Roll up! It’s a Media Circus

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Illustration: Anand Naorem

THE CONTROVERSY over a music band formed by three Kashmiri teenage girls is a fabricated one, and yet another reminder of how a section of the Indian media (egged on, this time, by their Kashmir-based reporters) has trivialised the debate on Kashmir. While the Valley still mourns the killings of the past 23 years, and relatives of the dead are yet to find justice, the media has used every opportunity to ignore those uncomfortable truths. They cherrypick evidence, real or concocted, that might link Kashmiris to religious fanaticism. Such misrepresentations are then hurled back at Kashmiris to delegitimise their political struggle.

Indeed, it is tragic that some stray, abusive comments against the band on social media by a few anonymous youth — which snowballed into a controversy after the highly unpopular ‘Grand Mufti’ in Kashmir jumped in to issue a fatwa against music and women performing on stage — has now put these teenagers’ future in music in jeopardy. TV channels picked the story to paint Kashmiri society either as a threat to India’s secularism or as misogynist. Most Kashmiris don’t have access to social media. The broad brushes of generalisation, however, which work in tandem with stereotypes against Muslim societies, paint all of them as uniformly extremist.

Mufti Bashiruddin, not unknown to controversy, issued the fatwa after news channels ran round-the-clock stories as if the band members were under an imminent threat. It is likely that the latter’s real or pretentious championing of the band’s right to play music may have caused the attention-hungry mufti to step in.

Are such media outlets genuinely interested in freedom of expression in Kashmir? From the large number of Kashmiris booked under the notorious Public Safety Act, or threatened for activism on Facebook, to professors arrested for setting question papers that the state authorities deemed seditious to the police witch-hunt of Kashmiri rapper MC Kash, the Indian media has rarely taken the issue of free speech in Kashmir seriously.

Many powerful groups, including the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, rejected the fatwa, and the pro-freedom women’s organisation Muslim Khawateen Markaz (MKM) too expressed support for the band. The MKM used the opportunity well, criticising both the military occupation and the male-dominated pro-freedom groups, thus opening a fresh debate within Kashmiri society on the question of women in the pro-Azadi movement. The media needs to report these complexities.

There are certainly serious questions related to gender and women’s equality that Kashmiris, like every other society, must deal with. Although the news channels have played up the opposition to the band, it is also true that the band has not found support among young Kashmiri men. Perhaps because the band had performed in an event organised by the paramilitary CRPF. The force is widely hated in the valley for its role in the 2008 and 2010 killings. But this argument is inadequate since there were many other bands that participated in that event, yet only this band was targeted.

One of the tension-laden problems associated with any political movement that seeks to liberate itself from foreign domination is that gender inequalities come starkly to the fore. Women are unfairly turned into symbols of honour and shame. The Kashmir issue can only be resolved through the critical involvement of women in the political struggle.

If Kashmiris, who are passionate about their historic struggle, want to liberate their emancipatory politics from the false issues and deceptive images spread by the media, it can only be achieved through creative critique. Music is part of that critique, not music that is meant only to give pleasure, but music that stings. From Habba Khatun to the present day Sufiana singers, Kashmiri women have historically been part of that process.

letters@tehelka.com

7 COMMENTS

  1. the abuses and threats to pragaash was a shame, most of the kashmiris stood by the band, BUT what is more shameful is how the indian media made these girls the scapegoats, WHERE WAS INDIAN MEDIA WHEN FOR 20 YEARS GIRLS WERE GETTING GANG RAPED BY SOLDIERS IN KASHMIR, OR PEOPLE WERE BEING KILLED IN CUSTODY AND FAKE ENCOUNTERS?

  2. Where were you or other Muslims when Kasmiri Pundits were thrown out of their own houses, their female folks were taken away by Muslim terrorists and raped and killed, terrorists were seeking ransoms from peace loving Muslims in exchange for sparing their female folks?

    It is shame for entire nation where the girls are raped either by civilians or by soldiers therefore rather than questioning wrong judgment on part of individuals we should concentrate to find solutions to these problems, certainly except a separate Kashmir State, within the framework of Indian Constitution.

    • kashmiri pundits were driven out of kashmir by jagmohan only, we didnt kill or rape them like u people did in gujrat or in other riots, pundits have jobs and reservations all over india, they are enjoying like anything.
      WHERE WAS INDIAN MEDIA OR INDIAN PEOPLE WHEN FOR LAST 24 YEARS GIRLS WERE GETTING GANG RAPED BY SOLDIERS IN KASHMIR (one example, Google “kanunposhpora”), OR PEOPLE WERE BEING KILLED IN CUSTODY AND FAKE ENCOUNTERS?

  3. Kashmiri pandits choosed self exile to set policies against kashmiri muslims nd to show indian army d stretgies to kill kashmiri freedom fighters, which they cant do by staying here in kashmir.

  4. I think the attempt, implicit in this fine essay, to learn from the historiography of earlier anti-colonial struggles is complicated by the effects today of the corporatized mass media that were largely absent in the earlier cases from the early to mid 20th century.
    The essay thus leads me to ask what concrete strategies Kashmiri emancipatory creativity, musical or other, would have to adopt to break through India’s media smokescreen of triviality and frivolity. The impediments to such freedom of speech are arguably greater in the cases of popular music (M-Kash, Pragaash, Habba Khatun) than with respect to writing, at least in English, from Kashmir (e.g. Basharat Peer, Mirza Waheed).

  5. O common,Kashmiri Pandits were thrown out of their houses by the Indian government.You are supporting the country that arranged for your transportation to Jammu instead of providing you the security…Kashmiri Pandits are a minority,they wanted India and there they are.Majority Kashmiri Muslims want Azaadi and they still fighting for that.Indian Constituion cannot be forcibly applied to Kashmiris.

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