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Kashmir girl band quits after fatwa

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

An all-girl teenage rock band from Indian-administered Kashmir has decided to quit after the region's top Muslim cleric declared their music to be "un-Islamic", their manager said Tuesday.

Pragaash, a three-piece group whose members are still in high school, had been the target of an online hate campaign ever since winning a "Battle of the Bands" contest in December.

But after initially insisting they would continue making music, they have now called it a day after the Grand Mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, Bashiruddin Ahmad, branded them as "indecent" and issued a fatwa calling for them to quit.

"After the fatwa the girls decided to quit and disband," Adnan Mattoo, the band's manager, said in brief comments to AFP.

The mother of one of the girls confirmed her daughter had decided to leave the band, saying she was staying with relatives outside Kashmir until the fuss died down.

Pragaash consisted of base guitarist Aneeqa Khalid, singer Noma Nazir and drummer Farah Deeba.

"My daughter had been depressed and irritable so we decided to send her away to another city for some time," said the mother, who did not want to give her name.

The comments by the grand mufti have been widely criticised with the state's Chief Minister Omar Abdullah among those calling on the band not to be intimidated into giving up on music.

The attacks against Pragaash have heightened concerns about artistic freedom in India following a series of campaigns waged by cultural conservatives.

The author Salman Rushdie had to cancel a promotional event in Kolkata for the film version of his book "Midnight's Children" last week while Bollywood actor Kamal Haasan threatened to go into exile after Muslim groups protested his work.

On Monday members of Durga Vahini, the women's wing of a Hindu nationalist group, protested against the display of nude paintings in the Delhi Art Gallery.

In a front-page editorial on Tuesday, The Times of India urged authorities to stand up for tolerance.

"The government must send out this message loud and clear to those who indulge in moral policing," the paper said.

"The law must act swiftly and sternly against such people because they are guilty of criminal intimidation. Each time the government fails to do so, it encourages others to take the same path."

While pledging to track down those behind the online hate campaign against Pragaash, Abdullah ruled out criminal action against the mufti.

"We can take action against those who act on his fatwas but I don't think we can (take) action against him," he told the NDTV news channel. "He has not issued any threats that I see that are actionable.

"We have every intention of tracking down all these people who have made online threats against these girls whether on Facebook or Twitter."

Several messages posted on Facebook threatened violence against the teenagers, even evoking the fate of a young medical student who died after being gang-raped in New Delhi in December.

Kashmir, India's only Muslim majority state, has a long tradition of women singers. One of the most famous is Shamima Azad, wife of India's federal health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Cultural observers say the growth of social media has given an outlet to extremists to vent their opinions but say it is not necessarily reflective of a growth of intolerance in the region.

The number of posts in support of the band have far surpassed the number of critical comments.

Waseem Bhat, a Srinagar-based sociologist, said the "portrayal of a Kashmir crammed with zealots and fanatics" was wide of the mark.

Siddiq Wahid, a former vice chancellor at the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Indian Kashmir, said the anonymity offered by social media had allowed a minority of extremists to dominate the debate.

"Anyone who has an extremist opinion now has a platform," Wahid said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130205/kashmir-girl-band-quits-after-fatwa-0