J&K: Concert and Concerns

10 Sep, 2013    ·   4112

Shujaat Bukhari comments on the disconnect between the portrayal of Kashmir in the recently held Zubin Mehta concert and the reality on the ground

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

German Ambassador to India Michael Steiner and his team seems to be at pain to wonder as to why his “dream” event of hosting world known musician Zubin Mehta in the historical Shalimar garden has gone awry. In private conversations Steiner is in tight fists to explain that the concert was something he wanted to do for the people of Kashmir. He also boasts about a silent majority in Kashmir supporting it and the calls his Embassy is receiving for the invitation cards gives him a feeling that whole Kashmir was not against it. But on the face of it, that does not seem to be the case. If the silent majority does not come out openly, then it surely leaves the space open for a vocal minority to hog the limelight.

Music knows no boundaries and Kashmir has the distinction of having the best music. Kashmiris cherish music and from weddings to harvesting in the field it has been their soothing companion. Our rich culture and heritage makes us a proud community. So there is no question of showing any disrespect to other culture or heritage. But the fact is that there is a deep disconnect between this particular concert and the people of Kashmir at large. If one takes a common Kashmiri into account, his taste is limited to his own music and hardly extends to that of Hindi movies. To establish a connection with the Beethoven orchestra is surely hard as there will be a minimal population that could understand what it means and how important and attractive it is for the rest of the world. But that does not mean that any such concert should not be held in Kashmir. For that matter Kashmiri concerts are organized in Britain and other western countries or even in various Indian cities. Music necessarily does not need a class to understand but some kind of linkage is must.

When the German Ambassador met a group of select civil society members, including businessmen, columnists, academicians, tourist traders and journalists, on July 17 many issues came up for discussion. Though he repeatedly maintained that it was an apolitical event and Government of India (GoI) had nothing to do with it, reservations were expressed by the participants keeping in view the different situation prevailing in Kashmir. By any stretch of imagination it is not possible for any Embassy or an Ambassador to do such a show without the support of the government, since the arrival of more than 500 foreigners and then the participation of more than 1000 locals (whosoever they are) needs a major security bandobast. May be at the political level there is no connection but administratively how can government allow something which does not fit in its rule book? Steiner’s intention must be based on sincerity but it needs to be seen whether it was feasible to have the event at a time when Kashmir is floating in a stream of narratives.

For the last 22 years Kashmir has been in deep conflict and there is a huge gap between reality and perception. And when a foreign country hosts an event it has its own implications. There are definitely different narratives in Kashmir. Scores of high profile events take place in Kashmir despite the fact that the gap between the people and the state has been widening but as long as they have a local colour they may not invite much criticism. In the absence of any serious political engagement between Srinagar and New Delhi and the betrayals that have taken place there is hardly any room for trust and confidence. So any such event is destined to court controversy as the effort would be to bracket it as a sign of normalcy. Again the normalcy has a different connotation for different people. Not that the people in general do not want normalcy; Kashmiris have huge stakes in peace. They have suffered enormously on the economic front, they have been brutalized, humiliated and traumatized during 22 years of strife. Those associated with tourism industry must be happy with such an event as it brings Kashmir into world focus and may attract more and more foreigners to visit the Valley. But for those who are fighting a different battle, their concern that Kashmir will be seen as a place where there is nothing to resolve is also genuine. However, to call for a strike to register the protest may not be the right thing to do. To the extent of expressing reservations and putting on record the dissent, the statements from political leaders were enough. The message seems to have gone across and to stretch it further may not do any better. Calling for a strike on any such occasion, when the authorities are almost “threatened” for carrying out a huge security drill, means giving a breather to them to manage the show without any major problem.

What the German Embassy could have done was that it should have made an effort to strike a chord with people in Kashmir. Here everything that is done through the state institutions is seen with suspicion. Because the past experiences have shown that whenever such an occasion has come, it is being used to beat the drum that Kashmir was normal and there was nothing to resolve. But the fact remains that it is an issue, which needs to be resolved. This is the voice not only heard from separatists alone but even those who enjoy or have enjoyed the power with blessing of Delhi. Kashmiris have pinned a strange hope on the West for intervention in resolving Kashmir issue. They always looked towards US and other countries for the help. May be it was more because of the fact that Pakistan is party to the dispute and the lobbying has always been directed towards the West. That is why Germany arriving in Srinagar with a soothing event of music rather than what many here expect their role in stressing for resolving Kashmir has not gone so well with the people.

Since Germany is an important part of European Union, its role in Kashmir cannot be underestimated. Kashmiris are not against Zubin Mehta or Germany as such but the way the concert is seemingly “imposed” on them, it has certainly raised the questions, which need an answer from the Ambassador. While their intention to bring Kashmir in focus at international level (in terms of tourism) is welcome, their take on contentious issues of politics and human rights also must be clear. People in Kashmir are known for hospitality and they are always happy to be hosts but in this case the ground work to involve them on a larger scale has not been done. So the bitterness in otherwise soothing air is very stingy. With the huge security blanket, the concert will be a reality watched live in around 50 countries, but the chord with real Kashmir will be missing.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir