Sometimes, we become so accustomed to our country’s musicians and their ability to essentially play whatever they want whilst wearing whatever they want, it can be easy to forget that there are still millions and millions people globally who do not have that right. When it comes to musical freedom, women are often the ones most pushed down by the government and traditional values, oftentimes being legally silenced or worse. Indian-administered Kashmir’s first female rock band Pragaash is facing powerful discrimination and challenges right now for simply trying to exist as musical artists.
Pragaash, which translates to “First Light” in Kashmiri, has reportedly disbanded according to one of the teenagers in the group. After winning the “Battle of the Bands” in Srinager back in December, Pragaash began receiving abusive comments and hate mail via Facebook. The trio, made up of singer and guitarist Noma Nazir, drummer Farah Deeba and bass guitarist Aneeqa Khalid, reportedly became very frightened and depressed as a result.
Then, the Grand Mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, Bashiruddin Ahmad, issued a fatwa for the girls to disband as a musical group, stating, “When girls and young women stray from the rightful path… this kind of non-serious activity can become the first step towards our destruction.”
Their high school band teacher and manager Adnan Mattoo says that the young women would prefer not to discuss what led them to disband the group as they are afraid, but it is widely suspected that the threats and the cleric’s statement were what did it. One unnamed band member did speak to BBC Hindi, however:
“Music was our passion. We did not know it was haraam [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.”
One of the most striking — yet terrifying — things about this story is that these young women are just teenagers, and they are facing innumerable obstacles because of the hatred and prejudices against females by men much older than themselves. While some news sources have said they think Pragaash’s members need to keep singing no matter what threats they receive, I don’t think it’s that simple. Believe me, I want to agree with them, I still understand why these girls might feel too intimidated to at the moment. If there was some way that they could be ensured protection, then hell yes, I think the group should sing on for as long as they want to, as loudly as they’d like. But when you’re just in high school (and any age, for that matter), a death threat is not something that can be taken lightly.
Though many people — including famous Bollywood composer Vishal Dadlani — have voiced their encouragement, the band reports that no one in Kashmir is supporting them, which is why they feel they cannot continue playing. This, in part, is why this situation is so saddening: no matter how much support Pragaash receives worldwide, the local environment is what has to determine their fate, and in this case, those surroundings include a lack of support for women overall.