Shehla Rashid: Victim or Vengeful Operator?

Jawaharlal National University (JNU) student leader Shehla Rashid Shora addresses a gathering as Dr. Shah Faesal (unpictured) launches a new political party 'Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement (JKPM)' in Srinagar on March 17, 2019.(Photo by Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP/Getty Images)

Shehla Rashid is a bright young woman, articulate and savvy enough to make her voice heard even in the face of extreme opposition. An engineering degree from NIT, Srinagar, a certificate programme at IIM-B and much later, a Ph.D in JNU have all moulded her into a forceful speaker and fiery leader. When knowledge and spunk get together, it makes for an individual who is confident and courageous. Shehla is also well clued-in on the dynamics of social media platforms and has an innate understanding of the art of messaging and metrics.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that youngsters like Shehla have managed to embarrass the Modi government far more than the opposition parties of the land.

In that sense, the country needs more Shehla Rashids who can help keep the government in check. But Shehla and her Twitter activism have a troubling and controversial side to it as well.

She had once tweeted about a "group of Kashmiri girls trapped in a hostel with mob outside baying for their blood".The incident, as it happened, turned out to be a false alarm. Also, much later she came under scrutiny again as there were unseemly allegtions that she had swindled the funds collected for the Kathua rape victim. In the aftermath of the backlash to that, Shehla had also quit the Twitter platform.

But with the Jammu and Kashmir on the frontburner, Shehla is back in the thick of it. Shehla's series of tweets that alleged that the Army had been ransacking houses and picking up innocent civilians and torturing them.

The Army has denied the charges and said the allegations are fake and mischievous.

Meanwhile, there has been a huge chorus for the arrest of Shehla for making the 'false' claims.

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir being what it is, it is impossible for mainstream journalists to independently verify the veracity of Shehla's charges.

But in this age of social media domination, individuals with lakhs and lakhs of followers are in themselves media brands. Shehla, who currently has over 600,000 followers, should understand that when she makes such serious charges, then the onus is on her to provide supporting evidence, just like any media house.

Shehla has made these charges without a shred of evidence to back them up. This is irresponsible considering the kind of traction that her tweets get.

The section of the media that is antagonistic to the present ruling dispensation has hopped on to her bandwagon and are also claiming that democracy is dead. How can it be when Shehla is able to make her (so far) unsubstantiated claims and also the fact that thousands and thousands of her followers are supporting her, and sections of the media are turning in reports in support of her?

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is far from normal. The government is, without doubt, stumbling its way through it. Yet, the Jammu and Kashmir issue is also what Pakistan is trying to use to create trouble for India. Those who have seen the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989 when Muslim groups virtually shut out the State and targeted the hapless Pandits would understand the enormity of the challenge that the government is up against.

Even given the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, no one needs to toe the line of the government. But at the same time, it is equally important to not play mischief to derail whatever the government is attempting to in Jammu and Kashmir.

Shehla Rashid's brand of social media journalism is irresponsible and unjustifiable. She comes across as less of a victim- more a vengeful operator. So which is it?