Centre for Internet & Society
Online Abuse of Teen Girls in Kashmir Leads to Arrests

The all-girl rock band Praagaash performing at the ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, in December.

Online abuse and a fatwa aimed at a rock band of Muslim teenage girls in Kashmir have led to arrests and a threat of a lawsuit.

Online Abuse of Teen Girls in Kashmir Leads to Arrests

The all-girl rock band Praagaash performing at the ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, in December.

This article by Betwa Sharma was published in the New York Times on February 8, 2013. Pranesh Prakash is quoted.

Three men were arrested this week for posting threatening messages on the Facebook page of Praagaash, an amateur rock band in Indian-occupied Kashmir made of up Muslim girls. “The investigation is ongoing,” said Manoj Pandita, spokesman for the Jammu and Kashmir police, indicating that more arrests may follow.

The three men were charged under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which applies to “offensive” messages being sent through communication services, and Section 506 of the Ranbir Penal Code, which applies to criminal intimidation. Mr. Pandita said that it had been easy to track the I.P. addresses of the Facebook users.

A prominent human rights lawyer, Parvez Imroz of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, is planning to sue the top religious leader in Kashmir, who called for the fatwa, for “demonizing Kashmir before the international community” and for “running a parallel judicial system in the valley.”

Mr. Imroz told India Ink that human rights organizations like his needed support from the international community to highlight their concerns, and such fatwas reflected badly on the Kashmiri society. “He is diverting attention away from real issues of human rights to nonissues like music and purdah,” Mr. Imroz said.

The fatwa against the band was issued by the Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad.

In his fatwa, Mr. Ahmad advised women to only sing inside the house to other female members of the family, and wear a veil whenever they left the house. “They must stay within limits,” he said.

Following the band’s first live performance in December, Aneeqa Khalid, Noma Nazir and Farah Deeba, 10th-grade students who are 15 and 16 years old, became the target of abuse and threats on Facebook by people who accused them of being un-Islamic because they had performed in public, especially before men. Some commenters called them “sluts” and “prostitutes;” others suggested that they should be raped.

The band Praagaash, which means “darkness into light,” disbanded following a national controversy surrounding these threatening messages. The threats were condemned by many, including the state’s chief minister.

To many Kashmiris, both the fatwa and the arrests by the government are unnecessary. Some say that the controversy erupted after the state’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, got involved by expressing his support for the band on Twitter and then calling for investigation against those writing the threatening messages.

“Nobody here had a problem with the rock band,” said Aala Fazili, a doctorate student at Kashmir University, pointing out that the band’s performance in December had not led to any protests or physical threats against them.

Mr. Fazili, 32, added that people shouldn’t be arrested for writing abusive posts on Facebook. “You cannot call an abuse a threat,” he said.

Mr. Pandita, the Kashmir police spokesman, said the investigators were making a distinction between a threat and abuse on the basis of “gravity.”

Pranesh Prakash, from the Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore, asked whether people who hold protests calling for the death of the author Salman Rushdie should also be arrested for making threats.

“I would hold that no expression of violent thoughts, online or offline, should be made criminal, even if it is repugnantly misogynistic, unless it takes the form of a credible threat that causes harm, or is harassment that constitutes harm,” he said.