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The Short Sad Story of Pragaash

An all-girl band is targeted by religious leaders

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The Short Sad Story of Pragaash

Pragaash

Courtesy of the band's Facebook
Pragaash isn't a band you would have heard of before recent events, nor will you have heard recorded anything recorded by them. Part of the reason is that the band is, for all practical purposes, unremarkable. They are a band like a million other bands worldwide; they're just a trio of teenage girls who got together to jam and then play at a battle of the bands. There is a clip of their performance on YouTube, and they play straightforward amateur rock and roll. That they won a contest at their first performance is no small accomplishment, and more likely than not, it could have been their only accomplishment as a band. Perhaps they might have made some records, toured a bit and enjoyed a modicum of success. More likely though, they would have played a bit, lasted a while, and got on with their lives, like so many teenage garage bands. What makes Pragaash (which means Band of Lights) remarkable, though, is where they are from and the treatment they received. The band, composed of vocalist-guitarist Noma Nazir who is 16, guitarist Aneeka Khalid and drummer Farah Deeba who are both 15, are from the Kashmir Valley in India. And although there are many bands in the region, they're the first all-girl group from the area. And what should have been an amazing cultural accomplishment for the girls and their homes was crushed by religiously motivated hatred. In the wake of the girls' victory, they started receiving online threats of rape and death. At the same time, support poured in from others, urging them to keep doing what they were doing. As pressure increased, police opened an investigation into the threats, while the region's Muslim leader, Grand Mufti Bashir-u-Din, issued a fatwa against them, calling the girls "un-islamic," issuing a statement that read, in part:
Such trivial acts (singing and playing instruments) never develop society but are a first step to demolish its moral fabric. I am happy that the new generation has attained a pro-development and pro-religion stance but there are some girls treading on the path of destruction.
The region's chief minister, Omar Abdullah, issued statements of support for the girls, urging them to keep playing and promising their safety. Under pressure, he redacted those statements. So what did the girls do? They did what most anyone in their situation would do. They broke up. "Just tell everyone we have quit. We are no more a band," one member told the BBC. Now two members are in hiding, and one has left the valley completely. And that ends the sad, short saga for three girls who just wanted to play music. I can't blame them. Pragaash aren't dissidents. They're not trying to overthrow the government through music. They're not a band like the Rebel Riot. They're just three kids dealing with something that kids shouldn't be forced to deal with - being crushed under the pressure of the religious head of their region, telling everyone that what these three girls are doing is wrong. That it's fundamentally evil. What teenage girl can stand up to that? What teenage girl should have to? It's a story that is repeating in strict Muslim areas, like in Aceh, where 60 punks were arrested for being punks and sent to re-education camps, or Baghdad, where religious leaders condoned the murder of emo kids. It's a crushing of expression for kids who are just being kids. In a time when bands in the western world change their names just on the chance that they might offend someone and hurt their record sales, elsewhere there's this. Pragaash isn't Pussy Riot. Although the women in Pussy Riot never intended to end up in prison, they were actively seeking to serve as a voice of protest, as a dissenting opinion. Pragaash were just three teenage girls wanting to make music, to be a band, and to have fun. And apparently, in the eyes of some, fun will lead us all to destruction.
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