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Brave Arusa, Kashmir’s young achiever, stands up to trolls over Hijab row

Arusa Parvaiz Shah who was commended for achieving the first position of merit among all streams in Class 12 was trolled for appearing before the camera without a veil

When results of the class 12th exam in Kashmir were declared by the Jammu and Kashmir State Board of School Education (BOSE) on Tuesday, February 8, there was unexpected jubilation, particularly among the female students and their families, across the valley. Most of the top merit positions had been grabbed by the girls.

While the girls outclassed the boys in all streams of Science, Commerce and Arts, they grabbed the lion’s share of the first 20 positions as well as the overall distinction categories. Among the girls, 78 percent passed the exam—27,104/34,879. Among the boys, not more than 72 pc—26,971/37,301—qualified.

Arusa Parvaiz Shah (17), the daughter of an ordinary shopkeeper and a student of Kashmir Harvard Naseembagh, secured the first position of merit among all streams. She obtained 499 out of 500 marks i.e. 98.8 pc.

On Saturday, 12 February, Srinagar’s Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Aijaz Assad draped Arusa with the State honours. She revealed her ambition of taking admission in IIT Delhi and becoming a nuclear scientist. Assad, the young IAS officer himself an alumnus of IIT Delhi, counselled her to try for Engineering Physics as it would ultimately lead her to the nuclear science stream.

The unexpected elation at Arusa’s home was quickly dampened by the valley’s unbridled moral Police, enjoying a field day on the internet after the Supreme Court of India read down certain sections of the Information Technology Act. As soon as someone is seen in conflict with a particular secessionist or Islamist narrative, raucously sustained by the militancy’s overarching ecosystem, familiar toll brigades begin to shoot in the social media.

Like innumerable victims in the past, trolls were let loose on the teenage student Arusa who shot into limelight coincidentally parallel to a female Muslim student defending her right to wearing Hijab at a college in Karnataka. Arusa is particularly trolled for appearing before camera without Hijab.

“Begairat… Pardah nai Kia… Eski garden Katt do (She is shameless, has not covered herself. She should be beheaded)” wrote one of the hundreds of her toxic trolls. Most of the trolls have attacked her for not covering her head and face like Karnataka’s Muskan while speaking on camera.

Unlike the troll brigade’s previous targets, Arusa put up a bold face even as all of her family members are traumatised with apprehensions of her safety and security. “It doesn’t matter to me. If 40% of the social media users are trolling me, 60% are supporting. But my parents are in trauma”, Arusa told the reporters. “My religion, my Hijab and my Allah are my personal issues. What I would wear or not should not bother people if they believe in the greatness of my religion” she asserts, this time covering her head with the hood of her jacket.

“Hijab doesn’t essentially define someone’s religious identity and perfection. May be I love Allah more than others. Hijab is our right.  I too will wear the Hijab but only when I become a perfect Muslim”, says Arusa.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police have not been able to create an effective deterrent even as it has occasionally filed one-odd FIR against such trolls under tremendous social pressure.

“We are completely helpless after the honourable Supreme Court scrapped the effective sections of the IT Act”, said a senior Police officer. According to him, Police were now simply making entry of such complaints in a daily diary—denying investigation and prosecution. “FIRs are registered only if some complainant approaches a court and gets a direction. Even after that, the Police, including its cybercrime sections, have not taken any investigation to the logical conclusion of prosecution and punishment for incriminating posts.

The judiciary as well as the rights activists and the freedom of expression champions outside Kashmir do not appreciate the difference between trolling, threatening and intimidating someone in the valley—where the gunmen at the back of the separatists’ intellectual ecosystem have been striking at will at their targets—and other areas of the country where the law enforcement agencies work without any interruptions.

In the past, defying a militant diktat or clashing with their ecosystem has on several occasions resulted in a target’s death in Kashmir. Acid and other chemical substances were sprinkled on the girls not observing the Islamic dress code. Some of the dissidents were fired upon and left injured or maimed. The valley remembers how theatre groups and music bands were muted out of virulent campaigns in regular and social media; how Bollywood enthusiasts were forced to return to what is widely called as the ‘decent lifestyle’.

Most of the trolls operate incognito but many of them run their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts with their real names and display pictures. They make their victims vulnerable to murderous attacks from militants and stone pelters. They even hold out threats of rape and murder. There is no extant deterrent with the law enforcement agencies.

“The State’s failure to act has immensely emboldened the trolls who feel it easy to target anybody”, said a retired Police officer. “If FIRs are filed, suspects arrested and action taken in similar threats to journalist Rana Ayyub in Mumbai, why doesn’t the same apply to Kashmir”? asked a retired Police officer.

“Whenever we filed FIRs in such matters, the accused approached the court and the judges quashed our actions. Still we file some FIRs under different sections of IPC but the accused are quickly bailed out and they resort to trolling. We are responsible to make every law-abiding citizen safe, physically as well as emotionally. We are committed to safeguarding every citizen's life, honour and dignity. But our actions without necessary legal equipment don’t serve the purpose”, said an officer.

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