The Sunburn Festival, India’s annual electronic dance music event, has run into trouble once again this year.
The festival, scheduled to be held in Moshi near Pimpri Chinchwad on the outskirts of Pune, is being opposed by Hindutva groups, social activists and local villagers who claim that it promotes nudity, obscenity, alcohol and drugs.
The Sunburn Festival was ranked as one of the Top 10 festivals in the world by CNN in 2009. After nine editions in Goa, the event reached Maharashtra’s shores last year, but has consistently run into controversy over allegations of drug use at the festival.
Right Wing groups said that the festival was an attack on Hindu culture. “We don’t want the festival that did not pay crores of taxes to the Goa government, which promotes western culture and has a history of drugs consumption,” Parag Gokhale of the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti said.
Referring to the death of a Delhi resident, allegedly due to drug overdose, a few years back, he said, “In 2009, Neha Bahuguna died due to over consumption of drugs at Sunburn festival venue in Goa. Around 450 bottles of ketamine were found at the festival venue in 2013 in Goa.”
Gokhale alleged during last years’ festival, hills were dug into and trees were cut to set up the venue and that security men misbehaved with villagers in the area. “We don’t want such a festival that promotes illegal activities and destroys our culture to be hosted here,” Gokhale said.
The Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, along with other Right Wing organisations, plan to hold a protest in Moshi on October 8 to oppose the festival.
Maruti Bhapkar, an activist from Pimpri Chinchwad, indicated that the festival promotes western culture. “Festivals like Sunburn promote obscenity,” he said. “Youngsters wear short clothes and dance on western music. They smoke, consume alcohol and drugs. This is not the culture of Moshi. Pimpri Chinchwad is surrounded by lands of great saints...We will not allow our culture to be destroyed by such festivals.”
Bhapkar said he had written to Maharashtra’s cultural minister Vinod Tawde and the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, asking them not to allow the festival to be held here. Other local organisations Warkari Sampraday, Maratha Seva Sangh and Sambhaji Brigade from Pimpri Chinchwad have come forward to oppose the festival.
Meanwhile, residents of villages in Moshi have objected to the festival on grounds that it could be a bad influence on youngsters and cause environmental destruction. Three gram panchayats from nearby villages have passed a resolution to oppose the festival and have approached the district collector demanding that the venue be changed.
“A festival that is known to spoil youth was evicted from Kesanand village [where it was held last year] and now they have come to Moshi, which is a pilgrimage village,” said Reshma Sonawane, Sarpanch of the Chimbali village. “We don’t want this festival here.”
Manoj Mungase, deputy sarpanch of Kelgoan and a signatory to the resolution said, “Who will be held responsible if any untoward incident happens due to a festival that is known for all illegal reasons? That is why we have passed a resolution asking the collector to change the venue.”
Percept India, the organisers of Sunburn, maintained that the festival had zero tolerance towards substance abuse and had been misunderstood. “This festival is about music, entertainment, food and experiences,” said Harindra Singh, chairman and managing director of Percept India. “These are misconceptions that festival promotes nudity, obscenity and drugs. We have zero tolerance towards drugs substance.”
With regard to the protests planned by those opposing the festival, he said, “As far as strikes and opposition by organisations is concerned, everybody has the right to protest and oppose in democracy and we don’t have a problem with that. We obtain all the required permissions, we don’t violate rules and regulations and promote music and tourism. That is the reason why lakhs of music enthusiasts from across the country and even other countries reserve their dates and attend the festival.”