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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Three held over threats to band

Published 08/02/2013 | 04:41

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Pragaash, or First Light, perform at the annual Battle of the Bands in Srinagar, India (AP)

Three people have been arrested for allegedly threatening the first Kashmiri all-girl rock band, which disbanded after its debut concert.

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Pragaash, or First Light in Kashmiri, split up following abusive comments on social media and a demand from a top Muslim cleric that they stop performing.

The three arrested people have been charged with criminal intimidation and violating internet laws, and could be jailed for up to seven years if convicted.

The controversy highlights the simmering tension between modernity and tradition in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where an armed uprising against Indian rule and a crackdown by government forces have killed more than 68,000 people since 1989.

Police are looking for at least a dozen other people whose comments were abusive. However, no action has been taken against the cleric for describing the girls' band as a non-Islamic activity.

The arrests came as one of the band members told India's CNN-IBN channel that the group had decided to stop singing because of the cleric's edict, and not merely because of the online abuses. "Everything was going fine till the fatwa was issued," she said.

Pragaash performed in public for the first time in December in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir. They came third in an annual Battle of the Bands show organised by an Indian paramilitary force as part of a campaign to win hearts and minds in the region.

Soon after the show, Kashmiri pages on social networking sites like Facebook discussed the band. Some wondered whether the performance was appropriate in Muslim-dominated Kashmir, while others raised broader questions on the Islamic approach to music and the role of women in the society.

The controversy deepened last Saturday after Omar Abdullah, the region's top elected official, promised a police probe into the threats and wrote on Twitter that "the talented teenagers should not let themselves be silenced by a handful of morons".

The all-girl band then came under the scrutiny of various groups. Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad, Kashmir's state-sponsored cleric, issued a fatwa on Sunday ordering the girls to "stop from these activities and not to get influenced by the support of political leadership".

Press Association

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