The ordinary Kashmiri is caught between an intransigent state and fundamentalists who insist on imposing a doctrine based on their narrow interpretation of the religion. And such is the trauma and suffering of this conflict zone, that even the old and, more particularly, the young are consumed by guilt if they are admonished for trying to enjoy life.
The case of the all-girls band was one such instance. They went unnoticed until the media ‘discovered’ them and from then on, to put it mildly, all hell broke loose. The young girls were forced to dismantle the band, give up their passion for music, depressed, dejected and clearly traumatized. Threats, anger, fury and even a fatwa by no less a person than the grand mufti of Kashmir drove them indoors, even as the media in Delhi went hysterical in its so- called defence of secularism. Facebook, too, was buzzing with the story, but as the girls said later, this was well within some levels of acceptance, it was the media that really pushed them into a state of isolation.
It is extremely important for the media in Delhi to realise the nuances of Kashmir, a conflict zone like none other in this country. The decades of violence have affected almost every home in the Valley, and the levels of unhappiness and suffering are difficult to fathom. Issues of freedom thus take on a different hue, and have to be dealt with in a manner where progress is supported and encouraged instead of thwarted. Hysterical news anchors on mainstream television channels juxtaposing the controversy in black and white, yes or no context, do more harm than good. The desire for TRP hits the Kashmiri, as it did to the girls, in a manner that can even risk lives. So while we bask in the aftermath of a ‘fantastic’ debate, the reality on the ground takes a toll of the very persons who we used as grist for our mill.
The debate within Kashmir had two dimensions. It started with whether girls should be allowed to play music or not, but this was effectively countered by the argument voiced by many young people in the Valley asking why women were being targeted and men allowed to sing and play musical instruments. The conservatives then turned the discourse to insist that music was ‘haraam’ (forbidden) in Islam. This was a little more effective in that those who are more liberal in their approach tend to concede the religious space to those who claim to know the scriptures. So while there were attempts to point out that music is part of the Islamic world, these voices were weaker than those insisting that their knowledge of the religion was all encompassing. The issue of rights was, thus, overtaken by the issue of Islam, with the young Kashmiri liberal unable to combat the self styled custodians of religion lest he or she fall prey to the violence that has attached itself to this particular thought process.
Chief minister Omar Abdullah came out in support of the girls, but his words did more harm than good. The government of Jammu and Kashmir insists on remaining macho: “We will take action against those who threaten the girls; we will give them security to sing; we will...” These responses are befitting of chief ministers in normal states, but in Jammu and Kashmir these feed into the notion of oppression and victimization. The trust deficit between the ordinary Kashmiri and the government is so high that such statements do not inspire confidence, only breed insecurity and anger. Subsequently, the government has started arresting young people it claims have been issuing these threats in the social media, a move that will only generate more insecurity and unhappiness. A better approach would have been to support the girls, and yet remain soft on those opposing them as persons in need of guidance and direction.
The separatists were initially split on the issue, although Syed Ali Shah Geelani did strike a sympathetic chord by supporting the young girls and criticizing the mufti for the fatwa. The mufti, too, in the face of angry Kashmiri reaction, issued a clarification saying that he had only ‘advised’ the girls and that he certainly did not want to put their lives at risk. The young Kashmiris, despite the flood of threats on Facebook, silently and even publicly supported the girls and music. This is the sentiment that has to be supported but quietly and gently. Unfortunately given the nature of our ‘mainstream’ media and the political class we tend to do more harm than good by managing to turn the clock back instead of letting it move ahead in synchrony with the swinging pendulum.
The writer is a senior New Delhi-based journalist