Shehla Rashid Shora,a free speech activist and researcher with the Internet Democracy Project is the prominent youthful face of Kashmir especially in the world of Social Networking, known for her campaigns against human rights violations and fighting the battle for oppressed sections especially the Acid attack victims’.

In an exclusive interview with The Kashmir Scenario, Shehla Rashid Shora talks to Rameez Makhdoomi.

Tell us a bit about yourself? I graduated from National Institute of Technology, Srinagar in 2011 and worked as a software engineer for some time before joining the India Women in Leadership program at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. Writing and activism continued to be my first love. Now I work as a free speech activist and researcher with the Internet Democracy Project, New Delhi. I used to blog actively but the more you know the quieter you become. Nowadays I usually confine myself to 140 characters (Twitter). I write columns only when I feel the need to express something very strongly.

How do you view the rising Internet culture among Kashmiri youth? The Internet is a great enabler and it can also widen the social divide to the disadvantage of those who do not have access to it, precisely because it is so enabling. It is wonderful to see that Kashmiris are not lagging too far behind in using the Internet to their advantage although we are yet to realize its full advantage. The Internet is what you make of it, as is the case with any other tool. It is incredible how well Kashmiri social media users are telling their undiluted stories through the Internet to the world. We must not use it for destructive or negative purposes. Although we have a right to protest against content that offends us, we must do so in a suitable manner. If we protest against the Internet itself, the government will respond by banning websites- since they’re so fond of bans”- as happened in the recent protests against some obscure American movie Innocence of Muslims”. We have to understand that there’s no dearth of offensive material on the Internet but the worth of content is decided by people who choose to heed it. As Internet users we can effectively filter content that we don’t like from reaching us. We must do that and guard ourselves against incitement to violence. We must engage in civilized debate which is at the heart of democracy.

What are your aspirations? I have endless aspirations. My guiding principles are peace, justice and secularism. I believe in democracy and total freedom of expression. In my lifetime I want to see a peaceful Kashmir where my people feel free to speak their mind, to dream and to live without fear and with dignity.

> What makes you fight passionately for burning issues on online world? > I can’t tolerate injustice, majoritrianism, hypocrisy and extremism. I fail to understand how people can have tolerance for these. These principles guide not only what I say online but also what I do in my real life.

Who is your role model? My role model is a non-conformist.

How do you view the impact of social networking on our society? Well, it’s our way of getting ourselves heard when the traditional media choose to ignore us and I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that. I’ve used it extensively for generating awareness about and support for various causes. Besides these, I’ve also taken to online petitioning and citizen journalism to promote causes that I care about. I look at these as experiments in democracy. I have found considerable support from social media users from all over India and this includes some eminent journalists and human rights champions. This was possible but not easy by any measure in the pre-social media days. At the same time, social media have made it much easier to cheat, fool and harass people online. There is a great need to stay cautious online.

Originally published in The Kashmir Scenario.