You cannot escape the resemblance. The overwhelming and overarching security architecture further reinforces the similarity. Kabul and Srinagar may be geographical half-brothers, but the feeling that you get after landing at either of the cities is the same.
Security check points, armored vehicles, the presence of police and security personnel at every place: all welcome you when you land in Srinagar, the capital of India’s northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir. The intrusive security is all the more intense these days, as the capital is going to host a concert on Saturday by the internationally lauded Indian conductor of Parsi descent, Zubin Mehta, the Music Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
The concert is the brainchild of the German Embassy in India and is being actively supported by the state and central governments.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The event has become a major issue in the Kashmir valley, with separatist organizations and civil society groups fearing that the government will use it to portray an inaccurate picture of Kashmir, in which the state is shown to be normal with peace gradually taking root. Locals believe this picture will undermine the disputed nature of the state and hide the patchy human rights’ record of the administration, which has been responsible for many innocent deaths and disappearances.
All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of separatist organizations demanding an independent Kashmir, has called for a general strike in protest of this event. Another group, the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, has decided to organize a parallel concert to demonstrate its opposition to the state supported event.
Opinion in the Kashmir valley is polarized on the issue.
“I don’t understand why the government is hell-bent on holding this concert and what they want to achieve,” Bilal, a Kashmiri restaurant owner, tells The Diplomat. Bilal’s eatery is located near the Shalimar Bagh, the venue where Mehta’s date with the valley is set to take place. “Can such an event alter the ground reality in the state? Can the concert help us escaped the never ending atrocities of the armed forces? Can it assure that there won’t be any more widows in Kashmir?”
Journalist Manzoor Ul Hassan adds, “Kashmir is not opposed to music. It’s the state where music is played both in death and birth. The problem is with the intention of the government. People live here in a constant state of insecurity. The concert does not address the fear of the common people.”
One of the major angers leveled against the event can be seen on its invitation list. The majority of the 1,500 guests invited are select VIPs, while the presence of the local people is almost negligible.
“If you are inviting Zubin Mehta to Srinagar let the local people also have the feel of his performance,” says Adil, a student at the University of Kashmir. “Why keep the locals at a distance? I want to watch the event, but despite my best efforts I could not secure an entry pass.”
A trip around the venue shows the intrusive presence of security forces in each and every house in the area. A local resident informs The Diplomat that his whole family is now confined to the ground floor and is not allowed to go to the terrace, which has been occupied by security personnel.
While the guest list may be devoid of locals, there are some local artists in Munich’s Bavarian State Orchestra, which Mehta will conduct on Saturday. Amid overwhelming vocal opposition to the concert, the muted voices supporting the event have not found any space in the media.
“The entrenched opposition in the valley does not want the narrative in the state to change,” says Iftikhar Wani, a Kashmiri student in Delhi who has come all the way from the national capital to witness the event. “They should realize that the new generation is more open to ideas and wants to experiment with life. At the same time, the government should also change its attitude towards its people.”
However, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a separatist leader and the convener of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, sees it differently. He told The Diplomat, “Such a concert is not in the interest of the people of Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir is being run by the occupying Indian forces. People are facing lots of repression and killings. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the last two decades.”
He added, “Unless you settle the disputed nature of the state and give the people liberty to decide their fate, holding such a musical event is meaningless.”
Geelani has been under house arrest for the last three years.
In the run up to the big event, which will be attended by top Bollywood stars, athletes and industrialists, the people of Srinagar are living in virtual detention with their mobility highly restricted.
A classical concert, which would normally be music to the ears, is proving to be a jarring note in a valley that is struggling to gain a semblance of normalcy.