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Kashmir’s First All Girl Rock Band Quits After Top Muslim Cleric Issues Fatwa Ordering Them To Stop
February 5, 2013
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At one time or another, a lot of teenagers dream about being a rock star or at least starting a band.

Of course, it's one thing to dream about it; it's another to actually do it and be good enough to play live shows.

Well, three high school girls in India-controlled Kashmir did it - forming a band called 'Pragaash', which means "First Light" in Kashmiri.

They were billed as the region's first all-girl rock band.

But now, after just one concert, the girls have quit - having received threats on social media and a demand from a top Muslim cleric to stop performing.

The girls - drummer Farah Deeba, bass guitarist Aneeqa Khalid and singer and guitarist Noma Nazir - said they're sorry if "the people" were unhappy with their music.

Their manager Adnan Mattoo told the Associated Press "they feel terribly scared and want an immediate end to this controversy once for all."

"First, the girls had decided to quit live performance due to an online hate campaign and concentrate on making an album. But after an edict by the government's own cleric, these girls are saying goodbye to music."

One of the girls spoke publicly today, although she wasn't identified.

She said the band decided to pack it in, because they respect the cleric's decision - saying he is "more aware of our religion."

"Everything was going fine 'til the fatwa was issued," she said.

The Press Trust of India quotes a band member as saying, in a choked voice, "Kashmir is not a place for music. If anyone wants to learn music they have to go out."

"We just quit only because of the people of Kashmir... We did not know that they are unhappy with our music."

The band played publicly for the first time in December in Srinagar, the main city in the Indian part of Kashmir.

They took part in a 'Battle of the Bands' competition and won the best performance award.

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Photo: thehindu.com

After the show, some Kashmiris took to the internet to support the girls but many questioned whether the performance was appropriate in a Muslim society.

Others called them "sluts" and "prostitutes" and said their families should be thrown out of the region.

This past Saturday, the region's top elected official promised that police would investigate the threats.

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

"The talented teenagers should not let themselves be silenced by a handful of morons."

But on Sunday, a top Muslim cleric, issued a fatwa ordering the girls to "stop from these activities and not to get influenced by the support of political leadership."

The cleric said the band was against "Islamic teachings," that music was "bad for society" and women must be under a veil at all times.

He also suggested the girls adopt "better values" and that such "behaviour" contributed to rising sexual assaults in India.

All of this is a far cry from when the girls first started playing together. Here's a report from late last summer.

According to the Times of India, police have identified "at least six Facebook users who had posted hate messages" and that "arrests are likely to be made in the next couple of days."

Support for the girls is also growing. Mamata Sharma is the Chair of the National Commission for Women.

She told the Hindustan Times, "On the one hand, we say that both genders should be equal but on the other hand we put restrictions on girls, that girls cannot do this... I believe this is very wrong."

Several MPs are also supporting the band, with one saying "If you don't like songs, don't listen to them. To stop them in the name of religion, I don't think it is the right move."

Another MP accused the cleric of making "a profession out of issuing fatwas on every issue that is defaming religion."

All of this highlights a divide in the Muslim society of Kashmir, between modern and traditional values, the influence of "Western culture", and the role of women in society.

At its core, the issue isn't women performers or music, says one Kashmiri sociologist. It's about political power and control.

"It becomes an issue when these strings are used to subvert a dominant political reality," Wasim Bhat told AP.

"The tension between modern and traditional is in every society. But what exemplifies this in a conflict situation like Kashmir is its motivated politicization," Bhat said.

At one time, as the Guardian points out, "Kashmir, which has a long tradition of female singing and music-making, was known for its folksy, tolerant religious culture."

It was split between India and Pakistan when the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947.

It is India's only state where Muslims are the majority. Starting in the 1990s, Islamic militants fought to gain independence from India.

As part of their 20 year fight, the rebels closed theatres and liquor stores, calling them "un-Islamic" and ways for India to impose its culture.

India's military responded with crackdowns that included torture, kidnapping, extortion and murder.

In recent years, the violence has eased, and music and theatre shows have started up again. But some of the hardline rules are still in place.

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