Symphony of Discord

Zubin Mehta’s upcoming concert Ehsaas-e-Kashmir is in controversy.  While the German embassy see it as an apolitical musical event, separatists smell a rat and see a conspiracy aimed at undermining Kashmir’s disputed status, reports Tasavur Mushtaq.

Zubin-MehtaIt needs just a spark to burn Kashmir. This time it is a multi crore concert sponsored by various groups and businesses within and outside India that has become a ragging controversy. Various chartered flights will fly the men and their instruments from Germany to Srinagar where internationally acknowledged music composer and director Zubin Mehta will perform in Mughal garden of Shalimar.

Ever since German ambassador to India Michel Steiner formally announced the concert last week, the concert to be watched by 1500 people, has got a huge publicity within and outside India. Both the rivals in Hurriyat Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have opposed the concert. They suspect the show was an attempt to project Kashmir as “normal” and “peaceful”.

Geelani has asked German ambassador, Michel Steiner to reconsider the decision to hold the concert in view of the “disputed status of J&K”. “Any sort of international activity, be it political, diplomatic, cultural or sports, will have an adverse effect on the disputed nature of J&K. We, therefore, wish that Germany should play a responsible role and keep away from any such move that may affect the noble cause of the people in Kashmir. These events can be used to change the disputed nature of the Kashmir dispute,” Geealni said while comparing the event with India-West Indies cricket match held in the state in 1983.

Chairman of his faction, Mirwaiz Umar had a word of advice for the embassy, “Instead of spending the money on this event it would be much better if this money is utilized for the healthcare and education of the downtrodden people in this conflict zone of Kashmir.”

Mehta is not the first to create controversy in Kashmir.  In May, 2008, Junoon band from Pakistan had also to face the opposition. Their high-voltage, much-hyped and stiffly opposed (by separatists) ‘peace concert’ marked the beginning of a new trail of ‘music therapy’. Among the audience were busloads of state run central Kashmir schools and most of city’s ‘glittering’ elite.

Salman Ahmad, the lead member of the group felt the feeling of ‘alienation’. “I could see and actually feel the hope of peace in hearts of the people and that is why some people did not want us to come but we came”, Salman was quoted to have said.

Prior to Junoon, in August 2004, the then Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had planned “the color of the heart” extravaganza cultural event of artists from India and Pakistan in Srinagar. Mufti had famously termed it to be the first incident of its kind after the partition that also divided princely state of J&K.

Then came December 2009 when American Pop Queen, Terra Noami performed in a ‘climate change concert’ and Sung her famous ‘Say It Is Possible’, the song that was inspired by Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and won her an award in 2007. She said that she is honored to play in Kashmir for a ‘larger cause’.

The concert was organized by Mercy Corps led by Usman Rahim. The otherwise active Usman later left valley without anybody knowing the reason. There was a difference to the event – presence of a few separatist leaders.

Art, culture or related activities when confined to their real meaning has no reservation, but when the cord touches political aspect of the region, it starts ‘imposing problems’.

From the Pakistani band Junoon to the Egyptian Derveshs, the visits of artists and musicians from different countries have never gone well. When state machinery projects these events as return of peace and normalcy, Kashmir reacts.

With Germany showing keenness in organizing this event, there is growing feeling in the separatist camp that the Western diplomatic community has joined hands with New Delhi to marginalize the Kashmiri struggle.

That was perhaps why a group of civil society activists reacted quite ferociously.

“We also have historically cultivated a sublime tradition in, and love for, music. Music – which appeals to the higher truths of love, justice, dignity, and peace; which genuinely acknowledges the long suffering, and yet bravely resisting, Kashmiris; and which is performed for the actual public – is wholeheartedly welcomed,” the civil society activists said. “However, legitimizing an occupation via a musical concert is completely unacceptable. Art as propaganda, as abundantly documented, was put to horrific use in Nazi Germany. We are sure you will understand that we cannot welcome anything even remotely analogous in Jammu and Kashmir.”

The activists asserted that the people of J&K, ‘for whom this concert is purportedly meant, have been subject to an occupation. The human rights apart, the activists said, the Indian State has been its constant endeavour to “forcibly control the public, regional and international narrative on J&K.” They said hosting Zubin Mehta is “a privilege” but cannot be used to further “an occupying State’s narrative.”

Civil libertarian and writer Gautam Navlakha claimed the concert has clear objective. “Such types of concerts are being organized with a purpose. It is really sorry to state that India with the help of Germany is trying to mislead International community by making music a tool. Who can forget the atrocities and human rights violations done by India in Kashmir and how this country can now claim that all is well in Kashmir,” Navlakha told a Srinagar based news gathering agency.

To host the Zubin Mehta concert, Shalimar Garden getting a facelift. 
To host the Zubin Mehta concert, Shalimar Garden getting a facelift. 

At the same time, however, sections within the hospitality sector were happy that the concert is taking place. Azim Tuman who was heading the houseboat association till recently welcomed the event. “It will help us to send the right message that Kashmir is well,” Tuman said. “For the last 20 years, we have been projected wrongly.”

M Salim Beg who heads INTACH said the people across the world will not accept that Kashmir’s opposed the concert on political grounds. They, he said, will see it as “our intolerance”.

Singers in Kashmir reacted strictly as per their involvement with the concert. Those who are part of the concert are so happy to see it happening. Those who are at a distance say the state that cannot help its own artists to have an honourable survival should avoid getting internationally big shots to create an impression that does not exist in Kashmir. “It only suits the interests of J&K government to ignore its own singers and spend lavishly on someone who is unknown to the audience here,” said singer Gulzar Ahmad Ganie. In contrast, Bhajan Sopori and Waheed Jeelani who are part of the process see nothing political in the event. “It’s a huge classical orchestra. There are no electronic instruments, not even a guitar, no jazz, no pop, no rock. It’s much like our own devotional Sufiana,” explained Sopori.

The concert is not cancelled. There are preparations going on to make it a huge success. State government has already constituted two committees to take care of the event scheduled for September 7.

It conveys the larger reality that Berlin has actually changed its position on Kashmir. “I recognize the legitimate institutions in Kashmir and we concentrate more on issues of economy, prosperity and development,” Michael Steiner, German ambassador said in Srinagar in July. “Germany has not changed its position on Kashmir and we will not take a position on Kashmir that will be seen an interference.”

The ambassador said the overall feeling is that Kashmiris want peace and have a positive attitude towards improving their economy. “We are keen to work with them and want to tell them that there are opportunities outside,” he asserted. This is contrary to the EU parliamentarians’ report a few years back that introduced Kashmir as “world’s beautiful prison”. The policies are changed. Let us have music now.

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