‘I’m a Kashmiri Muslim And I Want To Change India’

Shehla Rashid

Our Model Of Politics Is No Non-sense Model: Shehla Rashid 

Born in a middle-class family in downtown Habba Kadal, Shehla Rashid Shora did her graduation from NIT, Srinagar in Computer Sciences in 2011 and soon got a job in HCL, Delhi. It was around 2012 when rape and murder of Nirbhaya stirred the Indian conscience and brought youth on the streets. Shehla too became part of the movement but felt restricted by her job to play a more robust role. Moreover her background in computers, she felt was not enough for her to join debates and discussions on issues close to her heart.

She got into JNU, switched over to Social Sciences stream in 2013 and did her MPhil in 2015. By 2016 she was a star speaker at JNU thanks to her oratory skills and was elected Vice President of the students union.

My parents are not comfortable with me joining politics or being in limelight, Shehla told Kashmir Observer in an exclusive interview. They are worried and want me to settle down with a good job and get married”.

But I tell them there is no one without politics. Even being apolitical means siding with the status quo.” Isn’t that politics?, she asks. I want to speak up on the issues very dear to me as I want to lead a purposeful life.”

Here is the full text of the interview.

Q- Do you believe you have graduated from student politics to general politics?

I believe I graduated into general politics on February 14th, 2016. I made a speech two days after Kanhaiya Kumar (JNU student leader) was arrested, after which I started getting messages from my most apolitical of friends. Here it hit me that this is getting outside of the university.

Q- Can we say that you, Kanhaiya and everyone else around you are in the process of forming a political party? Or are you going to join any traditional party?

You see on ground there is no opposition to the BJP. Congress has no one even to lead in Lok Sabha for so long. Unofficially it’s only us (students) who are doing the job of opposition. We have been talking about issues together and have launched an invisible platform against the incumbent government. We have been voicing the aspirations of the youth, and one of the aspirations is getting rid of the Modi Govt which we will continue to do. We are still assessing the situation. We believe that in mainland India it is unifying the opposition that can keep the BJP out, and I will continue to meet youth in the state and in rest of India. When I have something to declare, I will. People don’t have any confusion on where I stand in my brand of politics.

Q. Being a Muslim from Kashmir and that too a woman, you have plunged into the national politics of India. Where from did you draw such confidence? And do you think you can make a difference?

I think what sets me apart from the rest of the leaders is that I am not afraid to talk about issues. If I feel that Muslims in India are being suppressed, I will talk about it. The important thing is people have to support you. That’s where you get the confidence from. As I have said, when I was a student, I won the University election. I was able to articulate their voice better as I have not grown as a minority. I am a Sunni Muslim who form a majority in Kashmir and that helped. Kashmiris also are politically more conscious and I believe competent to lead. The students at the university (JNU) supported me a lot and they put faith in me. So from there, I got a lot of confidence and I thought I can do something for the country. And the credit goes to Modi (Laughing) also. Like I said there is no opposition to Modi-led government except students. If I would have been a student of Kashmir University, I would have never risen because student politics is banned here. So I am playing a role of opposition and I gave tough challenges to the ruling party. Politics is a taboo everywhere and if we talk about politics in Kashmir it is traditionally a taboo too, but you have to change it.

No offence, but the media is really crawling right now in front of the government. They set the agenda in the country.

Q. You rose to prominence in mainland India on issues which had less resonance in Kashmir? How did the idea of coming into state politics come to your mind?

I am in mainstream politics since the last four years; I believe there was no opposition to the Modi government, so we played that role. So in that sense, I have already been in opposition. It was basically the Nirbhaya gang rape incident of Delhi that brought me to the politics because that incident really bothered me. I started going to the protest, participated in the rallies and gave speeches. So that was my entry point into politics. And it was Asifa’s (Kathua) case that brought me into the state politics. Because when BJP was rallying support for the rapists, I thought their divisive politics has reached to our state too. So that was a kind of reality check that BJP was not only in power in the state of Jammu and Kashmir but they were trying to change things on the ground and there was no intervention from our side. So that really bothered me and pulled me towards state politics.

Q. How closely were you involved in Kashmir while being in Delhi?

I have been in touch with the students here. Honestly speaking, before completing my M.Phil, I wasn’t fully into state politics. Now I am trying to understand things here on the ground. I am visiting every district of the state and meeting people. There is an expectation from the people that I should come fully into politics and contribute, and I am trying to sort out how I should contribute.

You can’t overlook Kashmir and still do national politics. All of BJP’s politics in the rest of India, is based on what they are doing in Kashmir. I as a Kashmiri have the right to talk about Kashmir, and I want that freedom of expression to be made available to everyone here. People need to be able to articulate their politics without being put in prison.

Q. Speculations are that you are joining National Conference?

Honestly, I don’t know to whom they (section of media) have spoken to regarding the story, but I have offers not only from NC but almost all others political parties barring BJP. I am now assessing the options and trying to connect to the people. I can’t say right now whether I have to join this political party or that. I have yet to make up my mind.

Q. During your last visit to Kashmir you said in an interview that Kashmiris should be given the right of self-determination. How do you explain this dichotomy: Joining a mainstream Indian party and talking about the right to self-determination for Kashmir at the same time?  

