Media struck a discordant note

IN Media Freedom | 12/02/2013
The fatwa against girl band Pragaash was used to air stereotypes about Kashmiri society.
BIJOY KHWAIRAKPAM says Delhi-based media houses were guilty of pandering to opportunists and self-styled clerics.

I read the Quran, to find any verses that call upon the faithful to decry or propagate the prohibition of music. My reaction was an offshoot of a recent incident of an all-girl band from Kashmir – Pragaash the first of its kind from the Valley, having to call it quits from music, after a ‘fatwa’ was issued by some cleric. I was searching for the provenance of my frustration in the Quran, trying to find a convincing reason to hate music, and to vindicate the religious edict against the band.

I was trying to find the truth in the holy book but stopped midway, as I gradually realised music itself is the only truth.  And ultimately, I succumbed to my love for music and concluded it was above all religion and ideas.

The great composer and pianist, Ludwig Van Beethoven, would justify my aforementioned statement, for he said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdoms and philosophy.”

 It has no religion, no caste and creed.  I even hesitate to call Pragaash a girl band as music is not compartmentalised on the basis of gender, either.

Why did this band catch the eye of the Delhi media? Pragaash came into the limelight and captured media attention after they secured the third spot in the Battle of the Bands contest in Srinagar. What about the bands which secured the first and second spot? Forget media attention, their names were not even mentioned in any newspaper or TV channel. Had it been Mozart or John Lennon or Hendrix playing in disguise, as members of the boy bands, these unfortunate boys still would have remained unsung by our media. Unlike media, our ears are not biased.

And this was not the only all-girl band in the country, there were others such as the Apples, The Chosen from Mizoram and Afflatus from Shillong. For sure, my ears are healthy, unlike those journalists in Delhi, and know these bands produce very good music. But they weren’t able to garner any media attention. Why? Because they were not newsworthy (they don’t wear hijab or they don’t belong to the most news-worthy community). Here, I’m not drawing a comparison between Pragaash and the above-mentioned bands, but trying to give a clear measure of how news is are classified and priority ascribed by complying with fixed norms set by well-established media houses.  

For your reference – check out these bands and tell me, aren’t they good? The Apples from Mizoram, Afflatus from Shillong and The Chosen from Mizoram.

It is often alluring and heartwarming to read success stories of individuals from deprived sections of the society or the downtrodden. That’s why such stories get accolades and public acclamation. Therefore, the media shares a symbiotic relation with the downtrodden or poor or the less privileged communities. Such stories give media houses the opportunity to masquerade as serious, intellectual and courageous to its readers. These also offer them a chance to prove their profundity and book a place among the upper echelons of the media.

However, in Pragaash’s case, I strongly feel the media should also be held accountable for provoking those opportunists and self-styled clerics. It must have kept in mind that it was dealing with someone’s passion for music. 

I’m saying this because when the first stories about this band appeared, the media overemphasised the band’s identity and the state they belong to, rather than judging them by the music they produce. They repeatedly used words and phrases like  ‘insurgency-affected, Muslim-majority state’ that attracted reactions from those clerics who are pugnacious, always looking for an opportunity to flex their muscles to prove their authority. A person is likely to retort violently or aggressively if people keep calling him/her a problem child. The media houses could have acted responsibly or differently, considering they themselves are well aware of the idiosyncrasies of these religious leaders.

Now, after the ‘fatwa’ was issued, the topic suddenly became a fashionable one for the chattering class, especially those fortunate enough to be invited to cozy studios, and our wannabe activists on social networking sites. It became a trending topic everywhere. Some netizens even charged the whole Kashmiri society based on the action of the fatwa-happy clerics who represent (if they represent at all) a very small section of Kashmiri society. We should credit media for all these chaotic reactions from the people. To blithely criticise failings in attitudes of a community a thousand miles away is easy.

I simply hope these over-analysed and overplayed stories turn out to be blessings in disguise for Pragaash and the band comes to the notice of music directors in Mumbai. I will be happy if it gets a career-defining break and is able to revive its passion for music. Having said that, it doesn’t mean my relation with the media (with their phoney sympathy) is thawing.




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