Trouble for Sunburn Festival as Right-Wing Groups in Pune Demand Event Be Cancelled

Sanatan Sanstha, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Narad Mandir Nyas have called for the cancellation of the popular electronic dance music event alleging it encourages drugs and attacks Indian culture and society.

A protest demanding the cancellation of the Sunburn music festival in Pune. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar

A protest demanding the cancellation of the Sunburn music festival in Pune. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar

Pune: Sunburn Festival, a popular electronic dance music event, has run into trouble this year with right-wing groups in Pune, where the event is to be held this year, demanding it be cancelled for attacking Indian culture, society and the nation.

The 10th edition of Sunburn is scheduled be held at Wagholi on the Pune-Ahmednagar road from December 28-31. This is the first time that Pune will host the event; all previous editions were held in Goa.

However, Hindu radical groups are not happy with the festival being held in the city. Over 100 women from the Sanatan Sanstha, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Narad Mandir Nyas staged a dharna and demanded that the district collector cancel the event.

Pratiksha Korgaonkar, state coordinator of Ranragini, the women’s wing of the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, said, “Sunburn festival is known for availing free ground to consume and sell drugs. That is the exact reason why so called music lovers attend the event and not to enjoy the western music. Last year, drugs, especially ketamine, worth crores was seized by the Goa police during a raid. They caught hundreds of so called music lovers who were consuming drugs on beaches and even in makeshift washrooms. In 2013, the Goa police caught drugs worth over Rs one crore at the venue of Sunburn. In 2009, as we all know, a Delhi girl, Neha Bahuguna, died at the venue due to overdosing on drugs.”

Sarita Ambike of Durga Vahini, the VHP’s women’s wing, added, “Youngsters can be seen dancing in an obscene manner to electronic music. Events like Sunburn or rave parties organised for New Year’s Eve and Christmas offering drugs, smoking and dance are a direct attack on Hindu culture. They are ruining the lives of youngsters across the country. We will not allow them to attack our culture, religion, society and nation.”

Ambike further said, “Do not misinterpret us. We do not oppose music as we all know Pune has hosted many prestigious music events for years like the Sawai Festival. We oppose consumption of drugs and obscenity in the name of music tourism.”

The organisations also said that the festival has proven harmful to the environment as trees are cut at the venue. Besides, loud music causes problems to the surrounding ecology, they added.

Sanatan Sanstha secretary Shalaka Sahasrabudhe said, “The Goa government has ousted the event due to the nature of Sunburn. That is why organisers shifted the venue to Pune. The city is an educational and cultural hub of the nation and home to lakhs of youngsters. The event will spoil the youth.”

The Goa government had refused to give permission to the organisers of the festival to hold the event on New Year’s eve as usual, citing an increased concern for law and order. The government had asked the organisers to shift the event to January as the state sees a substantial increase in the number of tourists around the year end, with increased pressure on its police. However, the organisers were keen to hold the festival in December end like the previous editions and thus decided to move the event to Pune.

Harindra Singh, CEO of Sunburn Festival, pointed out, “Sunburn has become one of the biggest music festivals across Asia over the years. It has been pulling over 10,000 music enthusiasts from across the nation. International electronic music heavyweights like Afrojack, Armin Van Burren, Krewella will be attending to offer a feast of music to our audience. This year we will also offer Bollywood music on demand”.

He added, “Do you think that such a large crowd attends the festival to consume drugs? Organisations that are protesting against the event should approach us with all of their doubts. We are ready to clarify all their doubts. They must have a hidden agenda for demanding the event be cancelled.”

In response to the accusations that the event promotes drug consumption, Singh said,”We have been hosting Sunburn for the last 10 years and we have held over 500 other music shows across the country. If incidents like drug consumptions take place, law and order authorities would have taken action. Besides we would not have got permission for our music events”.

“We have received all required permission from the police and the administration to host the show in Pune. How can the audience carry drugs inside the venue as we do not allow anybody to carry bags, luggage or even water bottles? We have installed 200 CCTV cameras at the venue and the police will be able to watch the live footage on all four days. They can keep watch on whether drugs are consumed. As far as obscene dance is concerned, how do you define obscenity? Besides, through CCTV cameras, the concerned authorities can keep check on it,” he added.

He also refuted charges that Sunburn had caused harm to the environment. “We have taken permission from all concerned authorities, including the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board. We leave the venue in the condition we take it. We do not cut trees or bushes. All waste is disposed properly.”

The call to cancel the event has disappointed fans and cultural experts alike.

Sushma Deshpande, renowned play director and activist said, “It is meaningless to oppose any art form citing reasons like an attack on culture. If artistes cannot perform as per Hindu culture then should they not perform or present their art at all? What kind of democracy do we live in if we cannot do what we feel.”

Jithin Verghese, a software professional from Pune, said, “I have been waiting for the festival for the last six months to enjoy the music. If I want to consume drugs I can do it anywhere, anytime. It is unfair to label the festival like this with drugs or obscenity.”

Note: An erroneous reference to keratin in this article has been changed to ketamine.