Matthew Bessant

The fourth episode of this season’s Switchboard features Izzy and Inika hearing from students throughout Cambridge who have been affected by the Indian Covid Crisis. During the episode, the hosts also interview some students who have aided in fundraising for the crisis. 

The episode opens by introducing Inika, who is a first year HSPS student at Selwyn College. Inika mentions how she is involved in SCRI Fundraising, which works closely with other universities (such as Oxford) and can be found on Instagram. She details the forms of aid which raised funds are used for, such as oxygen provisions and helping marginalised communities across India. Inika also discusses how the fundraiser came about through students who, being so distant from India, felt helpless in relation to the crisis. Inika reminds listeners how they can contribute using donation links (which will also be in the episode description), messaging the fundraiser to get involved and by reading up on the crisis and raising awareness. 

The hosts then interview Ardhya Sethia and Iqbal Bhalla. Ardhya is currently doing a PhD in Law at Cambridge and is from India and Iqual is a student in Oxford. The pair discuss how the SCRI project began in Oxford and is affiliated with the Oxford India society and South Asia Society. They discuss how a similar project was being planned in Cambridge, which has now joined with Oxford. They recount reaching their initial target of £10,000, and subsequently deciding to raise their goal to its current £50,000. The idea behind the project was to help Indian non-governmental organisations who are working on the ground and are in dire need of funds to help with the oxygen crisis, medical supplies and food supplies. 

Like Inika, Iqbal mentions how the fundraiser started because students were feeling helpless. They were safe, but unable to do much about the crisis from their universities. The pair discuss the objectives for NGOs, as they are looking to help those who are not getting help from established routes of aid, mostly targeting people outside of cities or marginalised city communities. The conversation moves on to focus on the difference between the two waves in terms of variant and scale. The pair emphasise how the second wave hit a greater number of younger people, and how the added impact of fatigue from the first lockdown, which led the government to handle the situation very differently a second time round. The conversation then focuses on the struggle that international students face by ‘living in two worlds’, trying to revise for exams whilst being aware that those at home are going through the crisis and knowing that they will return to the situation when they go home at the end of term. 

Izzy and Inika go on to interview Aman, who currently lives in Bangalore but was studying Engineering at Selwyn before deciding to intermit. Aman discusses his experience in living in Bangalore throughout the crisis, including testing positive for COVID and witnessing the number of cases get out of hand. Although not involved with university fundraisers, Aman discussed his involvement with volunteer groups in Bangalore.

Catch up on last week's episode

Finally, the hosts interview Akshatha, who is a first-year student in Emmanuel College from Mumbai. She discusses her personal experience with the COVID crisis in India. Although she was not there during the second wave, she spent the first wave in Mumbai. Akshatha discusses how social media became her source of news updates on the situation, as well as her family and friends, and how she tried to expand her reading beyond her social circle (both real and virtual). She mentions the shock she felt when the cases started rising but, having returned to Cambridge, she felt partly distanced from it in her everyday life, which has led to its own feelings of guilt. Akshatha also says how the Student Union in Emmanuel has been very helpful with the crisis, and stresses the difficulties of keeping an eye on what is happening at home whilst keeping up with Cambridge exams.

Switchboard is Varsity’s flagship podcast. Episodes are broadcasted every Friday at 8:30pm on Cam FM, and are available on all major podcasting apps via Anchor. Transcript will be available here after the episode’s release.