The teenaged members of Kashmiri all-girl band Pragaash decided to shelve their music career after being harassed online, and a fatwa issued against them. Mahima Kaul reports on how the controversy has unfolded
Following a live performance at a Battle of the Bands held in Srinagar, Kashmir in December 2012, a little known band called Pragaash began receiving hateful and abusive comments on their Facebook page. The all-girl rock band has three members, all between the ages of 15 and 16. As media coverage of the online abuse was picked up by mainstream media, Kashmir’s Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad, an influencial religious leader, issued a fatwa against the band, declaring that singing is “un-Islamic”. Despite tweets from the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, in support of Pragaash, the girls buckled under immense pressure and decided to stop singing. They also took down their Facebook page last Thursday. Zafar Choudhary wrote in Rising Kashmir this week that Pragaash drew “the ire of fundamentalists” because they were an all-female group.
However, despite being off of Facebook, the band’s identity is still being threatened online, as other pages pretending to be Pragaash have now appeared on the social networking site. Two of these were pages that previously existed on Facebook, but have very opportunistically changed their names from previous topics (such as cricket) to the name of the band. One is anti-India while the other anti-Pakistan. Any average user could be fooled into believing that this was indeed the band’s original Facebook page, and that these are their political views.
Meanwhile, three people have been arrested for posting abuse and threats on Pragaash’s own (now removed) Facebook page. They are in police custody until 15 February, and have also been charged under Section 66A of India’s Information Technology Act. The police have indicated that more arrests are on the way.
The Pragaash case yet again raises the question about the increasingly diminishing space for artists to perform their work without fear from any number of outraged and offended groups in India. Recently, an extremely popular actor from South India, Kamal Haasan, had to cut scenes from his latest movie due to major protests by Muslim groups. Around the same time, the Jaipur Literary Festival was mired in controversy when an academic’s remarks offended certain political groups, as Index reported.
In the case of Pragaash, while the guilty parties face arrest due to their abusive language online, there are reports that human rights groups are considering taking action against the offline portion of this controversy. Interestingly, they want to take Kashmir’s Grand Mufti to court for issuing fatwas that project the state of Jammu and Kashmir in a “bad light”.
Mahima Kaul is a New Delhi based journalist. She tweets from @misskaul.