There is nothing right about the opposition by Kashmiri separatist politicians and sections of its civil society to a western classical music concert that is to be held in Srinagar next month. The concert, by the Bavarian State Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta, has been organised by the German Embassy in New Delhi. Those who want the concert cancelled argue that the high-profile event is in fact a proxy project aimed at showing Kashmir to the world as “normal and peaceful” even though that description is neither true nor accurate. Aside from missing the point that a specially organised music concert in Kashmir actually highlights — in a counter-intuitive way — the continuing uncertainty in the Valley, the view that the “sanctity” of a conflict zone must be respected until the conflict itself is resolved is deeply disturbing. The same argument was forwarded by those who successfully managed to kill the holding of Harud, a literary festival in Kashmir two years ago, much to the disappointment of many in the State.
If the relationship between politics and conflict tends to be linear, the interplay of culture and conflict is far more complex. Instead of asking that the event be cancelled, those opposed to the Zubin Mehta concert could register their protest through a separate cultural event of their own. This could take the form of a parallel concert, or an exhibition of photographs or art, to highlight their view that the situation in the Valley is far from normal. And if the government stopped people from attending such a counter-event, the entire world would be witness to its intolerance. Kashmiri intellectuals denouncing Mr. Mehta for his association with the Israel Philharmonic perhaps don’t realise that Mr. Mehta’s long and illustrious career has been punctuated by protest in only two places — Kashmir, and Israel. In 1981, loud protests erupted inside a Tel Aviv concert hall when he conducted a piece from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. The 19th century German composer is hated in Israel for his anti-Semitism and for the liking that the Nazis had for his music, but in his introduction to the piece, Mr. Mehta spoke of how Israel as a democracy must learn to accept all music. Kashmir has, over the years, fallen well short of democratic standards, something which, for different reasons, can be said of Israel, too. But through all of their prolonged torment, the people of Kashmir have retained their reputation for cultural refinement. How ironic, then, that culture should now fall victim to politics in the Valley. And how sad it would be if a people who have had little joy in the past two decades, were denied the pleasure of beautiful music, brought to them with the best intentions.
An earlier version of this editorial had incorrectly referred to the orchestra Zubin Mehta will conduct in Srinagar as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.