Pragaash controversy: Is there a need for introspection?

It was a jaw dropping experience for almost all Kashmiris who without a shred of doubt knew that the issue was being blown out of proportion by Indian media. Twitterati and Facebook users took up the gauntlet and did their best to negate all the insensitive and derisive claims media was making about the Kashmiri society.

Had there been an Indian version of Oxford English Dictionary, the name of now-disbanded Kashmir’s all-eves band ‘Pragaash’ would have certainly found a place in it. And a definition by conservative standards would have been like this: ‘Pragaash represents the persecution of women due to growing influence of Wahhabism in Kashmir Valley – the land of Sufis and Saints’.

On a day when Indian media should have put pressure on law enforcement agencies, in the same breath it did at the time of MIM legislator Akbaruddin Owaisi’s ‘hate speech’, to arrest VHP leader Praveen Togadia – who in a obtuse speech gloated about killing Muslims by thousands in Assam, Bhagalpur, Moradabad and Gujarat – it continued to rope in unlettered religious heads and shady political leaders to demonize Kashmiri society in the name of so-called sympathy for Pragaash.

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The electronic media, in particular, picked up the story and turned it into a circus by inviting speakers who would do nothing but accuse (read abuse) one another of double standards and lack of vision and understanding. One wonders what good job the media did. In fact, it was the media that brought the band unwarranted attention, which had until that time decided to stay low in view of online hate campaign directed against them on their Facebook Page. And it was the media attention that woke up another clown, Kashmir’s Grand Mufti, who couldn’t do anything decent but issue a fatwa (just an opinion with no legal holding) from his kangaroo court against the three girls – Farah Deeba, Aneeka Khalid and Noma Nazir – and their band.

Gone are the days when journalists would risk their neck to bring out truth for public good. At least, in this part of the world where media is controlled by corporates, such things are as scarce as hen’s teeth. It is the age of TRPs and that is what matters at the end of the day. The constant need for marketable bits and pieces (Kashmir would always sell, unfortunately) to feed the 24×7 beast, coupled with its ideal match with India’s nationalistic perspective, Pragaash controversy couldn’t have come at a better time for the likes of Arnab and the ilk.

On the Valley streets, we knew, people were more worried about the winter chill, the rampant power cuts, not to forget the insecurity they face in the presence of gun-toting and trigger happy armed forces every moment. Barring a section of Internet users, which wouldn’t account for more than 10% of the population of the Valley, people had no inkling of the Pragaash controversy. But on expected lines, media henchmen who drink jingoism instead of red wine, fired catapults of vile from their cozy and fancily lit studios in India’s national and financial capitals while dishing the dirt to project Kashmiri society as intolerant.

It was a jaw dropping experience for almost all Kashmiris who without a shred of doubt knew that the issue was just being blown out of proportion. Twitterati and Facebook users took up the gauntlet and did their best to negate all the insensitive and derisive claims Indian media was making about the Kashmiri society.

While it was a serious concern for most of us, I, however, believe that issues like this one are a blessing in disguise, irrespective of the sting. This should serve as an eye-opener so that we introspect how we, the youth of the society, which is facing onslaught not from the Indian state only, but from within our inner circles, respond to such situation or become more proactive so that such escalations never take place.

Not only should our young and budding journalists try to work with better accuracy and professionalism to avoid sloppy reporting, but our ‘Facebook mujahids’, if better sense prevails, would also like to stop the use of their bullets stuffed with vile and abuse against girls who were too young to understand and make politically correct decisions.

As Paulo Coelho rightly said, ‘Don’t waste your time on explanations, people only hear what they want to hear’, I don’t bother what media henchmen and their likeminded Indians want to think about Kashmir and the problem people are facing here. And I don’t want to explain them that Kashmir is far more liberal and a free society that your country, because they aren’t interested in these things. They will choose to hear what they believe in.

But what is worrying is the way a section of our population – which unfortunately includes well read and traveled people as well – reacted to the Pragaash episode. At a time when we should have condemned hate and abuse directed at these high school students, we chose to be furious at the media coverage (which undoubtedly was disproportionate), at the cost of failing to look at the way we were providing fodder to the 24×7 beast.

There are people who are bringing bad name not just to our freedom movement but to our religion (which every Muslim holds dear closer than anything) as well. We can, for the sake of argument, say that the girls were targeted because they participated in a tournament organized by the Indian paramilitary forces responsible for the deaths of thousands of our fellow Kashmiris. How can we justify the statement when we know that girls are just 16 or 17 years of age? How can we justify the cricket matches our fellow media persons play with police, army and paramilitary forces? What is our answer to all those Kashmiris who participated in cricket tournaments organized by Army across the Valley? Of course, we have to stop being selective and learn to call spade a spade.

One of my friends pointed out that hate might have been directed at the band members because they are “passionate about India” as recorded in their ‘About us’ section on their Facebook page. Also written there is “Jai Hind’, which unarguably most people will find contemptible given the way India has treated Kashmiris during last six decades.

We can’t be immune to the massive sufferings inflicted upon Kashmiri people – including women and children – by the state, but can we, as Muslims, justify the vitriolic comments posted on their Facebook Page? Can we use the same religion that strictly tells us not to abuse anyone to tell these girls that they are “immoral and wayward”?

Let us not forget that even our slightest moves are being watched today. Whatever suits the interest of our detractors will be given a media spin in a way that our explanations would be relegated to dark corners.

We had once committed a big blunder by giving a religious colour to our nationalistic freedom struggle (although we could have derived passion and guidance from our religion) and we can’t afford to repeat it, especially in the current world scenario where enemies of Islam (certainly not a small population) are on the prowl, looking for our errors so that they can go about their business of terming it “violent and medieval”.

In the garb of religion, we directed abuse at the girls just for the simple reason that they participated in a function organized by our adversaries. We can’t punish anyone if he/she likes India (although these girls are too young to even understand that). After all, we can’t force anyone to change her choice or dreams. But yes, there is always an option to convince and win people’s hearts. In this case, our leaders (not talking about Abdullahs and Muftis) could have met with these kids, and their parents, certainly not in the presence of cameras and a mad crowd of reporters. And in that way we could have won their hearts and minds too! And Imagine how Indian media would have reacted if they had come up with a song on Azaadi like this one:

They may torture my body, break my bones and even kill me

Then they will have my dead body and not my obedience

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