Burning effigies of social evils such as corruption and drugs, and of adversarial neighbouring countries like China and Pakistan, is nothing new for Ramleelas in Delhi. This year though, Ramleela organisers in the capital have come up with a new “evil” to burn on Dussehra — “critics” of Sanatan Dharma.
At least 650 effigies representing these critics will be set on fire alongside traditional ones of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnad by different Ramleela committees in Delhi on October 24.
“While statues of the epic villains will be 80 ft to 100 ft tall, those of the Sanatan Dharma Vidrohi, ie opponents of Sanatan Dharma, will be small, between 6 and 15 ft, to show how insignificant they are,” Arjun Kumar, president of Shree Ramleela Mahasangh, the umbrella body of Ramleela organisers in Delhi, told The Indian Express.
The move is in response to Tamil actor and politician Udhayanidhi Stalin’s criticism of Sanatan Dharma last month as “a principle that divides people in the name of caste and religion”.
On September 23, Delhi BJP spokesperson and media head Praveen Shankar Kapoor sent a letter appealing to Ramleela committees in the city to draw attention towards “the anti-Sanatan Dharma campaign being run by several political leaders, including Udhayanidhi Stalin of Tamil Nadu, Swami Prasad Maurya of UP and Rajendra Pal Gautam of Delhi”. The letter was sent under the instruction of Delhi BJP President Virendra Sachdeva.
The Shree Ramleela Mahasangh held a meeting on October 1, where it introduced a proposal to include a protest against Sanatan Dharma critics as part of the celebration. All 650 members of the committee “unanimously agreed” they would each torch an effigy of “Sanatan Virodhi” on Dussehra.
“Recently, a lot of people have said different kinds of things that have caused deep hurt to believers of Sanatan Dharma. Yeh samaj ko baantney aur desh ko todney wali baat hai. When we, the believers of Sanatan Dharma, respect all other religions and practices, others should respect our sentiments as well,” said Kumar, who is also the head of the Luv Kush Ramleela, which is held at Red Fort and witnessed by lakhs of people. “We want to send out a message,” added Kumar.
Since the action is a symbolic statement for all Ramleela committees, the effigies will not have a face or a realistic depiction of any person. There will only be a label identifying the fourth effigy as “Sanatan Dharma Virodhi”.