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A birdsong for Twitter India's head for news, Raheel Khursheed

Sunday, 12 January 2014 - 8:09am IST | Agency: dna

Ishfaq Ul Hassan profiles the man who, despite the BJP's objection, has just been appointed Twitter's India head for news, politics and government.

Years ago, when Raheel Khursheed would sign in to compere a western music programme on Radio Kashmir Srinagar, hundreds of girls would skip class to listen to his voice and accent.
Fluent in English and precise in command, Raheel had a huge fan following —who would write to the producers not just with requests for a particular Michael Jackson track, but to hear the man who enhanced their request with loads of anecdotes. “He hosted the Western Music programme for four years on Radio Kashmir. He was a brilliant boy with lots of innovations and ideas. We would sit for hours discussing things under the open sky. It was a treat to watch and listen to this young boy,” says Humayun Kaiser, a well-known broadcaster who mentored Raheel at Radio Kashmir Srinagar. 

Circa 2014; a young, slim, part-time radio jockey of Anantnag has made Kashmir proud by becoming the India head of news, politics and government of popular micro blogging site Twitter. “The phones haven’t stopped ringing since the news of his appointment broke in the media.
Today, I feel I’m the proudest mother around,  given Raheel’s achievement,” says Jameela Khursheed, Raheel’s mother, who is also praying fervently to keep the forces of the ‘evil eye’ away from her son.

Like any another Kashmiri parent, Raheel’s father too wanted him to become a doctor or an engineer and settle down. “In fact, we sent him to the coaching center to prepare for the entrance test. But his heart was set on media. We respected his wish and allowed him to live his dream”, says Khursheed Hussain, Raheel’s father who retired as senior lecturer of education department in the J&K government.

With a degree in zoology and botany from Anantnag, Raheel decided to leave Kashmir to pursue his passion in media. Destiny took him to Pune where he joined the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communications for a master’s degree in mass communication with a specialisation in journalism.

Raheel was among the few students selected by CNN-IBN during campus placements and joined them in their Noida office in 2006. Till September 2009, he handled different assignments from desk to field, and excelled in every department. “The story of a Kashmiri model arrested on spying charges in Bangladesh and the interview of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s daughter during his open heart surgery are some of  the highlights of his career. He was also one of the youngest reporters to cover the external affairs beat at the age of 25,” says a journalist friend of Raheel.

After a three year stint in CNN-IBN, Raheel returned to Kashmir in 2009 and joined Times Now’s Srinagar Bureau to handle the day-to-day editorial functioning. A dreamer, he soon realised that he needed to do something for a society in crisis following two decades of militancy. This got him to join the Mercy Corps as Project Coordinator heading the Youth Relationships and Alliances for Transformation (RAFT) Project. The project trained 40 young journalists in writing and critical thinking skills. The project also oversaw Kashmir’s first and only, youth-led leadership summit ‘One Young Kashmir’ in which more than 3000 young Kashmiris came together to deliberate issues on the economy, rights and culture.

In between, he also volunteered for Amnesty International as the digital campaigner for human rights. Using Twitter, he championed the cause of young boys arrested on charges of stone pelting. “In fact he joined twitter in 2008 because he knew the power of social media which he used to the fullest”, says another close friend.

The big challenge came when he joined change.org as director of communications, India in March 2012. Raheel led the online ‘stop rape now’ campaign after the Delhi gang rape and more than four lakh people signed the online petition against rape. “He is a leader par excellence who knows his job well,” say friends who know him well. It was this turnaround which became the stepping stone for him to be appointed by Twitter as the India head for news, politics and government.

Raheel, 30, has been entrusted with the job of providing front-line technical support to news, government, political users of Twitter, solving problems and escalating to internal support and policy teams as needed. dna tried to reach Raheel, but he said he wasn’t allowed to talk to media.

“Manage, track and expand Twitter’s relationships with journalists/editors and government officials or politicians; increase the active usage of Twitter significantly among them”, reads the post on his Twitter and Facebook page. Raheel’s job profile includes taking Twitter to the lowest denominator of society by engaging with key verticals like media, government and politicians.

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