Friday, February 8, 2013

Despite deadly risks, Kashmir girls take brave first step

By: Salman Nizami

For many girls in Kashmir, the simple act of walking to "Music Institute" can be a life-threatening journey. "You close the door behind you, and you enter a war zone," said Tanveer Ahmed a social activist. Kashmir's first all-girls rock band "Pagwaash" which is facing online threats and abuses from conservative sections of the society; even the grand Mufti Bashir-u-Din has issued fatwa on it saying that the music is not good for the society. There were at least 50 attacks on girls according to the government during the Kashmir conflict. Last year Police and women's groups in Kashmir were alarmed after notices were pinned to mosques in Shopian district, claiming to be posted on behalf of two militant groups. "We appeal to the public that they ensure that their women observe pardah (cover their heads and faces) in public places, and not to participate in any activity which doesn't suits a women. If we spot any woman without purdah and participating in any dancing or singing competition we will sprinkle acid on her face. And If we spot any girl using mobile phone, she will be shot dead," said the note, which was signed by al-Qaeda Mujahedeen and referred to another group, Lashkar-e-al-Qaeda.  Another group, the Lashkar-e-Jabbar claimed responsibility for acid attacks and shootings of girls in 2001 as part of a campaign to enforce conservative Muslim values in the relatively liberal state and terrify young women it regarded as wearing "immodest" clothes, such as jeans and t-shirts. In the year 2011, a militant group, Lashkar-e-Jabbar, after taking responsibility for the attack on two Kashmir girls, saying it was the beginning of a drive to impose an Islamic dress code on Kashmiri women. The attackers used to spray corrosive liquids that can be bought at local stores on the skin of two local Muslim women, accusing them of being ''immodestly'' dressed because they were not wearing veils. The women were treated in hospital and discharged. Muslim militants in Kashmir have banned beauty parlours, liquor shops and cinema halls in the territory since armed militancy broke-out in 1989.  It has claimed at least 1.5 lakh lives. However the walk from home to the institute, for the "Praagaash" band girls is and has always been; the most dangerous part," said a student. "You are told to stay covered, keep your head down and walk quickly and stare at your toes." "It is unfathomable that anyone would want to hurt them. But that is the reality, said Adnan Matoo brand Manager. Adnan and his team are providing music teaching to around 30 girls and boys in Srinagar. Most of the students are below 18 years. The threats facing Kashmir girls are both "Herculean and heartbreaking," Adnan said. "To see these girls walking to the institute, delighted to be learning and spending time together in the classroom, singing the song for the first time, reading their lyrics, I felt hope for the future," Adnan said. Not in a naive way but with the realisation that if it's working here, it can work other places, too. He says there's still much work to be done, however, because there are many children in Kashmir most of them girls who are interested in music. In Kashmir culture, parents don't consider it appropriate for girls to join music classes. "When I am talking to parents, they are favourable to girls' music teaching. But the society should also support." said Adnan. To improve those numbers, our institute has implemented Music training programs so girls can become teachers right after making an album. In some cases, physical and emotional abuse keeps these girls out of the institute. Many young girls are accustomed to being hit and working as virtual slaves at home. According to the govt, violence against women has been persistent in Kashmir due to women's low status and the states long exposure to conflict. Gender discrimination can also be traced to a combination of factors, including poverty, local tradition and the effects of Kashmir conflict. But female students still have high aspirations. In the meeting, more than 10 of the girls said they want to continue with their music learning and band performance. "Once they enter the Music classroom, they are so involved being a student and trying to learn as much as they can," Adnan said."They want to learn. They want to be a Music star." Social activist Junaid agrees that if true change is to come in Kashmir, it's crucial to teach this next generation so that they too can participate in various singing competitions across the world."They form the future Kashmir that some in the world are afraid of and others might want to ignore," he said. "But it is paramount to look at these children and get the best support for them." These children are the Kashmir stars we are looking at in 10 or 20 years."