Kashmir has a long tradition of poetry and music, and has produced iconic female singers including Raj Begum, Kailash Mehra, Naseem Begum and Shamima Azad, the wife of India’s health minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad. A handful of male bands, including BloodRockz and Tales of Blood, are fusing the Western genre of music with traditional Sufi music
The first ever girls rock band in Kashmir gave a scintillating performance at the annual ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition in Srinagar organised by paramilitary forces and won the best performance award in their first public appearance. The 10th class students—vocalist-guitarist Noma Nazir, drummer Farah Deeba and guitarist Aneeka Khalid—had formed a band “Pragaash”, which means “First Light” in Kashmiri and their public performance oozed a refreshing change in Kashmir. But, over a month after they went public, the girls have bid goodbye to music. The promising band attracted national and international attention, which however quickly turned bittersweet as the girls became a victim of an online hate campaign, where they were called names.
Kashmiri pages on social networking sites like Facebook hotly debated the band. Some questioned whether the performance was appropriate in the Muslim-dominated society in Kashmir and others raised broader questions on the Islamic approach to music and role of women in the society. Many commentators backed the girls, but others were abusive, calling them “sluts” and “prostitutes” and wishing the girls and their families to be expelled from the region. Strangers ridiculed them for being un-Islamic because they had performed in public before unknown men. Some even suggested they could be raped for their performances.
It was not all that bad and the girls were even preparing for lyrics and music of their next number till last weekend when the grand mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, Bashiruddin Ahmad, branded them as “indecent” and issued a fatwa calling for them to disband, the girls decided to quit.
The Grand Mufti argued that women must live in veil at all times. “If they want, they can sing in front of their mothers, sisters, but they cannot perform in public, in front of unknown men.” The Grand Mufti also blamed women for rapes. “When girls and young women stray from the rightful path… this kind of non-serious activity can become the first step towards our destruction, if something wrong happens to them, the opposite gender cannot be blamed for it.” Grand Mufti is the highest official of religious law in a Sunni or Ibadi Muslim country. The Grand Mufti issues legal opinions and edicts, fatwa, on interpretations of Islamic law for private clients or to assist judges in deciding cases.
Adnan Mattoo, the rock group’s music teacher and manager said, “They feel terribly scared and want an immediate end to this controversy once for all, adding that the girls won’t talk about their decision to disband and what led to it. “I know it from my last eight years’ experience that we could have easily dealt with the online abuse,” Mattoo said. “We were failed by the government-run mufti, who asked us to forget our music and declared our band against the religion,” he said. In one of her earlier interview, Aneeka Khalid has said that they drew their inspiration from Metallica, Green Day, Iron Maiden and Cradle of Filth, doing alternate rock covers and their own compositions. “It was awesome and overwhelming,” Khalid, the 15-year-old bass guitarist, we were getting other offers to play, but after all this media hype and the Mufti fatwa, we have decided to quit”
It was learnt that the families of the girls, who were left to fend themselves forced the teenagers to snap their contact with all, especially the media. “We have seized their cell phones and laptops, their band has been shut. Nobody is safe here. The Chief Minister’s tweets and the police can’t protect us. We don’t want to get caught in politics,” the mother of one of the girls not wanting to be identified, said. The state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah emerged as a big supporter of the girls, assured protection to the girl band. “If they want to pursue their music, we will provide them security. However, I cannot tell them to continue or discontinue. It has to be their decision.” Omar further said that threatening innocent children was un-Islamic. “I don’t know what kind of religion those people are following. If they are threatening innocent girls of rape and murder, I don’t know what religion they are following.”
Aneeka has been sent out of the state to Bangalore by her parents. “My daughter had been depressed and irritable so we decided to send her away till the fuss dies down,” said her mother, who did not want to give her name. Breaking her silence for the first time after the furore over the all-girl rock band, its guitarist Aneeka Khalid has been quoted in media that she never knew that their band would generate so much controversy. “I respect grand mufti Bashir-u-Din and his advice and have decided to quit music,” she said. The girl said that she was too small to know whether music was un-Islamic, but I am no longer interested in music or in the rock band. I have given it up,” she said.
“It was awesome and Overwhelming,” said Khalid, the 15-year-old bass guitarist, adding that they were getting other offers to play, but after all this media hype and the Mufti, we have decided to quit. “There are many artists from Kashmir who are performing. But they did not issue a fatwa against them. They did not stop them… But we are being stopped. I don’t know why we are being stopped,” she said. Since 1989, Islamist fundamentals have off and on tried to impose Islamic ruling, forcing the closure of cinemas, beauty parlours and liquor stores, even sometimes attacking those who tried to defy them.
Kashmir has a long tradition of poetry and music, and has produced iconic female singers including Raj Begum, Kailash Mehra, Naseem Begum and Shamima Azad, the wife of India’s health minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad. A handful of male bands, including BloodRockz and Tales of Blood, are fusing the Western genre of music with traditional Sufi music. Meanwhile, supports are being built up from many sections of the society and all political parties- local and the national. Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti also condemned the abusive threats to the rock band and blamed the media for negative portrayal of the issue. She said the reporting of the issue, particularly in electronic media, gave an impression that Kashmiris were a’Taliban-like’ force. “Music is art. The state government must intervene. I really don’t understand the fatwa. So I will not comment on it.”
Interestingly, Omar Abdullah, in response to fatwa tweeted- the girls should ignore “a handful of morons”. But within minutes, the comment was withdrawn. Sensing the mounting support for the girls, hardliner faction of Kashmiri separatist group Hurriyat Conference has also distanced itself from the’fatwa’ and said, “There is no threat to the girls. Nobody has issued any threats. It is a mere propaganda by the media and they are making a big bomb out of a normal issue to defame Kashmiris.”
Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Police has registered a case and identified several Facebook users who had posted abusive and threatening messages on the page of the only all-girl rock band of Kashmir. While the police are identifying all those who have threatened the girls, the leader of Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Nation), Asiya Andrabi backed the fatwa issued by the Grand Mufti against the band. Andrabi said there was nothing wrong in stopping the girls from performing on stage. “If we didn’t stop them now, it would have been hazardous to the girls.” she said.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu