Human Rights Club debuts first ever Chaat Masala

Thumping Bollywood music sounds through the cafeteria as every object in the room vibrates to the synths. Students jump and dance to the music, singing the lyrics. In a corner, people stand in long lines at the henna and vendor tables, excited to get mehndi designs on their hands.

This is the kind of event the Human Rights Club envisioned for Chaat Masala, and it turned out to be a resounding success.

On Friday, May 13, the Human Rights Club hosted the first ever Chaat Masala event at WA that highlighted Indian culture. Proceeds from the event, which sold 225 tickets, went to Saheli, a non-profit organization that helps and empowers South Asian and Arab domestic and sexual violence survivors. The club raised over 1000 dollars for the organization.

Junior and Human Rights Club President Sanah Chatiwala and senior Manasvi Iyengar first brought the idea of the event to the table, and Chaat Masala was carried out by them and the Human Rights Club. The night included food catered from the Indian restaurant Priya in Lowell, tables set up by local vendors such as Western Bharat, Patola Collection, and Naari who sold traditional clothing and jewelry from South Asia, performances by WA and middle school students, and even a professional-caliber DJ.

Chatiwala, who initially proposed the idea of having a big event to celebrate South Asian cultures, said that she was surprised by the turnout.

“I was astonished by how many people who weren’t South Asian came and still chose to dress up and celebrate with us,” Chatiwala said.

The Human Rights Club advisor Rebecca Ingerslev compared Chaat Masala to the erstwhile Lunar New Year event the Asian Culture Club hosted in prior years, both events which celebrated minority cultures in the U.S. and allowed full pride from members of those communities.

“[Both events] welcomed students of other cultures to experience and appreciate that specific food, music, fashion, and entertainment,” Ingerslev said. “My thought is that these kinds of events are the epitome of what we need to do to make strides with DEI — having fun together while being fully immersed in a non-Western culture is a win-win for everyone in attendance.”

Due to Chaat Masala’s popularity this year and the initiative to bring more awareness to non-white cultures, Chatiwala and the Human Rights Club plan to make it an annual event for WA.

“An event of this scale to raise money for charity and celebrate culture has not been done before at WA, to my knowledge,” junior and club Vice President Mikayla Wagner said. “[Having it annually] is a great opportunity to expand the representation of diversity at WA through more inclusive events.”

As for why Saheli was chosen to donate to, Chatiwala cites how their work hits closer to home than she would like it to.

“I think the commonness of domestic violence in South Asian and Arab countries is often overlooked, and so I am happy we chose a fundraiser that can have a helpful impact,” Chatiwala said.

At Chaat Masala, the president of Saheli, Neelam Wali, gave a short speech pertaining to the work their organization does for South Asian and Arab women. In her speech, Wali tied together the problems that these women face and how students at WA can take matters into their own hands. She also mentioned the importances of raising awareness to help prevent problems by being in healthy relationships and caring for loved ones.

In addition, tote bags were also sold at the event in order to further raise money for the club to actually host the Saheli event itself. According to Ingerslev, Wagner had extremely late nights just to sew the handmade tote bags. At the event, sophomore Natalie Strauss managed the tote bag table in the vendor’s corner. All profits from the bags were donated to Saheli.

“[Saheli] is a lot about women empowerment and women healing and making the world a safer place for all women,” Strauss said. “We all need to stick up for one another.”

Human Rights Club will be discussing Chaat Masala’s success at their weekly meeting on Thursday, May 19. At the same time, they will be generating goals for next year and deciding what other organizations they would like to host fundraisers for.

Stay tuned for an update of this article after May 19.