The death threats and fatwas are rolling in because Pragaash happens to play Western-style rock music, and because they happen to be women.
Earlier this week an all-girl Kashmiri band called Pragaash, who happen to be the first all-female rock band in the country, broke up. Bands break up all the time, no big deal, right? Well, no. But usually bands aren't forced to break up after death threats, cease orders, and actual fatwas are levied against them by state-sponsored Muslim clerics.
The threats are coming in because Pragaash happen to play Western-style rock music, and because they happen to be women. After winning a battle of the bands in Srinagar this year, the band started to receive staggering amounts of public online hate. It started with a Facebook page, which questioned if Pragaash’s performances were “appropriate in the Muslim-dominated society in Kashmir." Others raised broader questions on the Islamic approach to music and role of women in the society. Some commenters were supportive of the teenage band, while others called them “sluts” and “prostitutes.” I guess “sluts” in Kashimir are 16-year-old girls who wear jeans and play guitar.
Things got heated when the region’s top elected official, Omar Abdullah, defended the girls online. Taking to his Twitter account, Abdullah urged Pragaash to continue, writing that “The talented teenagers should not let themselves be silenced by a handful of morons.” Abdullah was immediately slapped down for supporting Pragaash, because the Muslim establishment believed that performing in a loud rock band is a step towards Westernization. On Sunday, February 3, Kashmir's top state-sponsored cleric Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad issued a fatwa ordering the girls to "stop from these activities and not be influenced by the support of political leadership.”
"They feel terribly scared and want an immediate end to this controversy once for all." That's the band’s music teacher, Mattoo, speaking last Tuesday: "After an edict by the government's own cleric, these girls are saying goodbye to music."
In a statement to the BBC yesterday, the band told reporters that "music was our passion. We did not know it was un-Islamic. 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. We respect their opinion and we have quit. But I don't know why we are being stopped."
In one interview (which blurred the girls faces), one member noted that the Facebook hate did not stop the band, but the official fatwa did. She noted that they could not fight the ethics and morals of their city.
"We have decided to quit in deference to the decree of the Grand Mufti, who knows religion more than we do," the lead singer Nazir told Newtrack India. “Yes, I am sad to quit the band, but we are not forced to take the decision under any fear.” Since the international attention began, a Support Pragaash Facebook page has been made, but the founder recently posted that the girls wanted some space and for the media attention to stop.
No one really knows how to feel about this. We're confused. We feel naive, sad, and angry. Sometimes I think that anger is the emotion that happens when our expectations aren’t met: We're angry because we expect women all over the earth to be allowed to play music. Maybe that’s naive. Maybe we're fucking ridiculous for thinking that, in 2013, three teenage Kashmiri girls could be allowed to write songs together and perform them on a stage without receiving so much hate from the religious majority of their home country that it turned into a worldwide issue.
I used to coach at Girls Rock Camp, a non-profit organization that aims to give girls confidence through learning to play music. I always requested to teach the teenagers. No one wanted the teens, because teenage girls are shitty, entitled, and deeply confused. They want to impress you, but they also don’t give a shit. They hate themselves, but they're the only ones living their lives correctly. Everyone's an asshole.
Writing songs with them made me feel so happy, especially when we nailed that bridge or all found the perfect word combination to rhyme with “ripe gut” or whatever overly emotive phrase they were all stuck on. It was so much more triumphant, because they had agency. They were so close to fully equipped, yet so, so far. I mean, the girls just wanted to play and show everyone what they'd created.
How would it feel to grow up knowing that singing and dancing violates your country, and your religion?