Who actually ‘killed’ the Kashmir’s first-ever girls musical band in its infancy? The answer to this simple question is really not that easy to find, given the multi-layered complexity of the ground reality in the conflict-ridden Valley where contemporary ‘history’ is a baffling mix of fact and fiction. Going by the media frenzy triggered by this ‘issue’ (if the incident can be so called) there are as many ‘culprits’ as there are versions of who did-or did not do-this or that thing to bring about this ugly situation. Raw facts of the case, rarely mentioned in the flood of television noise, are as follows: A group of three school girls, coming from ‘upper’ middle class Muslim families of Kashmir emerged on the Valley’s cultural scene a few months ago. Their band performed publicly at various stages-first in schools and then at smaller public gatherings. They became a hit some time in December after they won a talent competition held in the Sher-e-Kashmir indoor stadium of the capital city of Srinagar. Nobody– no Moulvi, no Mufti, no ‘radical’ and, most certainly, no sensible Kashmiri-voiced any objection to ‘Pragash’ (light) as the band was named. Fan following swelled after each performance of the three teenagers.
Stage appearance of female performers has been a familiar feature of Kashmir’s rich cultural tradition. There is fairly long list of accomplished women poets and singers. Talent competitions are being held with regular frequency and televised without any problem despite the fact that some of this stuff borders on vulgarity. Private local cable TV channels, barred from telecasting news, thrive in promoting this particular version of the ‘culture’. Audio and video recordings of garishly clad and (at times) obscenely gyrating local girls are a hot commodity in the Valley. Never has any voice of protest or anger been heard from any quarter though this fare contains quite a bit of culturally ‘offensive’ items.
Compared to all this, ‘Pragash’ and other (male) musical bands performing in Kashmir looked to be totally unexceptionable from every angle. The Valley has a proud list of highly popular local female singers-past and present. Shameema Azad, wife of union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, tops the contemporary list. Before her, popular Kashmiri women singers, Raaj Begum and Naseem Banu have ruled the cultural scene for several decades. Local Doordarshan station has been holding regular music talent contest which is a very popular show and has thrown up a number of new female faces and voices. There was thus nothing outlandish about emergence of ‘Pragash’ and its instant popularity.
Looking back, it appears that the national media in general and the electronic mass media in particular have, once again, got it all wrong. Every Kashmiri can swear and tell you that the name and face of Mufti-Azam Badhir-ud-Din was virtually unfamiliar to the younger generations of Kashmiris until the Delhi-based TV channels sought to project his ‘monstrous’ image and make him an unlikely ‘villain’. His earlier edict against a Christian missionary had been ignored by the people even though it had been unwisely played up by the media. The Mufti’s anti-Pragash edict too would have faded out if only the media had not acted so foolishly. To be fair, the Mufti is not the lone ‘villain’. The state government is guilty too.
As has been happening in the fast expanding world of social networking everywhere in the world as well as in our own country, a few mischief mongers or misguided radicals in Kashmir sought to target ‘Pragash’. Threats and abuses were hurled at the girls. There was also a counter campaign. But the Omar Abdullah government, locally notorious for snooping on social network users, somehow chose to ignore this particular case. A good number of net-users have been hauled up and imprisoned in the Valley in the recent past for far less ‘offences’. Even juvenile offenders have not been spared. Virtually, there is now a ‘Big Brother’ out there in Kashmir and his ‘failure’ to nip the trouble in the bud looks to be one of the main causes of this whole trouble. The state has acted belatedly and registered cases but too late in the day. This insensitivity is unpardonable because it contrasts with the undue haste displayed whenever it comes to hauling up the opponents of the regime.
As if this was not enough, the misguided electronic media has also been barking up the wrong tree: Instead of eliciting a convincing explanation from the state government for its initial (fatal) failure to act and nip the mischief the TV anchors and a few others have been wasting their breath on why the state was not going after the Mufti Azam. The import and nature of Mufti’s inconsequential ‘fatwa’ has been exaggerated and wildly misconceived. It does not carry any real weight locally. In any case, he has not committed any offence for which the state could haul him up. Mufti is not a government appointee. Giving ‘fatwa’ is his unquestioned religious prerogative. Its compliance or defiance depends on the choice of the persons to whom it is addressed. The state has no role in it. In any case, Mufti Bashir-ud-Din ought to be grateful to the Delhi-based electronic media for bestowing a larger-than-life image to his position and authority. Locally, he never counts in any calculation, much less in public affairs of this kind.
There are historical reasons for why the national media in general and electronic media in particular mostly falter in reading the ground realities in the country’s only Muslim majority state. That is why the media, in general, is taken by surprise when the union government in New Delhi decides to restore power to an ‘anti-India’ Sheikh Abdullah (in 1975), armed insurgency breaks out in J&K (in 1990s), Abdullah dynasty-led National Conference is uprooted from power (in 2002 assembly polls) and now ‘Pragash’ is sought to be extinguished despite its acknowledged local acceptability. Lack of adequate understanding of the emotional, cultural ethos of Kashmir and Kashmiris and appreciation of its imperatives is the root cause of the problem. Aversion to radicalism of all sorts is built into this ethos. Tinkering with its logical course invariably boomerangs.