardy‘s opening address.
“She joined us straight from Srinagar with firsthand accounts of how, even though the waters have abated, the floods hang like a shadow over Kashmir,” she said. “News stories that talk about this tragedy in terms of statistics cannot convey this kind of damage, and I think her talk reminded everyone in attendance that these people have been through something that is horrific on so many different levels.”
According to Kapur and Srinivasan, the success of this event is a significant step for SAPAC.
“SAPAC‘s overall guiding objective is to create space for South Asia at Tufts,” Srinivasan said. “Kashmir was not a part of mainstream campus dialogue before this, but we think this event and the rest of these initiatives will prompt people to give the region more attention.”
This article originally appeared in the Tufts Daily on November 13, 2014.