New Delhi, February 19
She draws big crowds with her eloquent speeches at Left-leaning meetings. And her politically-flavoured messages are shared by thousands on social media.
Meet ‘comrade’ Shehla Rashid Shora, a girl from downtown Srinagar, who has emerged as a prominent voice of the ongoing agitation demanding release of Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNU students’ union president facing sedition charges.
Twenty-seven-year old Shehla came under the spotlight for the first time on February 14 when a 14-minute video surfaced, showing her giving a speech to a gathering of protesting students. The fierce speech followed a protest march by over 3,000 people on JNU campus.
“They ask us what do you want azaadi from, what type of azaadi do you want? Today we will define this azaadi, this entire country wants azaadi from WTO (World Trade Organisation), from casteism, from discriminatory laws,” she said in the February 14 speech.
Shehla hails from Srinagar’s Habba Kadal locality, the hub of Kashmir’s political turmoil for more than two decades now. Her mother — a nurse in Srinagar’s SK Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS)– and elder sister live back home.
More than self, Shehla prefers to talk about the issue that has hogged national headlines. I do not want to tell anything about myself, she said.
In one Facebook post, she explains her agenda.
“Two years of activism in JNU and my political training has taught me to stand up for the most vulnerable, for the last man. It has taught me to address the inconvenient and controversial issues.”
Shehla’s Left leanings are not too old. In one of her posts on her blog , in 2013, she wished Muslims on the birthday of Prophet Mohammad while explaining the “feminist aspect of the Prophet”.
After graduating in computer engineering from NIT, Srinagar, Shehla studied political leadership at IIM Bangalore. At JNU, she is pursuing MPhil in Law and Governance. Her friends said that JNU provided her a much-needed platform which created the activist in her.
She contested the election for Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) in JNU in 2015 which she lost. In September the same year, she won the election for vice-president’s post of JNUSU as a nominee of the Left-backed All-India Students’ Association (AISA) defeating Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s Valentina Brahma.
“She is different from other Kashmiris on campus in a sense that she comes across more as a nationalist than a secessionist,” said one of her close friends.
After the Delhi Police arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla, the vice-president, took charge of leading the protest.
“We stand with Kanhaiya, Rama, Ashutosh, Anant, Umar and Anirban. We are campaigning for the release of Kanhaiya so that we can together, fight against the sedition charges imposed on the other five people, so that we can together fight against the academic suspension of all the 8 students, so that we can lead this movement together,” reads one of her posts.
On Thursday, Shehla’s call for the JNU Solidarity March received overwhelming support on social networking sites. Her Facebook wall was filled with messages in support of the march, not just against Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest but also against the state’s attitude towards students.
“15,000 people marched through the streets of Delhi today in defence of JNU. Arrest them all, they are all seditious. Media won’t report this,” she said. Police put the number at 5,000.
Prior to the JNU turmoil, Shehla worked on gender issues, human rights, juvenile justice and free speech. She was also a prominent face during the ‘Occupy-UGC’ protest in November last year.
“I condemn the relentless media trial of Umar Khalid and I would like to make it very clear that every student is equally innocent until proven guilty,” she said