SRINAGAR: Celebrated conductor Zubin Mehta led the Bavarian State Orchestra in a classical music concert Saturday in Srinagar despite strong objections from Kashmiri leaders.
The heavily guarded event was staged in the sprawling Mughal-era Shalimar Gardens on the banks of picturesque Dal Lake.
“Everybody on the subcontinent will agree with me that this is where it (the concert) should be,” the Mumbai-born Mehta said, referring to the beautiful setting with the Himalayan mountains in the background.
“I have waited and dreamt of this moment,” Mehta, 77, a former director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, told the audience in the bright late afternoon sunshine before taking up his baton.
Mehta, a Parsi, left Mumbai at 18 to study music in Vienna. He had said he fell in love with scenic Kashmir on a visit with his family in the 1970s.
“Music is the only language I know and I hope to spread the message of peace with this performance,” Mehta said.
Some 1,500 guests, including government ministers and diplomats, listened raptly to strains of Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky at the concert by organised by state tourism department of Indian Administered Kashmir and the German embassy in New Delhi.
While the Shalimar Gardens event was an invitation-only affair, Mehta said he hoped to return to Kashmir and give a concert where “everybody can come”.
The concert , named “Ehsaas-e-Kashmir” or “Feelings for Kashmir”, was televised around the world.
It went ahead despite demands by Hurriyat leader for its cancellation on grounds it would legitimise alleged Indian “state repression.”
The concert was staged against the backdrop of a rise in bloodshed in the Muslim-majority territory in recent weeks.
There also have been incidents of ceasefire violations along the contested border between Indian and Pakistani forces.
Police said four men were shot dead earlier Saturday in Shopian town by troops.
Indian media said the men were suspected of attempting to attack a security camp but officials would not comment on the reports.
Residents described the men as civilians who were shot by troops as they rode past the security camp on a motorcycle.
Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah told the concert audience that Kashmir was a “troubled” land “yearning for peace”.
“But for a few hours let us allow the music to lift our spirits and dream of a peaceful tomorrow,” Abdullah said.
Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Gilani called a strike Saturday to protest the concert. Shops, businesses and colleges closed in several cities in Indian administered Kashmir.
A little-known rebel group threatened to “target foreign tourists” if the concert went ahead, local media reported.
Extra checkpoints were set up throughout Srinagar and police sealed all routes to the concert as part of the security.
A parallel concert of Kashmiri music called the “Reality of Kashmir” was staged by civil society activists to highlight alleged rights violations by security forces.
As the audience exited from that concert, they shouted anti-India slogans and police used a water cannon to disperse them.
A police spokesman told AFP police used “limited force” because they feared a “law and order problem”.