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Kashmir all-girl band: Why can't state govt protect their rights?

Kashmir's first all girl rock band decided to quit after a fatwa was issued against them by the head Grand Mufti, despite assurances from Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah as well as other civil society organisations.

The Grand Mufti of Kashmir Bashir-ud-Din said that women must live in purdah at all times. Blaming women for the increase in crimes against them, he said that women must desist from performing in public as otherwise, there will be no difference between "our women and film actresses".

girl-bandIBN12The fatwa has prompted relatives of the band members living in the state to reportedly flee their homes, saying that they felt unsafe.

The Hindu, quoting a relative of one of the band members said that the band has been 'shut'.

"Nobody is safe here. The Chief Minister’s tweets and the police can’t protect us. We don’t want to get caught in politics,” one of the relatives told The Hindu.

Clearly what the Chief Minister says and the functioning of the government are poles apart.

While Omar tweeted in favour of the all girl rock band, his government has done precious little to ensure their safety.

In a debate with CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai, Actor Aamir Bashir questioned as to what is taking the state government so long to act against such diktats.

"Wherever the state has failed you will find these elements, which are fringe elements. The state has all the power and the state abuses that power all the time in Kashmir. They become like lambs. 'Oh we don't know, it's up to the girls', what do you mean it's up to the girls. If somebody has published a threat, a life threatening threat, what are you waiting for?" Bashir asked.

In the same debate, senior lawyer Shabnam Lone also ridiculed the government for not doing much. "Unfortunately the people who are in a position of power to change things, they have capitulated just to remain in power. So unless and until the people who are there at the helm of affairs, if they do not deliver, the best thing is change them," Lone said.

The main opposition party PDP also came out in support of the band. "Mufti sahab has made it a habit of issuing fatwas on every thing. It gives Islam a bad name. Music is an intrinsic part of Kashmir's culture, we have had many great singers," Naeem Akhtar of the party said.

The hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference chose to distance itself from the issue. "We disassociate ourselves from the ‘fatwa’ issued by Mufti Bashiruddin (Grand Mufti of Jammu and Kashmir). People do not recognise him as grand mufti (chief cleric)… Only the government recognises him,” Hurriyat Conference spokesman Ayaz Akbar told PTI.

Akbar also dismissed the reported threats to the rock-band Pragaash as “mere propaganda”, saying “a big bomb is being made out of the issue”.

The incident is yet another instance of the seemingly never ending number of threats citizens face while merely exercising their freedom of expression.

In December last year, two women from Palghar were arrested after they expressed, on Facebook, their dismay with Mumbai shutting down over the funeral of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

In September, political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested and charged with sedition for depicting the national emblem and parliament in bad light.

While in this case there has been no arrest, what is clearly astonishing is how the government refuses to take action against those who have put out threats of rape and murder against the girls on social media websites.

Sadly, these threats against the all-girl rock band also comes at a time when the nation is outraged over how women in the country are treated. Through December 2012 and January this year, the country witnessed prolonged protests reaching up to the gate of President Pranab Mukherjee's home, demanding stricter punishment for crimes against women.

The Justice Verma Committee, set up to suggest changes to laws to ensure safety to women, commented on how the state has failed in its authority to abide by the constitution.

“We wish to base a large number of our conclusions on the theory of the constitution. The actions of those in authority have been in conflict with constitutional theory under which citizens of India are entitled to equality.”

In his column, R Jagannathan writes on how the Verma Committee report is a recipe for total revolution. "What is being demanded in the name of women’s rights – including a Bill of Rights – is actually applicable to every member of Indian society," he says.

The 10th-class students - vocalist-guitarist Noma Nazir, drummer Farah Deeba and guitarist Aneeka Khalid -- had formed a rock group called Pragash Band and rose to fame in December 2012 after their performance at the annual Battle of the Bands competition.

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