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The controversy over the Srinagar-based girl band has much to do with the troubled discourse in J&K
The current debate over Pragaash, an all female rock-band of Kashmir, plays out the contrapuntal habits of music. The notes of patriarchy are rising and falling in unison while those of freedom, expression and the ethics of interference have moved away from a tenor to a shrill alto on the Indian side and the sneer of a baritone on the Kashmiri side.
To begin with a problematic assertion, the girls have an absolute right to create good, or bad, music and if this right is threatened, all of us have an absolute duty to drown the threats with a show of solidarity. If you don't like their music, or if you dislike music in general or if you think music is haraam, don't listen to it, but please do not think for a moment that you can deny them their songs.
Why do I call this assertion problematic? Well, first of all we will have to unpack the term 'threat'. What role does an ability to perform the verbs of a comment play in its qualification as a threat? A few boys had written abusive comments against the girls on some Facebook pages. Can mere abuse, on a physical platform like Facebook, constitute a threat? Did it entail a vocal stand against it by every "thinking" Kashmir as Indian media, particularly the electronic media, demanded for several days?
Compare it, for example, with comments by Indian internet trolls on anything related to Kashmir. These comments tell Kashmiris that they deserve the killings, torture, rapes etc which the Indian security forces are said to inflict on them and if they don't like it, they better migrate to Pakistan. These trolls are voters who have elected a parliament;may sit in a North and South Block and make policies on how best to control Kashmiris;might recruit, train, arm and provide salaries to foot-soldiers to deal with the "situation" in Kashmir. They keep local stooges in power in Kashmir, against the will of the natives, so that these stooges can make a silly statement here and issue an even sillier fatwa there and the whole world can see that Kashmiris are not fit to rule themselves. How often do you get to hear the demands of Kashmiris that every "thinking" Indian should take a stand against these internets trolls? Is it part of the larger debate over how Kashmiris are unsafe in and with India?
Secondly, we may delve into the notion of 'free choice'. Choices are made from available options, limited by any number of things, natural as well as man-made. Power limits options for the weak and augments them for the strong. Slavery then is an unequal exchange of options and thereby choice. Hindi (or English) has no fundamental advantage over Kashmiri, yet while a good percentage of Kashmiris have learned Hindi in the last six odd decades, how many Hindi speakers have learned Kashmiri? Kashmiri Rabab and Sareng are as good musical instruments as the guitar and violin. What exchanges do you see happening? In a place where public memory and oral history is full of atrocities perpetrated by the Indian armed forces, what sanitisation of choice does it require for children to participate in a music-competition organised by the CRPF? This is the general context of freedom of speech and expression which Kashmiris have been pointing out over the last fortnight.
Which is not to say that there aren't patriarchal subcultures of mind in Kashmir about the whole debate. The Hurriyat (G), partly in response to the India-sponsored Grand Mufti who had issued a fatwa against the girls and declared that music is haraam, issued a statement which, while making it clear that force and coercion could not be employed to deny freedom of expression, also stated that "no noble family will allow its girls to chose their profession as a dancer so as to be a mere thing of pleasure for strangers". Many Kashmiris wrote (ironically, in English) that jeans and rock music are "western imports" and therefore have no place in our society. True, they are, but why only in the context of women. The old patriarchal troupe of women being the carriers of a culture was at work.
But the most fundamental question in the debate is how the Indian media's handling of the episode feeds into the larger question of the denial of the political reality in Kashmir. It is edifying how when there long and popular are protests for azadi, Kashmiris are denied agency and the protests are attributed to Pakistan, non-resident Kashmiris etc. But when a few nutcases abuse a girls' band, all Kashmiris are expected to be responsible. Responsibility comes from agency. If the Indian media, and its viewership and readership believe that Kashmiris have an independent collective will, where are the debates on why azadi is denied to them?
Finally, the fight against patriarchy is a global one and all of us should learn from each other, but the question of ethics is this, can a master invite a slave to learn from him or are such lessons always an exercise of power? The girls of Pragaash are young, impressionable and easily scared-off, all a curse for people living under domination. Let's hope that in the time it takes them to find the courage to stand-up to bullying and State repression, they will also find an understanding of how to imagine freedom and Kashmir in concert.
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