Cross-border band Sachal Jazz Ensemble, whose Pakistani members were denied permission to perform at the National Centre for the Performing Arts on Monday, cancelled a Bangalore concert scheduled for Tuesday and now plans to return home.
On Monday, 900 audience members waited 45 minutes before they were informed that the performance had been cancelled, because the Pakistani musicians had not been given the requisite no-objection certificates by the state home department.
“The UK members of the band were given permission to perform, but the Pakistani members — who had just performed in Delhi, to such a warm welcome — were not given permission. It was heartbreaking that we had to cancel the Mumbai show,” said Jay Visvadeva, head of UK-based cultural organisation Sama Arts Network, which organised the event. “The arbitrary and heavy-handed treatment by the police has set back Sama’s efforts at cultural exchange, resulting in an ‘own goal’ for India — and a waste of more than six months of planning and organisation.”
The Sachel Jazz Ensemble comprises musicians from India, Pakistan and the UK. Their three-city India tour was organised in association with Mumbai-based event management company Culture Grind.
“They did not want to take another risk so they cancelled the Bangalore concert,” said Malini Hariharan, owner of Culture Grind.
Sama members and artistes from the UK will now head home too, following the cancelled gigs, in solidarity with the Pakistani band mates.
For Visvadeva, the arbitrariness and implicit politicisation have been the most upsetting aspects of the cancelled performance. “The government could easily have given the Pakistani artistes the required clearances since this was an invite-only performance. There was no question of the performance leading to disruptions. It is evident that there was discrimination against the Pakistani musicians,” he said.
Ravinder Shisve, deputy commissioner of police (Zone 1), meanwhile, described it as a case of due process.
“Whenever there is a performance of Pakistani nationals, the home department asks the police for remarks on the matter,” said Shisve. “We reported that while there was no specific threat in this programme, there have been instances when exhibitions, performances and appearances by Pakistani nationals have led to agitations.”
Band member Baqar Abbas described the incident as “heartbreaking”. “Especially after receiving such a warm welcome in Delhi, it felt horrible to see art mixed with politics. Art is like nature; you can’t politicise a force of nature,” he said.