— In Indian Kashmir, an all-girl rock band
has called it quits after a Muslim cleric issued a fatwa calling on them to disband. Assurances of protection from the state government apparently failed to reassure the teenage girls.
The three high school girls had enthusiastically formed the rock band after winning an annual music contest held in the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar, in December. They called it "Praagaash”, which means from darkness to light. It was the Muslim majority state’s first all-girl music band.
But, it folded up a day after the chief Muslim cleric in Jammu and Kashmir, Bashiruddin Ahmad, said singing is un-Islamic and issued a fatwa calling for them to disband. His edict followed an online campaign of threats and hate messages targeting the teenage girls.
Amid the outcry which followed, the state’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, extended assurances of police protection to the girls and hoped they would not allow a handful of “morons” to silence their music.
Politicians, artists and media across the country rallied to their support.
“We do hope that on this issue across the political spectrum in Jammu and Kashmir, there would be a degree of unanimity which would ensure that the freedom of speech and expression can be allowed to flourish without any curbs on it,” said Manish Tewari, the federal information and broadcasting minister.
The head of the opposition People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, says she is taken aback by the controversy because Kashmir boasts of a long line of successful women artists.
“Even I am surprised," she admitted. "Kashmiris have admired their women singers. We have great singers at this point of time and people really love their singing. We have been listening to their songs all through our lives. This whole issue has kind of painted Kashmiris as if they are women haters, they live in some kind of stone age, which is contrary to what Kashmiris are, they are very emancipated.”
Mehbooba Mufti says the controversy is getting a lot of publicity. She says following one religious ruling would only encourage further edicts.
“If we don’t put our foot down at this point of time, it has started with these three young girls. Tomorrow they will be dictating something else," noted Mufti. "We need to stop it here. It is not about religion.”
The rock band initially also faced the ire of the separatist Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir, which said there is no room to nourish Western culture in the state. But, following the national outcry, it stepped back and said it had nothing to do with the fatwa.
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority state and hardline Islamists have tried to impose Islamic law since the onset of an anti-India insurgency in 1990. Last year, a Kashmiri religious group, the Jamaat-e-Islami, said tourists should follow a dress code and not move around in mini skirts and other objectionable dresses. It was largely ignored.