The death toll in Kerala has exceeded 350 people and more than 200,000 people have been left homeless. So, why do I feel more hopeful than ever?
I am hopeful because I’m seeing the national government finally provide appropriate financial help and I am hopeful because world media outlets are finally providing the coverage and support the small state needs.
Since last Friday, nearly 43,000 people have been rescued and more than 1,500 emergency relief camps have been set up in Kerala and across the country in cities like New Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Mumbai; for the first time in the past week, we are working together as a unit.
After surveying the area, last Saturday, Prime Minister Modi upped his financial contributions to Rs. 500 crores; many state officials are even pledging to donate a month’s salary to the rescue efforts. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Manipur, West Bengal – the list sprawls across India of the states that have now significantly contributed to the Kerala CM’s fund.
Prominent businessmen and international celebrities (Dhanush, Vijay, Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth to name a few) are actively volunteering at rescue camps or are providing monetary relief. South Indian actors Kamal Hassan, Surya, and Sidharth are even participating in the #KeralaFloodRelief challenge. Cricketers have collectively donated Rs. 1.5 million to the CM fund. Even beloved Sonali Bendre, who is currently battling cancer in New York, has taken time to spread the word and show her support for the relief efforts.
Not to mention news channels across India and the world are finally acknowledging the seriousness of this natural disaster; Star India is even pairing up with an NGO called Goonj, hoping that others will follow in its footsteps.
I checked back in with Trivandrum local, Kalyani Nandakumar, on her perspective regarding the efforts thus far. She gave a shout-out to the fishermen of the region,
“A lot of the people who were rescued in boats were by the fishermen of the Southern part of Kerala and people are extremely grateful towards them.”
More than 2,800 fishermen have loaded their boats and ventured into the 10 feet waters to help volunteer. Kalyani shared the below picture of locals lining up to thank fishermen as they leave their district.
“The money is being used effectively, and student communities have made power banks for the people,” she says.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is donating one month’s salary to the cause and has strongly encouraged the rest of his colleagues to do so as well. President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Matouk of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) even took to Twitter to urge everyone to provide relief and even expressed his support in Malayalam. The UAE will be donating $100 million and the Qatar government will be donating Rs. 35 crores.
Religious communities across the board are even stepping up in the name of unity. The Islamic Centre of India is appealing to Muslims to donate a portion of their Eid budgets to the flood victims. A UK based Sikh organization sent volunteers to organize a langar for the flood-hit people of Kochi – meals were served to 3,000 people. Hindu temples across the board are collecting food and supplies to pass on to people in the surrounding areas. Christian Aid, a global coalition of churches, as well as Knanaya Catholic organizations across the United States have organized fundraisers and benefits for the cause. Without any religious or political bias, Indians all over the world are banding together.
What Does Kerala Need Right Now?
The devastation has been done. It’s so easy to sit here and feel angry. Angry at the response time of the Indian government and surrounding states, angry that Kerala’s infrastructure lent itself to the severity of the floods, and angry that this tragedy was glossed over by domestic and international media outlets. But this anger? It isn’t constructive.
It does not help the people who are currently waiting on their rooftops, it doesn’t help bring food, water, and medicine to people who are starving, and most importantly it doesn’t help relieve the anguish and pain that comes with losing your home. The time to address these important issues will come, but right now? Kerala doesn’t need an apology, it needs strength and support.
“There is nothing to be afraid of,” says Kalyani, “because we’re all in this together.”
And seeing our communities come together makes me proud to not only be a Malayali but an Indian.
What Can You Do to Help?
Help perpetuate awareness:
The Kerala floods are not being treated as important world news. Write a post and tell a friend. Before we can fix a problem, people need to know that the problem exists. So, share this article on your newsfeed and InstaStories!
Donate to the cause:
There are several credible websites that are collecting donations. You can donate directly on this Facebook donation page, which has seen close to $700,000 or through the Kerala CM’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF). If you choose to make the donation online, here are the account details to follow: Account number: 67319948232 / Bank: State Bank of India / Branch: City branch, Thiruvananthapuram / IFS Code: SBIN0070028 / PAN: AAAGD0584M /Name of Donee: CMDRF.
As a photographer from Kerala, I’ve found myself looking back at the photos I’ve taken in God’s Own Country. I’ve turned my favorite shots into postcards, with 100 percent of the proceeds going towards relief efforts. Donate $7+, and I’ll send you a personalized postcard of one of my photographs! Pick your postcard here and specify your choice as a note before donating.
Help someone in danger:
If you know anyone who is currently in danger or stranded by the floods, the government of Kerala has started an initiative to request help.
It is during times of crisis that the strength of our community is tested – if one state hurts, we all should hurt.
Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting.
In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance eventcentered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.
In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships.
Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality.SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.
While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.
Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.
Dear President Biden,
As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.
Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.
“As privileged members of the diaspora, it’s our duty to challenge the repressive practices of the current regime in India. We stand in solidarity with those … opposed to the government’s attempt to reshape the country into a Hindu nationalist state. https://t.co/RxU9wUy2Zy
Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law.
India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders‘ press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index — which examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi.
“If the President meets with PM Modi, then the protection of the Muslim minority in a majority Hindu India is something worth mentioning…if you do not protect the rights of ethnic minorities, there’s a strong possibility India starts pulling apart.” Thank you @BarackObama! https://t.co/RhcMNfiqaR
Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.
This morning in DC, on the lawn of The White House at the welcome reception for Modi.
As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.
— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).