May 5, 2014 By Abdul Basith

Tracing the Pragaash: Hard-lines of Melophobia


February, this year Pragaash (means First Light) – the first all-girl-musical-band of Kashmir after a brief musical journey in the beginning decided to quit in the wake of a fatwa issued against them.  The band members had live performances spiced with music and energy to make the people around them happy, but what they got in return was a string of death and rape threats on their social media pages and mobile phones.

The all-girls-rock-band formed by three teenage Muslim girls made their first public appearance on December 2012, when they participated in a ‘Battle of Bands’ competition in Srinagar, where they received the award for the ‘Best Performance’. The band members are three 10th class students, namely vocalist-guitarist Noma Nazir, drummer Farah Deeba and bassist Aneeka Khalid. Kashmir owns a legacy of stalwart female musicians like Raj Begum (even won Padma Shri in 2002),  Zoona Begum, Lal Ded, Shameema Azad, Kailash Mehra, Mehmeet Syed and many others whose songs and poems are an inevitable part of Kashmiri culture. So by winning third place in this competition organised by an Indian paramilitary force the band was successful in challenging the recent male dominated music trends in Kashmir and not surprisingly this provoked many misogynists.

The attacks online and through texts sent to their mobile phones did hit their morale and with their parents being worried about their security, the band decided to keep a low profile. “They are just 15 and too young to face such abuse.  They are hurt. They cried, but I tried to convince them to continue” says the band manager Adnan Matoo. The sad thing was that though there were many online who protested the abusive campaigns and many who backed the girls including musicians, artists and politicians all across India, a single fatwa by the Kashmir Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad following the abusive threats online, forced the girls to disband Pragaash. The girls felt it safe to quit than to rely on the support and security assurances by people like Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

Omar Abdullah who initially extended full support and security to the band was found saying, “I hope these talented young girls will not let a handful of morons silence them”. He was firm on his stand even when the Grand Mufti described the band as “un-Islamic” as he was found tweeting, “Given the importance the people attach to the fatwas of the Grand Mufti, the less said the better.” The tweet got deleted soon and his explanation was like “Once there is something on Twitter, even for a minute, it is forever. I put it and then deleted it after I got the reaction I wanted.”

Later, there was a huge shift in his stand as he started giving out excuses for not ordering the mufti’s arrest saying that he had only asked the girls to stop and hasn’t any way threatened them. Reassuring security for the band this time he said that it is up to the girls to decide on whether to play in future or not. Again, with regard to the mufti he said “Were he to have threatened the security of the girls, then that would have been a different situation”.

Any way there were arrests of the two who were held on charges of online abusing but with the impact the fatwa could create in a few intolerant, conservative, misogynist minds the girls might have found the security offers not so reassuring, and so expressed their respect for mufti sahib and the online protesters, who believed singing is ‘Haram’.

Many among the separatists, including hard-line faction of Hurriyat Conference, distanced itself from the ‘decree’ issued by grand mufti. The Kashmir mufti is not new to controversies; in the past too his fatwa’s have riled even the separatist factions. They accuse him of acting on the government’s behest. Hurriyat led by Geelani termed the fatwa issued by the grand mufti as ‘mysterious’ saying such things give rise to ‘lawlessness in the society’. But the Hurriyat’s disagreement with the cleric was in no way an expression of solidarity with the girls as they were keen to underestimate the threats online as a mere propaganda by the Indian media and were least concerned about advocating freedom of expression to a group of victimised girls belonging to the very same class of oppressed Kashmiri people – whose rights they claim to advocate.
It was not just the administration who ditched them; the Indian mainstream media and many who protested the abusive campaign online were in a way contributing to another loathsome campaign busy indicting the Islamic radicalisation in Kashmir. They were busy searching the roots of Muslim fundamentalism in Kashmir to Pakistan, Taliban and further; instead of backing the efforts from the part of a few Kashmiri based internet activists and NGO’s who got together to counter the online abuse against the girls. “The reporting of the issue, particularly in electronic media, gave an impression that Kashmiris were a ‘Taliban-like’ force”, says Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti.

“We mobilized organic Kashmiri support for them (Pragaash), the media then took note of the story and framed it as an Islamic radicalization issue. The politicians hijacked it further resulting in the girls disbanding post the state sponsored Mufti’s fatwa” says Shehla R. Shora, Project Officer of Internet Democracy Project and Raheel Khurshid, Director, Communications at, who has been instrumental in gathering support for Pragaash online.

The success of the Pakistani girls’ band by 33-year-old cousins Zebunissa Bangash and Haniya Aslam belonging to the ethnic Pashtun tribe and residing at heart of the Taliban-infested region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan is indeed a ray of hope for Pragaash. ‘Zeb & Haniya’ have tasted fame across borders thanks to their choice of music, fusing Central and South Asian melodies with Western acoustic guitar and drums. They too had faced similar abuse and threats online but they were fortunate enough to survive and play music even after ignoring all those threats. “There shouldn’t be too much importance attached to fundamentalists who just want limelight”, they say.

When the Human Development Report of 2011 says that India ranks 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index, below Bangladesh and Pakistan, it needs to be reconsidered how wise it is to trace the roots of misogyny to groups within our neighbouring nations rather than taking a look at ourselves.  The teenage girls’ decision to quit live shows is sensible for the time being, as they will be quite aware of the fact that most of these things spread online have ramifications in the real world as well. Hopefully they will keep making music though on a low profile, produce albums, share their talent through online forums of like minded people and when the time comes, when the lime light seekers ebbs away, hold live shows exhibiting all their repressed vigour and passion.


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