Book deal for JNU leader

Shehla Rashid had been the face of the JNU student resistance when Kanhaiya Kumar was in jail and many other student leaders had gone underground.

By Pheroze L. Vincent
  • Published 26.07.16
Shehla Rashid

New Delhi, July 25: Shehla Rashid had been the face of the JNU student resistance when Kanhaiya Kumar was in jail and many other student leaders had gone underground.

The JNU students' union vice-president is now penning that experience in the form of a book on the current unrest on Indian campuses that Penguin Random House India is set to publish.

Shehla, a Kashmiri, told The Telegraph her debut book would draw on the insights of students at the universities she visited and forums she spoke at in the past five months.

"People want to know why the students are on the boil, particularly after the Narendra Modi government came to power. There is something happening in India that is not being explained by the media," she said.

"I will reflect upon the students' movement through the range of experiences I have had. I want to tell the story from the perspective of a Kashmiri and a woman."

If Kanhaiya, member of a CPI-backed student body, has come to represent the new-age communist who delivers jargon-less polemic in a rustic drawl accessible to the Hindi hinterland, Shehla is the urbane and articulate radical. She is a member of a far-Left student body linked to the CPIML- Liberation.

Her book, with the working title I, Student, is expected to hit the stands early next year. A spokesperson for the publishers said: "We will subsequently look at publishing it in Hindi, Malayalam and Urdu."

Rajni George, senior editor with Penguin Random House India, said Shehla would "take us into the heart of young India today, and its political life".

"As a leader, woman and activist, she is in a unique position to comment on events that have stirred India and continue to incite debate, headlines and change," George said.

"I met her the day Kanhaiya Kumar was released from prison on bail, and have been impressed by her voice, agency and judgment ever since."

Kanhaiya, the JNU students' union president, and two others were arrested on sedition charges after a February 9 campus event that allegedly featured "anti-national" slogans.

As the arrests triggered a national debate, Shehla pushed the students' agenda at 17 places across the country.

"I feel that the story of student politics in India is untold and misunderstood. The book is about education, about politics and about Kashmir," Shehla said.

"The current turmoil in Kashmir once again points to the grave need for understanding Kashmir, just as the current unrest in universities across the nation points to the need to understand our youth."

Shehla said she was keen to publish in Malayalam because of the warm response she had received in Kerala during her two trips there.

"In other places you need to campaign. In Kerala, people are naturally receptive and there is no hostility," she said.

"Even in small villages, we got tremendous support and faced several genuine questions about our campaign in defence of universities."

Kanhaiya is working on his memoir, From Bihar to Tihar, to be published in English and Hindi by Juggernaut Books.

The challenge before Shehla and Kanhaiya, they both told this newspaper, is to find the time to finish their books.

An agitation is brewing at JNU against an order to PhD scholars to vacate their hostels within a day of submitting their theses.

Also, campaigning has begun for the students' union elections, scheduled in September, with Dalit assertion and Kashmir the main planks.