New Internationalist

Two concerts, one Kashmir, no peace

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Performing artist Inder Salim, wearing a cloak and a white skullcap, walks up to the makeshift stage. The backdrop shows a collage of razor wires and pictures of people killed by Indian forces. With a transistor and a stick in his hands, he reaches the microphone. As he begins his performance, he rips to pieces his invitation card to a concert taking place at the same time, featuring Indian-born Western classical music arranger, Zubin Mehta. As the torn bits of invitation card drift down, the audience roars with a sense of victory.

On 7 September, with Kashmir under siege, Zubin Mehta played to an ‘invitee-only’ audience in the Valley’s highly fortified Shalimar garden. In protest, a parallel event was organized by civil society – a cultural and aesthetic tribute to the struggle and resilience of the people who challenge an Indian narrative which claims non-participation of minorities in resistance and uses it to dilute the Kashmir issue. Inder Salim, who comes from one of Kashmir’s minority groups, flew in from New Delhi to take part in the protest, to live, in his words ‘a very important moment in my life’.

At the official event – organized by the Germany Embassy and the Indian government, and sponsored by corporate czars – Zubin Mehta said that he wanted to bring Hindus and Muslims together in Kashmir for ‘inner peace and spirituality’, but such reading of the Kashmir question seems deliberately uninformed.

The people of Kashmir raised concerns about the event – which was broadcast in 50 countries – saying that it was an ‘attempt to control the narrative and to portray normalcy and peace to the international community’. A protest letter from Kashmir to the German Embassy noted ‘it was unfortunate that a member of European Union’ – which had called the mountainous region a beautiful prison – ‘should seek to collaborate, perhaps unwittingly, with India in Kashmir’.

Mehta’s ‘apolitical’ event had, in fact, strong political motivations. A ‘fantastically, fanatically pro-Israel’ Music Director for Life of Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, having played the Israeli Philharmonic before an all-Arab audience in Nazareth, must have felt at home in razor-wired Kashmir. Mehta was instrumental in helping Israel improve its global image. India had a similar mission with the conductor’s performance in Kashmir.

Caught unawares by the announcement of a parallel ‘counter memory’ event, the government moved strategically. While permission for the protest concert was sought five days in advance, the government gave a conditional nod only on the night before the two concerts were scheduled to take place. The state dictated that the event could only take place during the time Mehta was scheduled to perform. By making sure the two performances coincided, the state ensured that the international press, which had flocked to Kashmir to see Mehta, would miss the parallel event.

On the day of the concerts, government forces barricaded the routes leading to the venue of the protest event, disrupting preparations.

But such actions didn’t prevent hundreds from witnessing a range of resistance art. The atmosphere became emotionally charged as the performances and poetry made people revisit Kashmir’s tragedies. Art and poetry evoking satire and humour made the crowd laugh, even as government forces waited at the ready with water cannons, and intelligence sleuths photographed the audience for their records.

Meanwhile, a few miles away, Mehta was giving out a message of manufactured peace to the VIPs. People living near the venue of the official concert were ‘bundled into single rooms’, ‘their houses turned into watch towers’, and sharpshooters were positioned around the venue. Locals even postponed marriage celebrations owing to the unprecedented security presence. The Mehta event, touted as a tribute to the people of Kashmir, had just 1,100 carefully picked invitees – only 100 of whom were Kashmiris. Nikolaus Bachler, the general manager of the Bavarian State Orchestra, which performed alongside Mehta, said they had been ‘misled’. He had been informed that they would be playing for the Kashmiri people and not at a restricted ‘embassy concert’.

A handful of Kashmir musicians did play in the Mehta concert, but after the event they were denied entry to the state dinner and made to travel in trucks while others were ferried in BMWs  specially brought in from outside.

As the concerts took place, four youths were killed by troopers in South Kashmir. The protest event was cut short when people heard the news, and the audience marched out chanting pro-freedom slogans.

After the concert, Mehta left. But the people of Kashmir are still under siege, left behind to clean the vandalized gardens, grieve and clean the bloodied streets.

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  1. #1 Arnab Gupta 01 Oct 13

    The writer conveniently forgets the fact that the protesters were Islamic fundamentalists posing as Kashmir's civil rights movement participants. There is nothing secular about Kashmir. What about the thousands of Kashmiri Pandits who are killed in their own homes? What wrong have they done? Except they are NOT MUSLIMS?

  2. #2 Ali Hashim 10 Oct 13

    It is undeniable that there is considerable State violence in Kashmir.
    However, It is also a fact that there are frequent incursions from across the border in Pakistan to which the Indian government reacts with military action.

    It is ad that the solution to this conundrum is staring Pakistan and India in the face but they do not see it. Let me explain.

    To achieve peace a major rest is necessary in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. This is required not as a concession that needs to be given to India to achieve peace, but as a result of changed ground realities.

    The situation on the ground has changed quite significantly since Pakistan’s Kashmir policy was first formulated in 1947. A close look at this matter shows that the interests of both Pakistan and India have now become surprisingly similar.

    Both India and Pakistan want to keep control over their parts of Kashmir. Both have hopefully realized after three wars that they cannot get the other part.

    Two major opinion surveys conducted on both sides of border in Kashmir over the period 2007-2010 have shown that less than 5% of the Moslem population of Indian Kashmir would like to join Pakistan. Likewise Pakistani Kashmiris do not want to join India. (References: (a) survey conducted in August 2007 and sponsored by media groups, Indian Express –The Dawn- CNN-IBN; (b) survey conducted in May 2010 by Robert Braddock - an associate fellow at the Chatham House, a think-tank in London).

    It appears that the Kashmiris in Indian Kashmir are not as keen to join Pakistan as the Pakistani Kashmiris are for them to do so. Over time, the interests of the people of Indian Kashmir have become different from those of their brethren on the other side of the border.

    Given the low desire of the Moslems of Indian Kashmir to join Pakistan and the uncertainty of the political disposition of an independent Kashmir vis -a- vis Pakistan and even Pakistani Kashmiris, it appears that while Pakistan and the Pakistani Kashmiris will lose control over Pakistani Kashmir, they will gain very little in return, if an independent Kashmir were to be created.

    It is therefore NO LONGER in the interest of Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmiris to press for a UN plebiscite or an independent Kashmir.
    India has always been unwilling to consider an independent Kashmir as an option

    Since even the Moslem Kashmiris in India do not want to join Pakistan, and the Pakistani Kashmiris do not want to join India, a division along the LOC, i.e. a formalization of the status quo, is in the best interest of both India and Pakistan.

    This should be the primary thrust of Pakistan’s policy, not because it is the best deal that it can get, but since the alternative is not in its interest.

    Now the above surveys also showed that Indian Moslem Kashmiris do want independence, essentially to get rid of the alleged Indian suppression there.

    Given that the Indian Muslim Kashmiris do not want to join Pakistan, takes Pakistan out of the equation from a purely national interest point of view and makes this a matter between India and Indian Kashmiris.

    Now the Indian Government says that their military action in Kashmir is a consequence of Pakistani cross border incursions. Therefore, if a settlement is reached between Indian and Pakistan, as above, it would also drastically reduce the support the Jihadi groups receive in Pakistan. This in turn should lead to a reduction of their activities, which would go a long way in ending the repression in Indian Kashmir and enable the Kashmiri people live a more peaceful life.

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