Ummm see if we go by the history there was plebiscite that was supposed to happen but unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, but for me, it’s too narrow because you have only two options available either India or Pakistan. Honestly speaking I don’t see any difference between the both. The thing is both the areas are disputed, Indian administered Kashmir and Pakistan Administered Kashmir. The sentiment by large here in J&K is an independent secular state. The issue is when leaders like Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Abdullah and other could not resolve the dispute, how can I? I am not here for running a campaign for the right to self-determination. I am not going to claim that I will do this thing and that thing.

Q. People in J&K have experienced all kinds of political parties and yet they seem unimpressed because they feel betrayed by all of them. What is in there you can offer them now? Why would they support you?

This is a fact that people here feel betrayed. You have a recent example of PDP, which sought votes to keep the BJP at bay and yet cobbled an alliance with it to form Govt later. You know they were participating in funerals of militants and exploiting the sentiment of the people here. They were talking about Self Rule but forgot it the moment they got power. So people’s anger with the political parties is genuine. I was very proud that my state had a female chief minister, but she failed us all.

Our model of politics is no non-sense model. Majority of the people in Kashmir are struggling for dignity. People are being humiliated, human rights is a big issue here and there is huge corruption everywhere and people want to get rid of this and that is what I stand for. I want to restore the human rights and the dignity of people here.

Q- Why do you think Mehbooba Mufti compromised so much in order to share power with the BJP?

She failed to stand up for Kashmiris. She couldn’t stand up to the centre. Sheikh Abdullah was removed because he confronted the centre and rose in stature. Mehbooba failed to do even that much, even when civilians were being killed. When the people of Kashmir were being stigmatize, she was offering bouquets to Modi. When pellets were being fired upon Kashmiri civilians, she was holding press conferences with Rajnath Singh and berating journalists for asking questions. The Kathua case should have been the final nail in the coffin. Her own cabinet ministers were holding pro-rapist rallies. In that moment, she should have left the chair. It was always the PDP trying to save its alliance with the BJP.  She lost the support of her own people who had come out in large numbers to vote for the PDP in order to keep the BJP out. PDP could have formed a government with someone else, so in no way can they justify their alliance with the BJP by claiming helplessness.

Q- In Kashmir even educated youth now pick up arms. How do you see it?

It’s failure of democracy and social justice. If we look at the armed insurgency in Kashmir, it started at the point where the Muslim United Front was completely denied their right. They would have made their own government after 1987, but whatever happened to them was denying them their basic rights, which is why their cadre picked up the gun. Up until this moment in 87, it was incredibly easy to cross the border which wasn’t so tightly guarded, and get trained. But this episode forced people to pick up arms, which happened only after democracy was denied to them. Such types of phenomena don’t stay confined to Kashmir. If a killing or rigging of elections gets normalised here, it will also happen in the rest of India. The same Congress party which rigged the 1987 J&K elections is crying out saying EVM’s are tampered with in Indian elections. These institutions and processes are normalised in Kashmir, which is why they gain validation in India.

Q- One of the rhetoric used against you is the fact that you are still studying as a Ph.D. student. Do you think this has given rise to a sense of anti-intellectualism in India?

If you look at the roots of RSS and their basis, it lies in distortion of history, presenting wrong facts and pseudo science. They specifically target JNU, where you do the best Ph.Ds. in the most time efficient manner. Here we are at the cutting edge of research. We are specifically targeted because JNU is a very radical and progressive place, which has always stood for progressive politics, whether it was against the Emergency, Anti-Sikh riots, every time we have endorsed secular politics. This goes directly against the RSS foundational basis. However, the JNU bug has spread. The movement isn’t confined to JNU alone. If you look back, the movement started at FTII, which was the first institution that stood up to the Modi government. The reason we are being stigmatized is that they want to strip us off public support. But we too have been flashing our degrees in their faces. I put my mark sheet on the internet, and it is laced with As. We need to counter their rubbish with facts.

Q- You are seen engaging in debates with your political opponents. Many of them have openly used phrases against you amounting to hate speech. Since they aren’t being charged, is this an endorsement of their antics by the state?

No offence, but the media is really crawling right now in front of the government. They set the agenda in the country. When we go for these discussions, you’ll usually see two people from the Left and three from the Right. Even the people who say the vilest things are never really stopped. They call us things like, Dayan, Chudail etc. on stage, and the moderator never really stops them. When we try to make a point, the moderator will immediately stop me. So whatever the Right says goes out uncensored, and whatever we say gets curbed or restricted. We are told before going on stage not to say certain things. Thus I would put the responsibility on the editors of these media houses. They have normalised hatred. They do it because they have a very corporate structure, in which they are too embedded.

Q- If in a certain period of time you decide to contest elections, how do you see yourself facing competition from the most powerful/wealthiest political parties in India which are extremely cash rich?

Something like this can only be countered ideologically. You can’t counter the ideology of hatred by offering money. We have to raise issues with people, which include pro justice and youth issues. We’re optimistic we will be able to make a social change. We have to stand with secular politics and talk about issues that matter such as employment and education. Things like rapes and lynching have to be voiced out against.

Q- You are a product of student politics, but student politics in Kashmir has been banned for decades. How do you see Kashmiri youth taking you seriously in such an atmosphere?

The youth connects or disconnects with us on issues. If it resonates with them, we connect. Kashmiri youth are extremely aware on where they stand for, and I am going to remain consistent and honest in my politics. In New Delhi we are called anti-India, here in Kashmir we are called pro-India, but the reality is we are pro-people. I have been very consistent in my politics. I stand for the rights of civilians, gender equality, juvenile justice, against rapes in the state and I will continue to do this without misleading people. As I said our model of politics is no non-sense model.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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