Fatwa politics threat to ethos of tolerance
EVEN as the civil society is up in arms demanding strong laws and their effective implementation to protect life and dignity of women in the wake of the horrific gang rape of a young student in Delhi, J&K is witnessing a theater of the absurd in which Muslim fundamentalists are threatening three young girls with rape and death for singing in public. They are using social networking sites to threaten and abuse in most vulgar language members of the all-girls rock band – Pragaash – that was adjudged the best band in a “war of bands” competition held in Srinagar recently.
The talented girls aspired to excel in music and might have graduated as professionals. This was not to be as regressive elements among their community did their worst to shatter their dreams. Self-proclaimed Grand Mufti Bashir-u-Din issued a fatwa against these young girls – all Xth class students – for indulging in what he thought was “un-Islamic”. Music, he declared without producing any credible evidence, is banned in Islam and went on to advise them to imbibe “better values” (like issuing preposterous dictats?) rather than vices like music and rock bands. He also threatened the parents of the girls concerned to imbibe “Islamic values” or else. “Music is not good as was evident from the shameful incident of gang rape that happened in Hindustan recently. It happens when women are given freedom to roam around, sing and dance, according to the self-proclaimed scholar of Islamic law.”
What a shame that civil society in the valley tolerates such nonsense. There is no end to Mufti’s controversial and uncalled for pronouncements. In one of his interviews to an English language daily, he thundered that his fatwa was not confined to the three Kashmiri music-loving girls, but was addressed to all communities, including Hindus, Sikhs and Christians and that everyone would have to live within the limits of “discipline” if they were to live in Kashmir. This is an open threat to non-Muslims to abide by what he thinks is Sharia. This mindset is a threat to our civilisational value of tolerance. Conceding ground to such regressive elements out of fear or political expediency will Talbanise the society. Attempts to convert J&K into an Islamic state must be resisted at all costs.
Ironically, even as this theatre of the absurd is playing out in Kashmir – the only Muslim-majority state of our democratic republic proud of its diversities and traditional tolerance – an all-woman Sufi music troupe from Iran – an Islamic state – is in the national capital to perform at the ICCR Sufi Festival.
The lead singer of the six-member troupe “Ghazal”, says the group is shocked to learn that Kashmiri all-girls band had called it quits because of a fatwa that music was “un-Islamic”. She says she had researched a lot to find out if music was taboo for women in Islam but failed to find anything in support of this irrational claim. Back home, they too faced some restrictions. For example, if a woman sings alone, it can only be for an exclusively female audience. However, there is no restriction if a woman plays an instrument alone before a mixed audience. If there were two or three women they can together perform before men. These restrictions in Khomeini’s Iran where women are not treated at par with men are understandable. Yet, it is a pleasant surprise to know that all-woman bands are mushrooming in that Islamic country. But in India – where the Constitution bestows equal rights to men and women in all spheres of life – Kashmiri girls can’t perform even before all women audiences just because a self-proclaimed Mufti issued a fatwa and fanatics issued threats on social networking sites! This is totally unacceptable in a democratic and modern society like ours.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah criticized the fatwa saying it had no legal sanctity and that the Mufti doesn’t draw funds from the Government. Is it a valid excuse for his helplessness and inaction in the matter? The “talented girls”, he said had a right to sing and hoped they wouldn’t let a “handful of morons” silence them. Under attack for his weak response, the Chief Minister said the Government would provide security to the girls if they and their parents demand it. This impressed no one as the girls and their families didn’t feel secure in the valley. Since the Government didn’t take prompt action to bring to justice the fundamentalists guilty of threatening the girls in the language most foul, moderates lost their nerve. Disgusted and frightened girls vanished from the scene and the band was disbanded. The mischief mongers had their day. After all was over, the J&K police identified 10 online hate mongers. Cases have been registered under various provisions of the IT Act and Ranbir Penal Code. There is some talk of setting up a Special Investigating Team (SIT) under a senior police officer to further investigate with the help of IT experts and J&K police’s Cyber Cell. Will the Government show any urgency in catching up with the hate mongers to bring them to justice? Only time will tell.
This illogical ban on music has nothing to do with religion. It is all about misogyny as is evident from the sickening threats posted on the web by mischief mongers. It is not new in our country. Not long ago, Mullahs had spread venom against Sania Mirza for the size of her skirt. The star player fought back and gave these regressive elements a befitting reply. She famously said that as long as she was winning, people shouldn’t care whether her skirt was six inches long or six feet. That fixed the morons. Let the Kashmiri girls take inspiration from Sania and refuse to submit to stupid and uncalled for fatwas. The repetitive insanity of such instances raises questions about the constitutional obligation of the Government of the day to ensure equal opportunities to all citizens irrespective of gender, caste and religion.