Despite Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s reassuring tweets, the teenage members of the Valley’s first all-women rock band have gone into hiding immediately after receiving a threat of ‘social boycott’ from the Dukhataarn-e-Millat, a radical women’s outfit.
Coming as it did after the fatwa from Kashmir’s head mufti, this development has halted all support for the band from civil society and cultural circles.
Left to fend for themselves, the families of Noma Nazir, Farah Deeba and Aneeka Khalid in the vulnerable neighbourhoods of Chhanpora, Bemina and Rajbagh have forced the teenagers to snap their contact with all, especially the media. “We have seized their cellphones and laptops,” two of their relatives revealed to The Hindu. “Their band has been shut.”
“Nobody is safe here. The Chief Minister’s tweets and the police can’t protect us. We don’t want to get caught in politics,” one of them said.
Dukhataarn-e-Millat has in fact avoided issuing a direct threat to the girls. It has rather innocuously communicated that their continued performance would force the outfit to call for a social boycott of their families. “We appeal to the parents of the band members to ask their children to refrain from singing as it is against Islamic principles. If they don’t follow our advice, we will be forced to announce a social boycott against them,” it said in a statement on Sunday.
The Dukhataarn-e-Millat does not have any history of using firearms. Founded in 1982 by Syeda Asiya Andrabi, the outfit claims to orchestrate ‘peaceful campaigns’ against anything it perceives to be contrary to the tenets, teachings and traditions of Islam. It played a key role in a campaign to close down cinema, video libraries and wine-shops, which culminated in the eruption of an armed insurgency in January 1990. Since then, it has been among the outlawed radical groups in the Valley. In 1992-93, it grabbed the headlines, enforcing the Islamic dress code allegedly by sprinkling acid on young girls wearing jeans and refusing to clad the ‘Abbaya’. Ms. Andrabi has repeatedly denied having used acid. The spray, she insisted, was “a harmless ink.”
Nonetheless, the Dukhataarn-e-Millat carries the image of a dreaded outfit for many — particularly those associated with the media, art and culture — in Srinagar. Ms. Andrabi is the wife of the jailed founder of the Jamiatul Mujahideen, Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, who now heads a different political outfit called the Muslim League.
More than fighting Indian troops and the police, the Jamiatul Mujahideen is known for its anti-media strikes, including banning publications and kidnapping theatre and television talents. Police records show that the group was responsible for the assassination of the former Joint Director of Information, Syed Ghulam Nabi, human rights activist Hridhay Nath Wanchoo and a couple of television artists.
The police consider the Dukhtaraan threat more seriously than the Mufti’s fatwa. “Till date, there’s no FIR but we are working on certain inputs,” Srinagar SSP Ashiq Bukhari said.
Another senior police official pointed out that many people, from Mufti Azam Basheer-ud-din to heads of the two Hurriyats Mirwaiz Umar and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, were all dismissing the December 2012 concert as ‘immoral and un-Islamic.”
Chief Minister vocal, government mute
With the exception of the reactions from Mr. Abdullah and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, hardly anyone of consequence has supported Pragaash.
Three fresh Facebook pages have come up with nearly 1,000 supportive posts in the past four days but most of the contributors are either morphed or believed to be those from outside the Valley. ‘Filmmakers’ and music lovers, who have expressed solidarity with the group, are familiar to a few in the media and cultural circles. Even officials of the Department of Information and the Cultural Academy have chosen to be mute spectators.
No association of the film, theatre, music, culture, art or media circles has come up with a statement of solidarity. Aziz Hajini, the Sahitya Akademi’s convener (Kashmiri), and president Adabi Markaz Kamraz maintained that they had no knowledge of the developments.
A Kashmir University professor, who runs a representative civil society group of intellectuals, traders and rights activists, declined to comment. “Now that the politicians and the clerics are in, it’s really difficult to make a comment,” she said. Woman rights activists Quratul Ain, Ezabir Ali and Hawa Bashir are the three-odd individuals who unequivocally condemned the hate campaign.
“Why these double standards? Don’t millions of the Kashmiris enjoy the songs of Raj Begam, Zoon Begam, Shameem Dev and Jameela Khan for the last many decades? Why don’t these groups object to the extremely objectionable songs and dances running in our drawing rooms through the local cable TV channels,” asked Ms. Bashir, who taught at the Department of Music at Government Women’s College for more than 30 years. “By their argument, there’s has to be a blanket ban on music in Kashmir.”
Pragaash’s promoter and organiser Adnan Matoo, who claimed to have launched the State’s first rock band, Bloodrockz, in 2005, refused to admit that that there was anything objectionable or un-Islamic in the performance. According to him, it was all a Sufi musical with a number of Bhule Shah hits — and a remix: mein hoon mushkil mein nazar tou kar le, faza ke pal mein zara gul kar de.