x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Even under threat, Bavarian State Orchestra says show must go on

A militant group promises that if the show in Kashmir takes place 'we will target foreign tourists' and hold Germany's ambassador to India responsible. Samanth Subramanianreports from New Delhi

Indian workers carry a giant billboard as they work inside Shalimar Gardens, the venue for a concert by renowned Indian-born orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta, on the outskirts of Srinagar, India, on Tuesday. Dar Yasin / AP Photo
Indian workers carry a giant billboard as they work inside Shalimar Gardens, the venue for a concert by renowned Indian-born orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta, on the outskirts of Srinagar, India, on Tuesday. Dar Yasin / AP Photo

NEW DELHI // The Bavarian State Orchestra will perform a concert today in Kashmir despite militant threats and separatist leaders calling the event elitist and inappropriate.

The invitation-only concert will take place in Srinagar amid heightened security and a general strike called by parties that oppose Indian rule.

The show was organised by Michael Steiner, the German ambassador to India, and will be conducted by the Mumbai-born Zubin Mehta. Mr Steiner said the concert would "reach the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement".

But separatists, such as Syed Ali Geelani, the leader of the Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of separatist groups, have argued that the concert would legitimise "Indian rule" in Kashmir, which has long been fought over by India and Pakistan.

"The majority of people here are suffering from state repression," Mr Geelani said on Thursday. "Under these circumstances there is no relevance for a music programme."

Other leaders and militant outfits have echoed his views. Bashir-ud-din Ahmad, one of the state's foremost Islamic leaders, said that holding the concert in a "disputed land would convey a wrong signal: Kashmiris have enough prosperity and leisure to attend an event like this".

In a threat sent by fax this week, Al Nasireen, Farzandaan-e-Millat and Shuhda Brigade, a militant group, promised that if the show went on, "we will target foreign tourists" and hold Mr Steiner responsible.

After similar protests, the organisers of a literary festival in September 2011 called off their event, saying they did not want to be responsible for more unrest in the region.

Violence has recently returned to Kashmir. Militant groups have attacked Indian forces, most prominently in June, when eight soldiers were killed after their convoy was ambushed.

Indian and Pakistani troops have also had exchanges of gunfire at increasing frequency across the Line of Control - the de factor border in Kashmir - which has put in danger the ceasefire between the two countries that has held for more than a decade.

Mr Mehta, one of the world's leading orchestral conductors, has pleaded to "let the music speak for itself".

The 90-minute concert, which will be performed before an audience of 1,500, will be held in the 17th century Shalimar Gardens, which overlook the picturesque Dal Lake.

A security cordon has been set up around Srinagar for the day, while police speedboats are to be used to cruise the lake and security checkpoints have been established as far away as three kilometres from the event.

Guests with invitations will be frisked and scanned with metal detectors before being allowed to take their seats.

In response, other Kashmir-based groups have organised an arts festival today, Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir, to rival Mr Mehta's concert.

"The people of Kashmir are clearly excluded," said Khurram Pervez, a spokesman for Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir, about the Bavarian State Orchestra concert.

"The purpose of the rival concert is to celebrate our art and resistance," Mr Pervez said.

"It is an attempt to continue the struggle to reclaim public space and narratives. This is an event for the people of Jammu and Kashmir."

 

ssubramanian@thenational.ae