Kashmir's first all-girl band quits after threats and cleric's decree

Teenagers disband following violent threats and cleric’s decree of ‘un-Islamic behaviour’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 February, 2013, 4:06am


An all-female rock band in Kashmir has decided to split up following threats of violence on social media and a fatwa from a senior local Muslim cleric.

The three teenage members of Pragaash (which translates as "First Light") told reporters in India's only Muslim-majority state they were sorry if "the people" were unhappy with their music and that, to respect the religious ruling issued by Grand Mufti Mohammad Bashiruddin at the weekend, would no longer play.

The cleric, who has a history of controversy, had said the first all-female rock band in the contested state, was against "Islamic teachings" and suggested that such "behaviour" contributed to rising sexual assaults in India.

"Muftisaab has said our music is un-Islamic. We respect him and the people of Kashmir. That is why we quit," one unnamed band member, whose face was obscured in broadcast footage, told Times Now TV.

Muftisaab has said our music is un-Islamic. We respect him and the people of Kashmir. That is why we quit

The affair has revealed deep tensions in Kashmir, which was split between India and Pakistan when the two nations gained independence from Britain in 1947. As elsewhere in India, young people in the state are adopting lifestyles that challenge conservative values and authority.

The Kashmir cultural clash comes in the aftermath of the rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in December in Delhi. Both Hindu and Muslim conservatives blamed the attack on "westernisation".

But the situation in Kashmir is complicated by other factors, including the inroads made by more rigorous strands of Islamic practice, often influenced by hardline thought in Pakistan and the Gulf, in recent decades.

Previously Kashmir, which has a long tradition of female singing and music-making, was known for its tolerant religious culture.

A vicious insurgency in the state through the 1990s and into the following decade caused tens of thousands of deaths. Now violence is rare but a new puritanism is still strong.

The decision of Pragaash has also raised broader fears about freedom of expression in India.

In the last two weeks an exhibition showing nudes was forced to close temporarily by Hindu right-wingers, a spy film dealing with Islamic terrorism was banned in the state of Tamil Nadu, Indian-born author Salman Rushdie was barred from Calcutta and criminal complaints were registered against an academic who claimed people who rank lowest in India's caste system were responsible for most corruption.

One minister spoke of an atmosphere of "competitive intolerance".

"The challenge for us as a society has got to be to find the right balance that leans more towards freedom and not towards repression," said Shashi Tharoor, who is a writer as well as minister for human resource development.

The members of Pragaash have, however, received support from the elected chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, who has ordered police to trace those who posted threats of violence against the band, which was formed three months ago, on Facebook.

"Shame on those who claim freedom of speech via social media and then ... threaten girls who have the right to choose to sing," Abdullah tweeted.

"I hope these talented young girls will not let a handful of morons silence them."