Zubin Mehta’s recently held concert in the Shalimar Gardens of Srinagar has created a problematically dichotomous discourse over Kashmir and Kashmiris as though they are easily divided into the elites, enjoying the Ehsaas of Kashmir in luxury, while the aam admi of Kashmir angrily retaliates by organizing another concert called the Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir. While Ehsaas supposedly has an invitation-only crowd, Haqeeqat is open to everyone.
It is easy to see who the good guys are (Haqeeqat) and who the bad guys are (Ehsaas).
The dichotomy is clear— to be elite is to go to Ehsaas and to be aam is to go to Haqeeqat. We disparage the insensitivity of the elite fractions at enjoying Mehta’s concert at the expense of the aam admi in Kashmir, even as we conduct these discussions in intrinsically elite forum (Outlook, Livemint, DNA), blithely forgetting our own elite status which allows for this. Ironically, while positing the elite who attended and organized the concert in Kashmir as obviously removed from concerns of the aam admi (by fact of being CM, by fact of being on a guest list etc), we have the luxury of forgetting our own elite status as we claim to speak for the “people” of Kashmir.
Yet, amongst elites there are differences— you can be a conscientious elite who is sensitive to the plight of the “people.” There can also be oblivious elites— protected from dust, dirt, or poverty in their air conditioned, or heated, new Mercedes. While the organizers and attendees of Ehsaas were elite, the organizers of Haqeeqat were no less so: one of them is a “noted pediatrician”, for example. In positing Haqeeqat as counter to Ehsaas is the battle, such as it is, between elite and non-elite or rather between different factions of already very privileged groups? It’s unclear.
But when we write about the “people” of Kashmir, can we, from our incredibly privileged vantage points, afford them the same courtesy we assume for ourselves? Even while being elite, many of us think of ourselves as sympathetic to the plights of the aam admi, including in these discussions about Mehta’s concert. And, please, let’s not fool ourselves, most of us reading and writing in these venues are not quite aam admi.
But can we think of the aam admi as anything other than one big mass?
Can we try to see the nuance of “aam admi” that we afford ourselves? That is can we acknowledge that Kashmiris, aam or not, differ widely amongst themselves without a necessary dichotomy between elite (state and power-brokers) and non-elite (everyone else). Perhaps to be aam is to be angry at the way in which Ehsaas was handled, or perhaps it is to still be proud that a world-renowned artist flocked to praise your beautiful region. Maybe it is to be tired of having people supposedly give voice to you, or maybe it is to appreciate that even those who may be far removed from you take a deep interest in the quality of your life and opportunities.
In reducing people to bald categories— Ehsaas and Haqeeqat, as is being done in media discussions in this case— we are perhaps replicating in print what happens in real life: where some (whether good or bad elites) speak for many (the teeming mass of aam admi).
Aliya Hamid Rao is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, currently based in Philadelphia.