THE CONTROVERSY over a music band formed by three Kashmiri teenage girls is a fabricated one, and yet another reminder of how a section of the Indian media (egged on, this time, by their Kashmir-based reporters) has trivialised the debate on Kashmir. While the Valley still mourns the killings of the past 23 years, and relatives of the dead are yet to find justice, the media has used every opportunity to ignore those uncomfortable truths. They cherrypick evidence, real or concocted, that might link Kashmiris to religious fanaticism. Such misrepresentations are then hurled back at Kashmiris to delegitimise their political struggle.
Indeed, it is tragic that some stray, abusive comments against the band on social media by a few anonymous youth — which snowballed into a controversy after the highly unpopular ‘Grand Mufti’ in Kashmir jumped in to issue a fatwa against music and women performing on stage — has now put these teenagers’ future in music in jeopardy. TV channels picked the story to paint Kashmiri society either as a threat to India’s secularism or as misogynist. Most Kashmiris don’t have access to social media. The broad brushes of generalisation, however, which work in tandem with stereotypes against Muslim societies, paint all of them as uniformly extremist.
Mufti Bashiruddin, not unknown to controversy, issued the fatwa after news channels ran round-the-clock stories as if the band members were under an imminent threat. It is likely that the latter’s real or pretentious championing of the band’s right to play music may have caused the attention-hungry mufti to step in.
Are such media outlets genuinely interested in freedom of expression in Kashmir? From the large number of Kashmiris booked under the notorious Public Safety Act, or threatened for activism on Facebook, to professors arrested for setting question papers that the state authorities deemed seditious to the police witch-hunt of Kashmiri rapper MC Kash, the Indian media has rarely taken the issue of free speech in Kashmir seriously.
Many powerful groups, including the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, rejected the fatwa, and the pro-freedom women’s organisation Muslim Khawateen Markaz (MKM) too expressed support for the band. The MKM used the opportunity well, criticising both the military occupation and the male-dominated pro-freedom groups, thus opening a fresh debate within Kashmiri society on the question of women in the pro-Azadi movement. The media needs to report these complexities.
There are certainly serious questions related to gender and women’s equality that Kashmiris, like every other society, must deal with. Although the news channels have played up the opposition to the band, it is also true that the band has not found support among young Kashmiri men. Perhaps because the band had performed in an event organised by the paramilitary CRPF. The force is widely hated in the valley for its role in the 2008 and 2010 killings. But this argument is inadequate since there were many other bands that participated in that event, yet only this band was targeted.
One of the tension-laden problems associated with any political movement that seeks to liberate itself from foreign domination is that gender inequalities come starkly to the fore. Women are unfairly turned into symbols of honour and shame. The Kashmir issue can only be resolved through the critical involvement of women in the political struggle.
If Kashmiris, who are passionate about their historic struggle, want to liberate their emancipatory politics from the false issues and deceptive images spread by the media, it can only be achieved through creative critique. Music is part of that critique, not music that is meant only to give pleasure, but music that stings. From Habba Khatun to the present day Sufiana singers, Kashmiri women have historically been part of that process.