If a vast majority of Kashmiris had joined together and opened a Facebook page to censure the “the first girls’ rock band”, they would have been justified in doing so. For no other reason than this year-old “rock band” — about whose existence they were made aware of by a web portal — was performing at a function organised by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which two years ago was blamed for the murder of scores of children and youngsters, a young girl among them.
Participating at a function organised by a paramilitary force, whose record of rights abuses has made it to the black books of Human Rights Watch and other international organisations, and which has been responsible for a spate of massacres in the past, shall be seen as an act of moral recklessness, if not downright criminal, in the least.
If the participation of these vulnerable girls generated a debate on Facebook, where threats and abuses were liberally exchanged on both sides, how come it became the staple Kashmiri fanatics-are-against-women’s liberation debate on the Indian media? It all started with the report that appeared on a web portal, ‘The Kashmir Walla’, and created this storm in the cup and which was promptly appropriated by the Indian propaganda machine. The report, either out of laziness or some stupid urge to prove liberal credentials or some other motive, does not mention the venue where this particular “rock band” and various other bands had been competing against each other and who the organisers of the show had been. Had the report touched the context, it would have made a useful contribution to the oppressed society, rather than reducing it to a fundamentalist-versus-artistic expression debate.
Take for example the Battle of Bands, a “two-day musical competition between 21 rock groups of Kashmir”, which was organised by the same oppressive force in December 2011, a year after the bloodbath in 2010. The venue? The Indoor Stadium: the valley’s largest indoor sporting facility, possibly the only sporting venue that has been under the longest military occupation in the world for the past 21 years.
Is a paramilitary force responsible for keeping a people under occupation the only forum for launching the “first girls’ rock band”? Is this the level of our budding artists that they don’t have the moral courage to say no to a performance at a stadium that should rightfully be a playground of aspiring sportspersons?
An interesting fact, as reported by the Press Trust of India, was that “many of these bands” were performing for the first time. I presume the band under debate, Pragaash, too was performing for the first time during this year’s festival. Is a paramilitary force responsible for keeping a people under occupation the only forum for launching the “first girls’ rock band”? Is this the level of our budding artists that they don’t have the moral courage to say no to a performance at a stadium that should rightfully be the playground of their brothers and sisters, the aspiring sportspersons?
Also interesting are the statements of Adnan Mattoo, founder of Bloodrockz band and a mentor of these girls. The PTI report (on December 2011) quotes him saying that “the Kashmiri rockers are aware of the challenges they face from the conservative society here”.
“It is not impossible to change the mentality of the people here, we have to make the effort and we are making it,” he had said. When your efforts “to change the mentality of the people” constantly involve a force that mowed down 52 unarmed protesters at Gaw Kadal, people become suspicious. It is a well known fact that Kashmiri society has been erupting every now and then against a stifling military presence, a presence that manifests not only in the form of the deployment of half a million soldiers, paramilitary troopers and police, but also at the efforts to militarily transform an occupied people.
The occupying army has been operating schools, taking boys and girls on “national integration” tours to sufi shrines and historical places in India, building power stations, organising cricket tournaments and media training sessions and throwing annual iftaar parties. A comprador civilian government has been reduced to a shadow, to a band of clerks spending doles from New Delhi. Art and artistic expression have nothing to do with military, especially an occupation force. Besides, even the civilian client government has been using musical performances and sporting events to foster a rosy picture of an ugly oppression. Otherwise Raj Begum, Naseema Akhtar, Shamima Dev, not to speak of the nautch girls we see in sepia-toned photographs of the nineteenth century, are a befitting answer to the rock band liberals questioning the tolerance of Kashmiri society.
Barely 10 km from Srinagar, a school has been training girls the art of classical Kashmiri sufi music and instruments. Probably because the military was never involved in introducing these girls to a dying art, which hitherto has been the exclusive domain of men, controversy never touched them. Even though, “journalists” trying to oversell their stories to the patriotic Indian media have somnambulistically squeezed in the words “conservative Kashmiri society” in their stories about these budding sufi artists.
No wonder, the disjointed report, that started it all, hops from the comments of a well meaning Kashmiri anthropologist to a “member of the legislative” assembly who certifies, anonymously, “Kashmiris have always been music lovers”.
A story exposing the relation between armed forces and musical competitions would have been welcome.