Published: 19th February 2019
Can't take chances with students' lives: How Shehla Rashid has been helping Kashmiri students stay safe after Pulwama
Shehla said that right now the distress calls had subsided and there was no extraordinary situation currently. She also demanded to know why the violence instigators were not being taken to task
The Dehradun Police has filed an FIR against student activist Shehla Rashid Shora for 'spreading rumours' by tweeting about Kashmiri students trapped inside a hostel as a mob outside demanded their expulsion. Shehla, a Kashmiri herself has spent the last three days co-ordinating thousands of distress calls from Kashmiri students across the country and says if faced with the same situation, she would put out the same tweet again.
"What else is Twitter for? The police are supposed to respond with help to such a tweet, not file an FIR. In a situation like that, where students are calling with so much fear and panic, we cannot afford to take chances. We have witnessed 1984, Ehsan Jafri, we cannot afford to lose another Najeeb. We have to reach out for help and that's what I did," Shehla said.
#SOSKashmir 15-20 Kashmiri girls trapped in a hostel in Dehradun for hours now, as an angry mob outside demands that they be expelled from the hostels. This is in Dolphin institute. Police is present but unable to disperse the mob. @INCUttarakhand @uttarakhandcops @ukcopsonline
Instead, Shehla asks, why the police cannot file an FIR against Vivek Verma of the Bajrang Dal who is demanding that Kashmiri students be expelled from colleges and universities and instigating violence against them. Shehla believes the FIR is politically motivated but says she has been too busy handing and coordinating distress calls to find time to respond to it.
On call since Pulwama
For the last three days, Shehla says that she has not slept a wink and even when she eats, she's talking on the phone to some student in some part of the country. "Some of the attacks have been physical but most others have been calls of distress. Students are having to flee their hostels as protests have erupted outside," she said.
By filing a FIR against @Shehla_Rashid instead of the Bajrang Dal & it’s convenor Verma @uttarakhandcops have shown they’d rather take sides than deliver justice by upholding the rule of law. https://t.co/OuhyYurBUQ— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) February 19, 2019
In all of this, there are people who are still trolling her and sending her messages on WhatsApp, while she coordinates. "I've just been reporting and blocking everyone." When asked about how she is going to respond to the FIR once things settle down, she said that she didn't fear the law and would be ready to face it, "We have all the information regarding these calls and have that as proof. Like I said I would do it again," she added.
Can somebody help?
When the attacks began, Shehla noticed that there were a lot of people including politicians like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti who the students were reaching out too. So she felt that creating a group consisting of officials, activists and students could help organise better help for those in need. "In order to avoid duplication and false information, we even created a sheet to keep track of all the callers because we were getting thousands of calls. But we weren't able to help all the callers, in fact, we were helpless most of the time because the calls were just flooding us. We were able to handle about 23 cases though and we're continuing to handle a few more," she explained.
The student leader said that they have tried to do the best they can by using the best channels to reach out to the state police. "Thankfully, there have been no casualties. Some people have been beaten up but otherwise there is nothing too serious," she informed us. "In most cases, the event is localised and politicised. It is not like the general public is out to attack all Kashmiris. But we have been tracking the calls on a spreadsheet and none of the information we have put up on social media is in any way exaggerated," she added. She also said that many of the distress calls they are continuing to get are from Mohali, but says that the attacks are being instigated by a group. They are not organic.
#SOSKashmir Following up on the 25 odd distress calls we got. Most are safe, being protected by local police. Many are back in Kashmir, having bought expensive air tickets. Still, some cases of eviction by landlords, refusal by guest house owners, assault, etc. coming in.
— Shehla Rashid شہلا رشید (@Shehla_Rashid) February 18, 2019
"Right not there is no extraordinary situation. But we do appeal to the police in Mohali and Jammu to do more to provide safety for the students there," Shehla said and added that she wants the students to reach out to the PCR and local activists and get help.
Fear is the great unifier
For the last three or four days, Shehla says she hasn't left her room because she is connected to the Wi-Fi and the distress calls are endless. But as a Kashmiri student herself, she says there was also an element of fear in her just like any other Kashmiri student. Now though the calls have subsided but a lot of people are still trying to flee. "We are trying to encourage the students not to flee but instead reach out to the local police for help. The local police, the college administration and the authorities should take responsibility and protect the students," she added.
"The students are so scared they don't even want to talk to the press, not even anonymously," she said. But she stresses again that the calls have subsided, "We are getting calls but they are not panic calls, not ones with a nature of immediate urgency. We are encouraging students to resume their normal lives. But they can still reach out to us if they are in trouble. However, they should just dial 100 first," she explained.
When asked about the sort of help, Shehla and her associates provide, she said that in case students are fleeing and are on a bus then they alert the police in the area to provide protection. "The people responding to these calls are all doing so while also going about their day. Even the Home Secretary has been helpful, Rajnath Singh has come out to provide help. This is what we need right now for everyone to work together," she said.