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Kashmir's culture police


Opposition to the Zubin Mehta concert reveals an increasingly intolerant trend in the state, reports Haroon Reshi
HAROON RESHI | Issue Dated: September 22, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Kashmir | Zubin Mehta concert | Praagaash | Athar Iqbal Mir | Ehsaas-e-Kashmir | Syed Ali Geelani |

If music be the language of love, then play on, noted the ancient bard. Obviously, he had never visited Kashmir. Music may be universal language for the world but in the valley, for many, this ode to love remains an unacceptable proposition.

Kashmir, frequently in the news due to wrong reasons, has this year added another forgettable chapter to its long list of litanies: cultural intolerance, particularly those related to music.

In February this year, the only all-girls rock-band in the Kashmir valley, aptly named ‘Praagaash’ (darkness to light), comprising three vibrant, buoyant teenaged members, was forced to disband after it got online abuse and threats followed a fatwa from Kashmir‘s self-styled Mufti Azam (The grand Mufti), Mufti Bashir-ud-Din, who asked the girls to abandon their music as singing was un-Islamic. Mufti’s fatwa was largely criticized by the civil society but it nonetheless forced the girls to quit and go their own ways.

Now, seven months later, another victim of this growing intolerance is Athar Iqbal Mir, the only disk jockey (DJ) in the Valley. A 21-year-old popular DJ, Mir was recently threatened with ‘‘dire consequences’’ if he did not quit his profession immediately.

The badly shaken DJ has filed a criminal complaint with the police but is so scared that he is willing to leave the country altogether in pursuit of his chosen field of occupation. ‘‘I was facing online abuse and threats on a regular basis for past several months. People wanted me to refrain from singing saying it is an act against Islam. I ignored these online threats but recently an unknown person called me on the phone and warned me with dire consequences if I disobeyed. I have filed a complaint but I am very scared and have decided to leave this place for ever,” Mir told TSI.

Snorts the furious DJ, “I have applied for a passport and as soon as I get it, I will leave Kashmir forever. I will never sing for Kashmiris but I will always sing for my Kashmir, I love my mother land.” Famous last words?

The young Mir became the victim of intolerance at a time when there was already a controversy brewing about grand musical concert, “Ehsaas-e-Kashmir” (Feel of Kashmir) sponsored by the German Embassy in New Delhi. Globally renowned orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta with his 100-member team finally performed in front of 1,500 distinguished guests at Srinagar’s historic 400-year old Shalimar Mughal Garden on September 7.

While the music and the concert was widely appreciated for its rich content and international flavour, separatist leaders and the pro-separatist civil society opposed it saying it would have a negative impact on the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir as it was aimed at misleading the world about the so-called normalised situation in the state.

Hardliner Syed Ali Geelani was at the forefront of opposing the concert. ‘‘We were against the musical programme because it was held in a place where human rights are being abused by the Indians on a daily basis for the past 25 years. By organising this kind of show in Srinagar, India wants to give the world community an impression that peace is prevailing in the Valley,” he told TSI.

To rival Zubin Mehta’s grand show, the civil society organised a parallel concert Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir (Reality of Kashmir), in a Srinagar garden on the same day when Zubin Mehta performed in Shalimar Bagh. “The purpose of organising a parallel concert was to highlight the real issues and the situation of Kashmir to the world at a time when it was being misled by the Zubin Mehta show,” Khurram Pervez , key organiser of the parallel concert, told TSI, in a line familiar with Geelani’s.

The German Embassy-backed grand concert was opposed on religious grounds as well. ‘‘I opposed the concert mainly because music is un-Islamic. Singing, according to the Islamic teachings is haraam (forbidden). You may or may not like it but the fact is there is no place for the music in our religion. Since I am a Mufti, I am supposed to tell the truth,’’ the Grand Mufti told TSI in an interview.

But the old man is no stranger to controversy. Two months ago, the Grand Mufti had triggered a controversy after a video showed him watching a musical programme in Srinagar. Mufti, however, brushes off the charges. ‘‘That was mere propaganda against me. The video was related to a literary function. This literary function was based on the life of noted literary personality Akbar Haideri and I was asked to preside over the occasion. There was no singing. My critics do not spare any opportunity to criticise me but I don’t care. I will always be on the side of truth,’’ he says.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has accused those opposing the Zubin Mehta concert of being hypocrites. ‘‘Why didn’t they oppose when Pakistani band ‘Junoon’ performed in May 2010 in Kashmir? If music is an un-Islamic act then why were they mum when Junoon played here,’’ Omar queried.

The state government believes that events like these will have a positive impact on tourism and other activities related to the economy. ‘‘You have seen that several ambassadors from European and western countries were present at this show. The message to the world is that the atmosphere to visit the valley is conducive.  Many countries have issued advisories for their citizens not to visit Kashmir. Now they may lift the ban. This is what we need,’’ Tanvir Sadiq, political adviser to the chief minister told this magazine.

Most people saw no logic in opposing the music and singing. Says santoor maestro Abhay Rustum Sopori, who provided the Sufi colour and folk flavour to the Zubin Mehta show, “I don’t see any logical reason in opposing such shows. Zubin Mehta’s show was an honour to Kashmir. Organising such shows is an opportunity for us to express our cultural values to the world.  It was called a concert for Kashmir but for me it was a Kashmir concert for the world,” an overwhelmed Sopori told TSI.

It proved yet another thing: in Kashmir there is a very bad tendency of linking everything to politics. The large view is that music and the politics should not be mixed.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017