The members of the Pragaash band. Photograph by Shuaib Masoodi for The Indian Express
In Kashmir- a disputed region, the first girls’ rock band performed in public during a “Battle of Bands”, in the capital city Srinagar, on December 22, 2012- hosting different local bands. Two days after the performance, the band members started receiving threats and abuses on social networking sites. Since then they have remained away from the public glare and have been told by their families not to talk about music anymore.
The band named Pragaash meaning “from darkness to light” in Kashmiri, has Farah Deeba as drummer, Aneeka Khalid as bass guitarist and Noma Nazir as vocalist and guitarist. All in their teens and in high school formed the band in January 2012 when they would go to Band Inn- a local music institute run by a music student Adnan Mohammad.
A friend of the band members, on anonymity, said that they have received threats for performing in public and making a music band. “They will not talk to any journalist. Their families have told them not to talk to anyone and play music now.” A local reporter, when tried to do a story on the band, was told they are no more performing now.
The band got standing ovation at their first public performance. “[…] one day I was surprised to see all music bands of Kashmir performing live in front of my eyes. It was a band war “clash of titans”. […] after the competition was over I rushed to my home and discussed with my family about the bands and the music they played. On seeing my enthusiasm for music my mom and dad supported me to join music classes at Band Inn,” writes Deeba on the band’s Facebook page.
Two days after their public performance, on December 24, a Facebook page posted a photograph of all the band members with the caption: “Personally, I consider them as shameless & spoiled brats. People may think of me as a narrow-minded freak but that won’t change my perspective. Have your say ??” (Sic) The post started getting comments saying that the music is not allowed in Islam- the religion followed by the majority of the people in the region. The thousands of reactions from people of different circles were mostly abusive and several were threatening them of rape.
“Post this status in advance The three band girls Raped at jammu And thrown into river” (sic), “These are Pig fart. They themselves are cause of rape incidents.”, “in k saath bhi waisa hi hona chahiye. jo dehli waali ladki k saath huwa. Besharam” (Same should happen to them that happened to Delhi girl. Shameless) were the comments people wrote for them. They were expressing their opposition to girls’ band.
On seeing criticism and abuses for the band, several people on social networking sites started defending the work of the band. “It is kind of odd to believe in this day and age that people could be kept away from music…whatever be the morality of music, in practice there is just too much out there to control for anyone, let alone a few Facebook vigilantes,” wrote Mohammad Junaid, a Kashmiri-American anthropologist.
It is not first time in the valley that girls have faced such opposition. In past, girls were criticized for riding gear-less scooters, wearing jeans, using cellphones or driving cars. “[…] I hope the girls remain safe, and produce some quality music. And if they could make a rock band, I think they might be also able to deal with anti-music folks well enough,” added Junaid.
For them it was like a dream come true when they started learning music at the institute. “This was my first step to learn music. I mostly liked drum beats, so I decided to be a drummer…After [a] few days Noma and Aneeqa also joined Band Inn to learn music and hence Pragaash the band emerged,” writes Deeba.
Despite harsh criticism from different quarters of the society, Kashmiri women have been part of every field whether it is being dynamic at the professional level or in the people’s movements for justice. The women have even been a central part of the pro-freedom movement too. The band members, on their page, assure people that the band will be success no matter what. “…being the only girls’ band in Kashmir we get a lot of criticism but we will show everyone what we have in store for you guys,” the girls mention on the page.
Their guide at the institute, Adnan, told The Indian Express, “I am in love with music. I have suffered a lot while finding an institute to learn music. I don’t want these people to suffer like I suffered. I encourage girls of the Valley. I have found them very talented.”
The girls have been stopped talking to anyone about their band or activities in music. When I messaged the band members, through Facebook, to talk to them about their work, Khalid replied in negative. “Sorry. Can’t help you. I’m not allowed to answer any questions,” she said.
When told about the incident, a member of legislative assembly said that the Kashmiris have always been music lovers. “People play music and sing on marriages and it has been going on. The Chief Minister himself promotes the participation of youth in such events. If any individual or group is facing threats from people they should complaint and the government will provide them protection,” he said.