Kashmir's first all-girl band has called it quits after the region's senior Islamic cleric issued a fatwa against them.
The members of Pragaash, a Kashmiri word that means "from darkness to light," have been the subject of escalating threats in the past month. The girls, 16-year-old vocalist Noma Nazir, drummer Farah Deeba, and guitarist Aneeka Khalid, both age 15, formed their trio at a music institute where they all took classes after school.
Nazir confirmed the split to Indian media today. "We have decided to quit in deference to the decree of the Grand Mufti, who knows religion more than we do," Nazir said. "I thank all those people who supported our decision to form the band and encouraged us during the last two years."
Pragaash became the target of conservative Kashmiri factions after their first public performance last December. The girls won third place in a Battle of the Bands in Jammu and Kashmir's capital city.
The trio began to book live shows after the Battle of the Bands, but the abuse and threats that poured into social networking sites soon forced them out of the spotlight and into the studio.
"First, the girls had decided to quit live performance due to an online hate campaign and concentrate on making an album," Adnan Mattoo, the rock group's music teacher and manager, told The Associated Press. "But after an edict by the government's own cleric, these girls are saying goodbye to music."
On Sunday, Grand Mufti Mohammad Bashiruddin, the leading religious scholar of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, issued fatwa against the members of Pragaash and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah for publicly supporting them. Bashiruddin told the The Tribune that the girls in the band were "non-serious" and their behavior could lead to "gang rape":
"Shameful incidents like gang rapes, that happened in Hindustan recently, are a result of all this. It happens when women are given freedom to roam around, sing and dance."
"When girls and young women stray from the rightful path ... such non-serious acts are the first steps towards national disaster."
Contrary to popular belief, a fatwa is not a death sentence. Rather, it is an advisory or ruling issued by a mufti, an Islamic scholar who has knowledge of theology, religious jurisprudence, and law.
In spite of this, a fatwa can encourage fundamentalist groups to violence. The Hindu reports that soon after the fatwa was issued, a radical Kashmiri women's outfit called the Dukhataarn-e-Millat threatened a "social boycott" of the girls and their families if the band continued to perform. The fundamentalist women's organization has been outlawed in the Kashmir Valley since 1990 and grabbed headlines in 1992–1993 for "enforcing the Islamic dress code allegedly by sprinkling acid on young girls wearing jeans [who were] refusing to clad the 'Abbaya.'"
The members of Pragaash have not appeared in public since the controversy began, instead using telephone interviews and Facebook posts to announce that they have all quit the band and do not intend to play music in the future.
A cursory search of the comments on the band's official Facebook page and fan pages give an idea of the disturbing threats that these teenage girls have received:
One of the members of Pragaash, who wished to remain unnamed, today asked BBC Hindi why the all-girls group was considered "un-Islamic" when male bands are allowed to perform.
"Music was our passion. We did not know it was haraam [forbidden, or un-Islamic]," the girl band member said in a telephone interview. "There are many artists from Kashmir who are performing. But they did not issue a fatwa against them. They did not stop them... But we are being stopped."
"We respect their opinion and we have quit. But I don't know why we are being stopped," she said.
Although there has been at outpouring of support from around India and across the world as the story spreads online, the encouragement is not enough to steel the girls into continuing in the face of local pressure. In the BBC interview, the band member thanked everyone for their support, especially a well-known Bollywood composer who offered to fly the band to Mumbai and pay for them to record, release, and promote an album of their music.
"I want to say thanks to music director Vishal Dadlani, but we do not want to continue. No one is Kashmir is supporting us," she said.