Continued from page 1

Experts say for most people in Kashmir, neither women performers nor music are a problem. “It becomes an issue when these strings are used to subvert a dominant political reality,” said Wasim Bhat, a Kashmiri sociologist.

Kashmir has a long tradition of poetry and music, and has produced iconic female singers including Raj Begum, Kailash Mehra, Naseem Begum and Shamima Azad, the wife of India’s health minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad.

That cultural heritage suffered when Muslim militants began their armed campaign two decades ago to gain independence for Indian-controlled Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan.

The rebels ordered the closure of cinemas and liquor shops, calling them “un-Islamic” and vehicles of India’s cultural aggression. India’s military responded to the insurrection with crackdowns that included torture, kidnapping, extortion and murder.

As armed violence waned in recent years, music shows and theater performances re-emerged, but some of the boundaries set during the conflict remained.

In 1996, a group of four girls broke a centuries-old convention when they started learning Sufiyana music, a classical Persian genre of music which Kashmir adopted after Persian Sufi saints started visiting the region.

A music school named after legendary Sufiyana maestro Ustad Ghulam Mohammed Qaleenbaf began training the girls at a time when guns roared in every corner of the region.

“Despite the unprecedented unrest, I received support from everyone who came to know of my initiative,” said Sheikh Mohammed Yaqoob, Qaleenbaf’s grandson.

Bhat, the sociologist, said nobody objected to the initiative “perhaps because they stayed within a tradition that does not contest the present-day political realities here.”

“The tension between modern and traditional is in every society. But what exemplifies this in a conflict situation like Kashmir is its motivated politicization,” he said.

Mattoo, the manager, did not hide his anger.

“I know it from my last eight years’ experience that we could have easily dealt with the online abuse,” Mattoo said. “We were failed by the government-run mufti, who asked us to forget our music and declared our band against the religion,” he said.