The tenuous calm in Kashmir stood broken recently, not by the sound of gunfire, but by a nervous silence. And preceding that, a lot of noise. A three-girl music ensemble, the first of its kind in the Valley, had to call it quits on the heels of a hate-mail campaign, online threats and a fatwa by a government-backed mufti. “We decided to quit in reverence to the fatwa of the grand mufti,” Aneeqa Khalid, 16, the group’s vocalist, told Outlook. She insisted that she and her bandmates, Noma Nazir and Farah Deeba, one of whom has reportedly left for Bangalore to recover from depression, hadn’t taken the decision out of fear. “The grand mufti says a rock band is un-Islamic. We don’t know much about Islam, but since the mufti has issued a fatwa against our band, we respect it,” Aneeqa added, refusing to take any more questions.
Pragaash (light) shot into prominence after winning a “battle of the bands” talent quest on December 22 with a maiden performance. They had rendered Bulle Shah’s verses in their version of Sufi rock, earning a standing ovation from the young audience. Speaking to the media after the show, they had said: “Through the notes of the guitar and the beats of drum, we want to tell everybody about the sufferings of the people of Kashmir.”
Yet, obscene threats to the band members were posted on social networking sites almost immediately. Just two days after the performance, the band’s Facebook page had this: “Post this status in advance. The three band girls raped at Jammu and thrown into river.” “They themselves are cause of rape incidents.”
What did not help the Class 10 students is the fact that the show was sponsored by the CRPF, whom many Kashmiris view with utter hatred. “We have music and poetry in our blood. We’ve grown on the verses of Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon,” Kashmiri poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef told Outlook. “But I don’t need a CRPF wallah to encourage me to sing or write.” A columnist wrote in a local daily, “Barely 10 km from Srinagar, a school has been training girls in the art of classical Kashmiri Sufi music and instruments. Probably because the military was never involved in introducing these girls to a dying art, controversy never touched them.”
The ambivalence is everywhere. Kashmir’s only Jnanpith awardee, Rehman Rahi, says since rock is an “alien” genre, it may be resisted in a land of Sufi music. “This pop and rock band is all Greek to Kashmir which has been a cradle of music, poetry and literature,” he told Outlook. But Naushad Hussain, a teacher at Kashmir’s only fine arts and music institute, is dismissive of both the separatists and the grand mufti. “Threats and fatwas can’t silence artistes. Please leave these young girls alone. Let them and others showcase their talent,” he says. Every year, he adds, 10 students, half of them girls, graduate in music from the institute. “None has ever encountered any trouble even at the peak of militancy in the ’90s, so why now?”
Others question the credibility of the mufti himself. Accused of taking money for fatwas, Mufti Bashiruddin is also viewed as an “Indian agent”. During the “street intifada” of 2010, for instance, he earned the wrath of protesters when he termed stone-pelting as un-Islamic after meeting then home minister P. Chidambaram. The next year he put Kashmir on the boil again after issuing a fatwa asking for the expulsion of four Christian pastors from the Valley accusing them of trying to convert people. Separatists like Geelani had then rejected the fatwa and tempers cooled down. One hopes better sense prevails yet again and the people of Kashmir are able to enjoy their freedoms.
I read Outlook’s story about the all-girl band from Kashmir with interest (Band On The Run, Feb 18). It is disheartening to see such talented girls having to bow to such unreasonable fatwas. Mufti Bashiruddin wants Kashmiris to dance and sing, but only to his tunes. Shameful!
Amrita Muttoo, Mumbai
Why did the members of the band Pragaash beat a retreat in its battle against a fatwa? Why were the government and liberals a mute witness against this shameless muzzling of artistes? If extremists’ diktats can get the arts scene to cow down, it sends a grim message. The authorities should take action forthwith.
C. Chandrasekaran, Madurai
I don't see any which way to have an opinion, but it might be, that Muslim men and Muslim women, pray separately, because it seems inappropriate, to a woman, that a Muslim man prays in the manner he does, and to a Muslim man, that he feels uncomfortable, that a Muslim woman, prays to God in the same manner, when he is present. That is why, in Mosques, women and men pray separately. There seems to be a sense of equality and consideration of gender, here. It seems to be the west, who are very vocal, in criticism, of practices of religion, when religion is not to do with the state. It seems, religion seems to sanction equality and fraternity not to do with states and nations, represented by governments, perhaps that is why we hear concerns about religions and issues of state and government. For instance, the govt. will not brook differences with religion, as it will differences it sees with individuals, only to do with state matters.
It is a cultural thing more than anythingelse.
The feminists however are cunning enough to runaway with it as a flagship issue, unlike males for example who still circumscise other males for similar cultural reasons.
The difference being of course, thst males do not have the crookedness to call it a cultural issue as a gender issue.
Kashmiri culture is very weak. It can be shaken if a few girls sing songs.
Pragaash the band which won the title of "battle of bands" had to beat a retreat in its battle against fatwa in Kashmir. What went wrong? Why did the government and the liberals stand a mute witness to the challenge against freedom of music? Who played villainy? If the diktat of extremists in the valley could send shivers down the spine of freedom of arts, it is a grim message for the ruling dispensation to act upon. The troika of girls music band is humbled more out of the threat of fatwa and less out of the Islamic faith as the girls explained.It is a sequal to the silence and inaction of the J&K government to curb violence when elected Sarpanches were brutally killed at the hands of extremists. It is unfortunate that the political climate in the valley does not permit women to emerge in social, and cultural fronts. The ploy of "western culture" focussed by the extremists, hardly justified the ban .While hate speeches under the banner of religion are booked in some states, such cultural extremism taking the toll of the girls band,demonstrates that the voices protesting the injustice are too feeble to be heard in J&K state. It is a challenge thrown open to the freedom of arts by religious fanatics which has to be met squarely by all.
I have high regards and respect for the decision made by the band acting under obedience towards thier elders and religion. Its a tipical clash of inovative thinking against the traditional thinking backed by the name of religion. Music being a mystical experience in itself has no boundaries. It is to bring people together rather than tear them apart. Band should not give up try another way to continue, talk it through. They are expressesing our culture in thier own way. They got talent i say boost it.
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