Updated: Jul 8, 2019
Pragaash is a Kashmiri word that means ‘the first ray of light’. And a new phenomenon did shine on the land of Kashmir when three school girls decided to start a band. This is the story of the rise of one of India’s most unique school bands and its short-lived history.
The idea for a band came along when ninth-grader Noma Nazir Bhatt picked up the guitar in Presentation Convent High School, a leading convent school in Srinagar. The lead singer and guitarist then sought the help of her classmate Aneeqa (who played bass) and another friend Farah (who played drums). To help add some spit and polish Rock Bludz came to their aid.
For those unacquainted with the Kashmiri music scene, Rock Bludz is the premier rock collective in J&K. The 2005-born band was the first of its kind in the state and has trained many musicians ever since.
With their new-found confidence, Pragaash debuted their music right away at a competitive event on December 10, 2012. It was a typical Battle of the Bands event and the girls ended up winning a ‘Best Performance’ award at the show!
What followed was a sudden spike in attention for the girls. News spread from the valley to mainstream media houses like NDTV and Indian Express. Some of their songs like Emptiness began to be uploaded on YouTube.
‘We are getting a little criticism but at the same time, we are getting popular with a lot of support’, Noma said in an interview expressing her aspirations for the band’s future.
But along with the attention, that ‘little criticism’ also started growing.
The teens’ phones now blew up with Facebook notifications, death and rape threats replacing the praise for their music. While many locals had started appreciating the all-girls band, the Muslim orthodoxy didn’t approve of this and saw them as a ‘band of infidels’.
The Grand Mufti (Islamic jurist of state) publicly criticized the band, stating that they were exhibiting ‘indecent behaviour’ and that ‘this kind of non-serious activity can become the first step towards our destruction’. Some locals, aided by online petitions tried helping Pragaash attain music liberty but eventually, the attempt failed.
And considering the state’s civilians are already beset with troubles like kidnappings, separatism, and human rights violations, the struggle to save their first girl band withered away with time.
‘I hope these talented young girls will not let a handful of morons silence them,’, tweeted the then-Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Calling the clerics ‘morons’ was a bold step but maybe the CM gave up the fight against orthodoxy too. He deleted his tweet soon.
Finally, in the year 2013, one year later, Pragaash released a quote for the press. ‘Just tell everyone we have quit. We are no more a band.’
In that month of February, the music died a slow death in Kashmir. The band’s work can still be viewed on a limited scale online, through low-quality uploads and a docu-drama called Pragaash-The Song of Silence. As for the members, they have passed out of school but there’s no clue on their pursuits afterward.
Here’s hoping that Pragaash makes a comeback someday in a better Kashmir…
Shaurya Singh Thapa