Whose peace is it anyway?

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Faisal Khan (9)
                 The organisers of Haqiqat-i-Kashmir concert addressing a press conference on 6 September                        Photo: Faisal Khan

Forced into a tight spot over the counter concert to world renowned music maestro Zubin Mehta’s performance in Kashmir, the state government is resorting to Orwellian doublespeak to delay and hold back permission to the organisers. A day before the event is scheduled to be held at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir park, 5 kilometres from the venue of Mehta’s concert, the authorities are still seeking “important details” from the organisers before they allow it.

“We haven’t said no to their event. We have sought some details from them like number of guests, transport facilities, water arrangements, seating arrangements etc. Once they submit the details of what we have sought, only then we would be able to take a final call,” said Shailendra Kumar, Kashmir’s Divisional Commissioner.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah earlier said that he was not personally opposed to the parallel concert, but it was the job of the district administration to issue permission for it. “It is something on which the local administration will take a call on. Personally, I am not opposed to such events. We are a democracy. There is no harm if the parallel event is organised peacefully,” Omar said.

Tanvir Sadiq, political secretary to Omar Abdullah, however, insists that the Chief Minister is “positive” about the parallel concert: “The CM wants the event to go ahead, but the divisional administration has to take the decision. We have to see that there is no security problem”.

On the other hand, organisers say they have received no communication from the government. “Whatever we know about the government plans is through the media. We have not received any official letter seeking more details about the incident,” the organiser of the parallel music event, Khurram Parvez told TEHELKA. Khurram, who is the convenor of the civil liberties group, Coalition of Civil Society, had applied for permission for the parallel concert on 2 September.

Khurram says the civil society concert, which has been titled Haqeeqat-i-Kashmir (Reality of Kashmir) – as against Mehta’s which is named Ahsaas-i-Kashmir (Experience of Kashmir) – will have Kashmiri singers performing on stage besides the exhibition of some artworks, photos and paintings, which will underline the “harsh truth of Kashmir sought to be obscured by the Mehta show”.

“Our concert will showcase songs of revolution and pain. It will present to the world a picture of Kashmir as it is and not as it is sought to be portrayed by the government through the Zubin Mehta concert,” says Khurram. He claims that around 10,000 people will turn up for their show.

The government, however, is unable to take a call on the show. “We are in a very difficult spot. We don’t want to deny permission, but we are not sure what the parallel concert will throw up. More so, when Zubin Mehta’s performance will simultaneously be in progress,” said a politician of the ruling National Conference. “What if, in their bid to seek attention, things get out hand? And all of this will be laid bare just when the world will be glued to Kashmir.”

Meanwhile, preparations for Mehta’s concert are in full swing in Srinagar with German ambassador Michael Steiner personally overseeing the arrangements. Around 30 BMWs have landed in the city to ferry the guests. Kashmir’s three five star hotels – Taj Vivanta, Lalit Grand Palace and Centaur – have been fully booked for the event. Two military planes will ferry the musicians to Mughal era Shalimar Garden.

Steiner, who is managing Public Relations for the event, tried to dispel the impression that the concert would portray a misleading image of Kashmir as is being alleged by separatist groups and civil society activists. “It’s (concert) purely cultural and does not alter the political position of Germany and the EU on Kashmir. At the same time, this concert has the potential to make the world look at the complex realities of Kashmir – its breathtaking beauty as well as the many challenges you, the Kashmiris, face in daily life. I am well aware of both. Therefore, our commitment goes well beyond music,” Steiner stated in his message. “And let’s please be honest. Our concert is not an alternative to, but a mobiliser for more engagement in Kashmir.”

To further reach out to Kashmiris, the embassy has roped in noted Kashmiri musician Bhajan Sopori and his son Abhay Rustum Sopori to play Kashmiri music, probably the poetry of famous early twentieth-century Kashmiri poet Mehjoor, before the 90-minute Mehta concert starts at the famed Shalimar Bagh on the banks of the Dal lake.

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