Let Them Sing

is the struggle in Kashmir so fragile that a concert or music show can negate the political basis of the azadi struggle?


There is no harm in letting Zubin Mehta and his troop perform in Kashmir. I take this principled, context-neutral, position on the issue of cultural and musical shows whosoever may be organizing them. My position comes from my conviction that while culture may indeed be deeply political and hence often misused, like the Indian rightwing has always abused various cultural aspects of Hinduism, the fault is really with how culture is expressed and for what purposes. I have consistently held this position when movie halls were proposed to be opened in Kashmir, when ‘Pragaash’, the all-girl Kashmiri rock band, performed in Srinagar, and when Pakistani Junoon rock band performed by the Dal Lake in Srinagar. On all these occasions, there were people in Kashmir who either argued that such things are un-Islamic or that such celebrations hide the real situation in Kashmir. Indeed, mine may be a minority opinion among the very distinguished columnists in Kashmir today most of whom seem to have expressed negative opinions with regard to the Zubin Mehta concert. And yet, I am persuaded by the argument that there can be no true azadi without the freedom of expression. 

Arguments against the Zubin Mehta concert fundamentally boil down to saying that it is a politically motivated attempt to tell the world that all is well in Kashmir. And that the government is erroneously focusing on things such as music concerts when the real concerns of the people of Kashmir like human rights protection and the abolition of draconian laws are not addressed with any level of sincerity. In other words, by organizing programmes such as this, the governments, both state and central, hope to push the real concerns of the Kashmiris to the back burner. I think this is a fundamentally flawed argument. This argument is as flawed as saying that since the people of Kashmir sing and dance and seem happy and normal, everything is hunky-dory in Kashmir (see Manu Joseph, “Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy”, Open Magazine, 21 April 2012). Both these extreme views seem to assume that political resistance has a severely self-limiting effect on human emancipation. Differently put, they assume that cultural celebrations and such other normal human activities are to be seen in sharp contradiction with the pursuit of political aspirations. Why should that be the case? Is the struggle in Kashmir so fragile that a concert or music show can negate the political basis of the azadi struggle? Those making such arguments are indeed demeaning the political importance and meaning of the azadi movement. 

But is it an attempt by the governments and other interested parties to portray Kashmir as having politically normalized? Perhaps. But so what? Even if that were true, would that make a difference to the political aspirations of the Kashmiris? No. But does it not lead to a reduction in the international focus on Kashmir? But where, for god’s sake, is the international focus on Kashmir today? Let’s not kid ourselves: Kashmir has absolutely no presence in the geopolitical radar screen of the international community. If the azadi seekers in Kashmir think that the international community will give them some kind of deliverance, they are living in a state of political delusion.

I think the parallel concert ‘Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir’ organized by Khurram Pervez and others is how civilized societies should protest against what they don’t like. Every society should be able to tolerate differing perceptions and ideas about its destiny. 

Whose concert? 

But there is a different, and enlightened, concern raised by a number of Kashmiri activists and columnists: “Who is this concert organized for anyway”? Certainly not for the Kashmiris. This looks like a music festival for those who matter in Kashmir, and Kashmiris have traditionally come last in such a pecking order. While the ‘high, mighty and connected’ of Kashmir will enjoy the Zubin Mehta concert, ordinary Kashmiris will be stopped, frisked, barricaded, shooed away, whisked away, and humiliated by the J&K police and security forces. But then this is a daily routine for most Kashmiris. Dissident leaders are kept under house arrest so that they don’t come out to create trouble. 

The state government is free to organize cultural and musical shows but if the ordinary Kashmiris are deprived of enjoying them and more so if such programmes create inconveniences for people, the government would clearly be engaging in ‘anti-people’ activities. The people of J&K have not elected the NC government to engage in event management. 

If the ordinary people of Kashmir are not the beneficiaries of such cultural shows and music concerts, the government can be accused of engaging in wasteful expenditure. More importantly, the mindless restrictions imposed on the rival concert ‘Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir’ are ridiculous. One of the conditions imposed on the organisers is that the organisers will be responsible if any untoward incident happens during the concert. Would that mean that the administration would take responsibility if anything goes wrong during “Ehsaas-e-Kashmir”? And what does it mean to take responsibility anyway? If the J&K government can spend taxpayers’ money to make security and other arrangements for a German Embassy-sponsored musical concert in Kashmir, why on earth cant they extend the same courtesy when the people of Kashmir are themselves organizing a parallel concert?