|Srinagar, Srinagar district, Jammu and Kashmir, India
Shehla Rashid Shora is an Indian politician and activist, currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She joined the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement political party, founded by Shah Faesal on 17 March 2019. She was vice-president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) in 2015-16. She was a member of the All India Students Association (AISA). Shora rose in prominence whilst leading the student agitation calling for the release of Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and others who were arrested on charges of sedition in February 2016 for participating and organizing anti-india sloganeering as well as celebrating 2001 Indian Parliament attack master mind Afzal Guru.
She is vocal about the human rights situation in Kashmir, particularly highlighting the plight of minors held in custody awaiting trial, and has been active since 2010 after organising a youth leadership programme in Kashmir. She played a leading role in visualising the ‘Occupy UGC movement’ and pioneering the decision to “camp” at UGC for fellowships. She led the protests to the Ministry of Human Resources Development to ask for an increase in graduate student stipends. On 16 February 2019, Shora posted a Tweet stating that a group of Kashmiri girls were trapped in a hostel in Dehra Dun by a mob demanding their expulsion. The Uttarakhand police subsequently filed an First information report against her for disrupting public tranquility and intent to provoke breach of peace by spreading rumor.
Early life and education
Shehla Rashid Shora was born in the old city of Srinagar in the Habba Kadal locality.Shora studied computer engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar and participated in a ten-week certificate programme in political leadership at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. After graduating from NIT Srinagar she worked as a software engineer with HCL Technologies. She raised the issues of juvenile justice and acid attacks on women in Kashmir but “the political space there [was] too restricted.” Eventually, she joined the Jawaharlal Nehru University, completing an M.A. in sociology and then studying for an MPhil in Law and Governance.She is currently pursuing her PhD from JNU which is based on “how algorithm based decision-making affects policy making”.
Speaking at the India Today Conclave in March 2016, Shora said that she grew up watching a “very violent image of India” but JNU gave her democratic space.
She is one of the few Kashmiri women who are vocal about the human rights situation in Kashmir, particularly for ensuring justice to minor undertrials and has been active since 2010 when she was part of organizing a youth leadership program in Kashmir. She participated in a seminar asking to change internet harassment laws. In 2013, when Pragaash, an all-female band composed of young Muslim women, faced online harassment and death threats from Islamic conservatives in Kashmir, she came out vocally in support of the band and condemned the online abuse and threats directed at them. She said an interview to the Times of India: “They may quit because of intolerance, rape, and murder threats, because of our selectively conservative and hypocritical worldview, because men can issue rape threats to women and no one would call it unIslamic, because men can pinch our butts in the bus and no one would speak up, because men can jack off to item numbers in private but three innocent girls performing in perfectly modest clothing outrages our so-called morality”. She launched a counter online campaign ‘I support Pragaash, Kashmir’s first all-girls’ rock band’ to mobilise support for the girls.
Shora unsuccessfully contested the election for the student election to Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment in 2014.
In September 2015, she contested the election for vice-present of the JNU student union, as the nominee of the Left-backed All India Students Association, and won it, beating the ABVP’s candidate Valentina Brahma by over 200 votes. She was the first Kashmiri woman to win a student union election at the JNU and the highest polled candidate of that year. She said that there was enough space to articulate her political spirit at the JNU. However, her challenge was to “convince voters in favour of a Kashmir woman from a non-political background.”
Soon after getting elected, Shora condemned the ban on student politics at the Kashmir University. She said that, if ideas are suppressed, they would resurface in “undesirable ways. In October 2015, she led a protest against the University Grants Commission (UGC) decision to cut student scholarships for MPhil and PhD students except for those that passed the `national eligibility test’. Under the banner “Occupy UGC,” students from the JNU were joined by those from the Delhi University, Jamia Milia Islamia and the Ambedkar University Delhi in protests outside the UGC for over a month. She is said to have ironed out the divergences between the AISA and the JNUSU and turned into the “face of the movement.”
In February 2016, Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the JNU students’ union, was arrested on sedition charges for anti-India sloganeering. Several other student leaders were charged with sedition, including the general secretary Rama Naga and a former president, Ashutosh Kumar. Shehla Rashid ran the union during the interim period as she was the only office bearer not facing charges. Over 4,000 people joined her in a protest march on the JNU campus on 14 February led by her. On 18 February 2016, around 10,000 people joined a march in defence of JNU through the streets of Delhi, on Shehla Rashid Shora’s call. On 2 March, she led a protest march to the Parliament, demanding the repeal of the sedition law. The protesters also called for the enactment of a `Rohith Act’ for ending caste-based discrimination in educational institutions. The protest was joined by students and teachers from universities across Delhi as well as the families of Rohith Vemula and Umar Khalid.