“Will your music weep for the martyrs
Seventy thousand Kashmiris killed
Will your music bring back the thousands
Disappeared in the shadows of the hills.”
These are a few lines from a song, entitled ‘For Zubin Mehta and Kashmir’ (Listen to the song here), written by Kabir Suman, an Indian politician and a Kolkata-based musician/ songwriter, in his disapproval of a controversial musical concert, scheduled for the weekend in Kashmir’s Shalimar garden.
Ehsaas-e-Kashmir (Feelings for Kashmir) is being organized by German embassy with the assistance of the state and central governments in the garden built by Mughals on the banks of picturesque Dal Lake in Indian Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar on September 7.
Mumbai-born Zubin Mehta, a celebrated conductor of classical music, will conduct the Bavarian State Orchestra – the first of its kind in disputed Kashmir valley over which India and Pakistan has fought three wars since 1947 – the year of their independence from British Raj.
Calling it a concert “for the people of Kashmir,” German ambassador Michael Steiner has said that they “want to reach the hearts of Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement.”
“Be careful great conductor,
Your baton may prompt a wail
When human souls are chained
Both peace and music fail.”
Through these lines, Mr Suman has questioned the very idea behind holding such a concert in the Valley. He wants to put across a simple, but a perilous message: peace and music can’t bring any relief to the people who are facing State oppression.
When asked why he held completely opposing views from that of the Indian government on Kashmir, Mr Suman said: “I don’t owe any allegiance to anybody but to my own conscience. I oppose many views of the present government as well as those of the opposition.”
“I don’t care if the Indian government makes any allegation against me for making such a song as ‘For Zubin Mehta and Kashmir’.”
So, what exactly was the issue with the concert, Mr Suman told TheNewsKick that it was an attempt to obfuscate the real situation in Kashmir and to gloss over the Kashmiris’ demands.
“It would be another way of saying ‘all quiet on the Kashmir front’ and ‘it feels good to be in Kashmir where nothing is wrong,” he said.
Mr Suman is not the only person who has opposed the concert. A civil rights group in Srinagar, Coalition of Civil Society (CCS) is organizing a parallel event at Municipal Park, few miles from the garden. The organisers of the show, Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir (the reality of Kashmir), are using the social media to request people to send poems, paintings, photographs and songs that will be a “cultural, aesthetic tribute to the resilience and struggle of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.”
The concert ran into a controversy after Syed Ali Geelani, leader of his faction of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) – an organization fighting for Kashmir’s independence – urged the German ambassador and the organisers to call off the concert in view of the “disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir”.
“The international events held in the disputed territory interfere with its status,” he said in a statement. “Any sort of international activity, be it political, diplomatic, cultural or sports, will have an adverse effect on the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir. 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.”
Mr Geelani has also asked Kashmiris to observe a strike on the day. However, many people have questioned his logic behind the strike saying that ‘he needed to think beyond shutdowns’. “Supporting the parallel event (Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir), giving vent to true “feelings” would have been more sensible,” said a Facebook user.
“Kashmir is a bigger orchestra where everyone likes to play with own instruments…” wrote a senior journalist on Facebook.
The German ambassador has said “we want to reach the hearts of Kashmiris” with music as it has the power to cross geographical, political and cultural borders.
However, Mr Suman disagrees. “I wonder what makes Germany do what they are doing for the concert,” he said.
Kashmiris, according to him, need a solution to their problems and not any ‘musical balm’. “With about 70,000 Kashmiris dead, about 10,000 Kashmiris disappeared and thousands of Kashmiri women raped by the Indian forces it would be a cruel joke to hold a Western Classical Music concert at Srinagar with Zubin Mehta as the conductor,” he said.