Support arrived for Kashmir’s first all-girl band, Pragaash, a few hours too late. The girls had already made up their mind. They would never sing again. Though the three members claimed that the threats and abuses on social networking sites had not scared them, it was probably just media hype that got them in the end. Aneeqa Khalid, the band’s guitarist, also confessed that when things were just confined to Facebook, it all seemed strangely manageable. “Then all of a sudden, it got too much hype,” she said. The question needs to be asked: what triggered such a reaction from both the mainstream and regional media?
It started with reports on unregulated news websites in Kashmir. These articles and posts claimed the girls had disbanded. The story was then given prominent space by a national daily in Delhi. With women’s issues still on the Capital’s mind weeks after the December 16 gang rape, it did not take Pragaash long to become national news. But without tangible support, the band and the aspirations of its three tenth-graders were gradually being choked.
The band had won a Central Reserve Police Force- sponsored event last Dece-mber. Participation in an event organised by the country’s largest paramilitary force proved to be enough of an invitation for criticism. But these young girls had little idea about what was to follow. As they continued chasing their dreams, negative comments and abuse flooded their Facebook page. As a society that takes pride in treating its women at par with men, our reactions reflected an often seen hypocrisy.
When in 2010, a group of young men took to pelting stones on police and civilians alike, a group of musicians had chosen to appropriate Western hip-hop and rap. Local newspapers dedicated entire pages to these radical artistes while varied social media hailed their achievements. There weren’t any fatwas issued then. A Pragaash member seemed only justified when she complained, “No one in Kashmir is supporting us.” The debate over Pragaash may soon be over, but this episode will only be remembered as an act of Talibanisation in a society which claims to be fighting oppression and occupation.
If nothing else, the plight of Pragaash seems synonymous with the troubles of a state where humans still vanish into thin air, where the State censors all activity, where even SMSs are banned. If freedom or Azadi eludes us, it is primarily because we are letting our right to free speech and expression get muffled.