It has been two weeks since the abrogation of Article 370 and the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, and yet most of the state remains under a lockdown. With a virtual blockade and clampdown on communication and Internet services, millions of residents in the state have been cut off from the rest of the country. For the same reason, many other Kashmiris living and working in other parts of the country have also been cut off from their families for close to 16 days running. While the partial restoration of landline services has provided some relief, any semblance of normal communication seems remote at this point.
One of the sections worst affected in this situation comprises students from Kashmir who have been studying in other parts of the country. Not only are they in a constant state of anxiety and worry over what is happening back home in their families, many of them are also completely cut off from the financial support that they receive from home. Their fees and rents need to be paid, but their families have no way to send it to them.
To ease the hardships faced by Kashmiris at this time, citizens and civic groups have come together to harness social media to offer various kinds of help to tide over the difficulties faced. The week past saw social media abuzz with news of a Sikh Gurudwara Committee in Pune helping 32 stranded Kashmiri students reach home as they had been unable to reach their families.
Help in the age of social media
The urgent need for aid for stranded students who have been unable to reach their loved ones has found resonance in social media. Members of a newly formed Facebook group, “Students With Kashmiri Students,” have come forth to provide services such as financial assistance, housing assistance, legal aid and counselling services.
For many Kashmiris this has been a time of emotional upheaval and in recognition of that, the group offers pro-bono counselling in person for those in Mumbai, Kolkata, Shillong, Bangalore and New Delhi. Counselling over Skype or phone is also another option available.
“The Kashmir situation may lead to a mental health crisis. Trauma experienced during a crisis is a field upon which both distress as well as resilience can manifest. We as counselling psychologists (also TISS-BALM alumni) wanted to contribute by offering our professional services pro bono so that it can reach those who may need it,” says Gayathri Devadasan, a mental health professional who is part of the initiative.
Emphasizing on the judgement-free nature of the counselling on offer, she adds, “This therapeutic space is for you, not for me or my opinions.”
Another group working to help students across the country is the J & K Student Organisation. With helplines open in 12 states, the organisation is open to addressing all issues and concerns of Kashmiri students. The group has dedicated college representatives in each of the states who will help coordinate messages from Kashmiri students.
The organisation has asked any student in distress or need to reach out to the respective helplines and be connected to representatives who will provide assistance. In addition, the group also claims to provide information from the ground in Kashmir regarding the prevailing situation.
How can you help?
During such a crisis, financial aid and professional services are the need of the hour. Many offers of assistance in whatever form possible have been posted on social media by those who want to help Kashmiris alienated from home under the prevailing circumstances. Doctors, lawyers and therapists have been offering their services pro-bono for those in need, and if you want to reach out in the same way, you can too.
Financial assistance may help students in need to cover immediate expenses that they may not be able to pay due to the clampdown such as boarding, rents, exam fees or even daily expenses.
Many anxious students may also require assistance for travelling home. If you can provide authentic, reliable information on how they can reach home and guide them through the process, it will be a great support.
For those with contacts in Kashmir, if you can find a way to help Kashmiris get in touch with their families, or even bring some reliable news from the ground, it would ease the anxiety of many who have not heard from loved ones in over two weeks.
If you are keen to help, please check out the following useful links: