From the light into darkness | Kiran Manral

From the light into darkness

Jammu and Kashmir’s first female rock band ‘Pragaash’.

Jammu and Kashmir’s first female rock band ‘Pragaash’.

Pragaash. From darkness to light. That is what these three young girls had named their band. They had the distinction of being Kashmir’s first all girl rock band. And they announced yesterday that they were disbanding.

The band, comprising three class ten students, had performed in December last year at ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition in Srinagar and won the best performance award in their first public appearance. The group was promoted by the group, Bloodrockz and was getting immensely popular. Along with the popularity, they were also getting threats. And then came the fatwa.

On Sunday, the Grand Mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, Bashiruddin Ahmad called singing “un-Islamic” and issued a fatwa against them. To quote him, “Society cannot be built or developed by doing un-Islamic acts like singing. I have advised these girls, and other Muslims as well, to stay within the limits of modesty as prescribed for them.” Online, the girls were subject to vicious abuse and rape threats. Hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani stated that the parents need to watch over their wards and “teach them moral science” and help remove “waywardness in society.” And they received a threat of ‘social boycott’ from the Dukhataarn-e-Millat, a radical orthodox women’s outfit.

As of today, the Facebook page Bloodrockz of the band, shows that the three girls, drummer Farah Deeba, guitarist Aneeka Khalid and vocalist-guitarist Noma Nazir, had quit the band. They have also gone into hiding.

There was support for them, no doubt. The Chief Minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah tweeted, “I hope these talented young girls will not let a handful of morons silence them. The police will examine the threats issued & whether any provision of the law can be used to book those making the threats. #Pragaash.” The leader of the opposition in the state, Mehbooba Mufti stated, and I quote, “Singing has been a part of our culture and we have had many famous female artistes from the region.”

Interestingly, music and singing was not always forbidden in Kashmir, in fact this is a region which has given us poetesses like Lal Ded, who wrote verses in medieval times, which went on to inspire later generations of Sufis and Habba Khatun whose songs and story are an integral part of Kashmiri folklore and literature. In more recent times, Raj Begum, Shameema Azad, Kailash Mehra and Mehmeet Syed have been loved by the masses, with Raj Begum being awarded the Padma Shri award in 2002.

While I must admit straight up, that I have no knowledge about the laws on singing and dancing in Islam, I do know that what is allowed and what is not has been under much debate in recent times. Shaikh Adel Al Kalbani, a former imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, split the establishment midway when he stated in 2010 that, “There is no clear-cut religious ruling that says singing and music are not permissible in Islam.” (Read link here: http://www.ummah.com/forum/showthread.php?264240-Shaikh-Adel-Al-Kalbani-Islam-does-not-forbid-singing-and-music) In another instance, also in 2010, a religious ruling by the president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, Dr. Yousef al-Qardhawi, permitting singing by women caused much debate. To quote from the news report, “Al-Qaradawi, while a prominent International Islamic scholar, is widely known for his moderate view of Islam. He was quoted as saying: “there is no hindrance against women to sing, except that singing should be within an acceptable Islamic legal frame that insures singing is not accompanied by prohibited practices such as dancing or drinking alcohol.” (Read link here: http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2010/09/18/119639.html)

The J&K police have filed a complaint against those who abused the girls online, most of them have been identified as per news reports at the time of writing this and could be arrested. Online, the support poured in for the girls from Kashmiris on social networking sites like twitter. A facebook page and a petition came up to support them, with thousands of supportive comments. Music director Vishal Dadlani tweeted asking to get in touch with them, to offer them a record contract. A radio DJ, Karan Talwar from Radio 79 Delhi, asked them to send across their songs so they could be played on the radio, in support.  But this was not enough. Initially, the band decided against performing live. They then announced they were disbanding. The fact they were terrified enough to disband, despite all this support, is telling enough about the real, tangible threat they face. Their crime was merely that they were girls, who chose to make music. The threat of social boycott is what was perhaps, the last straw on the backs of these young girls. Without the support of their families, the insecurity of fearing for their physical safety and that of their loved ones, the girls perhaps chose what seemed the only option for them—to give up something they were passionate about, and something they were good at. They had to be good at their music, in order to be able to win best performance for their debut performance itself. With their disbanding, comes the sinking realization that we have let the fanatics win, we have let fear win. That we, as a people, have failed these young girls. And that we are slowly, irrevocably moving towards darkness, a darkness that does not allow music, which does not listen to dissenting opinions, and which cloaks everything in the miasmal cape of religion and offended sensibilities.

(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

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