Fatwa Snowballs, Kashmir's First All-Girl Band Calls it Quits

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music – Aldous Huxley

The first all-girl rock band from the war-torn Indian region of Kashmir has quit after a local Muslim cleric issued an edict calling the girls’ behavior un-Islamic.

The short-lived musical group, which goes by the name of Pragaash, meaning “from darkness to light”, had also been the target of online and offline abuse since the band formed in December 2012 after winning the best performance award at the Battle of the Bands contest in the region's capital city of Srinagar.

Indian media have pounced on the story, but the press are not actually interested in issues of freedom of expression or civil liberties, Mohamad Junaid wrote in a piece for the political magazine Tehelka:

Pragaash The Band -

Pragaash The Band

Indeed, it is tragic that some stray, abusive comments against the band on social media by a few anonymous youth — which snowballed into a controversy after the highly unpopular ‘Grand Mufti’ in Kashmir jumped in to issue a fatwa against music and women performing on stage — has now put these teenagers’ future in music in jeopardy. TV channels picked the story to paint Kashmiri society either as a threat to India’s secularism or as misogynist. Most Kashmiris don’t have access to social media. The broad brushes of generalisation, however, which work in tandem with stereotypes against Muslim societies, paint all of them as uniformly extremist.

A number of Facebook pages dedicated to supporting Pragaash have launched, and a chorus of support for members Aneeqa Khalid, Noma Nazir, and Farah Deeba has emerged from discussions of the injustice online. Meanwhile, police have arrested a few of the band's alleged online abusers.

Twitter user barkha dutt (@BDUTT) wrote about the cleric's unpopularity:

@BDUTT:The fact is that [religious cleric] Muft's fatwa subverted Kashmirs own traditions. The resistance to him is aptly coming from Kashmiris themselves #pragaash

Karsh Kale (@karshkalemusic) tweeted about the mighty guitar:

@karshkalemusic:they are afraid that a girl with a guitar might just be more powerful than a man with a gun….and they are right….#fatwa

Cover of a Facebook page supporting pragaash

Screenshot of a Facebook page supporting Pragaash.

The band's official Facebook page was last updated on February 3 to announce in separate posts that members Noma and Farah were quitting, prompting thousands of users to comment.

Debashis Das begged the girls not to quit:

Dont Quit Please…India as a nation has become intolerant to freedom of expression….if you are a politician or have muscle power then only you are going to be liked whatever you do…i think the FREEDOM OF SPEECH is AT STAKE…so pls pls dont QUIT….

Saba Danawala offered the girls a message of support:

Would really like to see more Muslim women's voices here, to be honest – and while I can understand why the girls are quitting, please, do come back when you find the strength within you. Muslim women around the world and in South Asia need women like you – not just women who live up to the status quo.

Pelin Ariner professed admiration of the band:

I am a Turkish muslim woman and I admire you for making an all girls band. Even in the western world that is rare. You are all awesome and you sacrifice NOTHING of your worth and beauty in wanting to play music and express yourselves. Don't let all the old-fashioned people dictate what you can and can't do.

Manoj explored the reasons behind the religious pushback against Pragaash on his Google Plus account:

പൗരോഹിത്യത്തിന്റെ ഉത്പന്നമായ മതമൗലികവാദം പൊതുവേ എല്ലാ കലകള്ക്കും എതിരാണ്. അതിന് കലകളില് ഉള്ളടങ്ങിക്കിടക്കുന്ന സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യദാഹം പൊറുപ്പിക്കാനാവില്ല. അവയില് പുലര്ന്നുപോരുന്ന പാരമ്പര്യനിഷേധം അനുവദിക്കാനാവില്ല. അവയില്നിന്ന് പുറപ്പെട്ടുവരുന്ന ആനന്ദം അംഗീകരിക്കാനാവില്ല. രാജാവിന്റെയും പുരോഹിതന്റെയും പുരുഷന്റെയും എന്നുവേണ്ട, ആരുടെയും അധികാരത്തെ വെല്ലുവിളിക്കുന്ന ഏതോ ഒരംശം ഓരോ കലയിലും കുടിപാര്ക്കുന്നുണ്ട്.

Religious fanaticism is always against all kind of art. They cannot tolerate the freedom which art perpetrates. They cannot tolerate the rebellion of art. They also cannot tolerate the pure joy that emanates. Art defies the chauvinism existing in empires, state, men, and priests – all forms of power.

Sahar Lotfi, a member of an Iranian all-woman musical group, sympathized with Pragaash, telling reporters that she wants the girls to perform again. The band is currently visiting India:

“We are so sorry to hear (about the Kashmir girls’ band Pragaash). We are so happy to perform in India but why can't they?”


Thumbnail image courtesy Pragaash Unofficial Facebook page.

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