Effigy Burning: Destroying The Essence of Humanness

Posted on September 18, 2010

By Shraddha Sankhe:

A contemporary belief is that effigy burning is matter of politics and hatred. A few believe that public anger towards popular figures catapults into a powerful protest by way of effigy burning. A lost cricket match or an irresponsible statement, just about any thing that could make some else (read: opposition parties, religious groups, radical groups) angry leads to effigy burning.

Raavan’s effigy is burnt on the tenth day of the Navratri festival in India. An arrow carrying fire is struck on of Raavan’s firecracker filled effigy as a mark of “Good wins over Evil”. Same is practiced during the festival of Holi where ‘evil’ of Holika is burnt to reinstate the goodness in the world. Similarly, on the night of November 5th, throughout Britain, people commemorate the capture of Guy Fawkes with bonfires and fireworks, and by burning an effigy of Guy.who tried to overthrow the king. This is an important historical even in Britain popularly known as The Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

  • July 2008 saw Assam students burning effigy of Indian HRD minister Arjun Singh over a NIT seat reservation. In June 2009, Indian Cricket Team’s Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni saw people(former fans) from his hometown Ranchi- burn his effigy. He was considered responsible for Team India’s miserable loss in the World T20 Championship held in London.
  • In August 2010, Aamir Khan’s Peepli Live made a few radicalists very angry. Their claim that Pipli Live mocks the farmer suicides in Maharashtra. They burnt Aamir Khan’s effigy as he is the producer of the film. This is ridiculous and borders around absurdity. In the biggest democracy of the world, a man is stoned and scoffed at merely for presenting the true face of the farmers.
  • It need not even be guess how the locals in Pakistan protested against the Asif-Aamir-Salman match-fixing controversy. They burnt their effigies and shouted slogans to ‘ban them or banish them.’
  • The protesters in Kashmir burnt effigies of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh as a sign of anger and discontent due to the continued prevalence and alleged misuse of the AFSPA act by the armed forced in the Kashmir Valley.
  • More recently, the Kuran burning issue was epicenter of criticism and outrage all over the world. Pastor Terry Jones invited public flak for his controversial extremist statements against Islam. And dare we say; only the effigy making industry was not complaining.

An effigy is a man-made figure, like a statue or sculpture. If you make one out of flammable materials such as wood or straw and make sure that people know who it stands for (by a sign or symbol or caricature, for instance) and then you burn it, it is a message of wishful destruction toward that person.  In the background of other destructive protests, effigy burning seems rather harmless. Riots, self-immolation, suicide are more destructive. There are other harmless ways of effective protests too. So why burn effigies?

The answer is publicity-cheap, almost free. Understanding of the psyche of the protesters reveals that most feel instant gratification after burning an effigy. Public anger rises, burns the straw and wood and dies down soon. What remains is the memorable archive of the file photos and videos of public outrage. Democracy could make take a huge leap if only such dedication was shown by people in demanding true and fair elections and rapid corruption grievance-redressal instead of mindless upheaval.

Effigy burning in the world where Free Speech is a fundamental right is a matter of extreme and shameful hypocrisy. As Indians or largely as global citizens, it is a matter of contempt that some body’s statements make some minds work towards a proverbial and almost a real destruction of another human. Why? Do we really have that much time or the determination to kill a bag of straw as a mark of protest? Mahatma Gandhi’s peace protests are forgotten or simply ignored. Perhaps a crash course in Satyagraha could save many a political party workers and extreme groups the cost of wood, straw and a match-stick. But, really, is anybody listening?

Image courtesy: http://pranjalbaruah.instablogs.com/entry/hrd-minister-arjun-singh-being-burnt-in-assam-over-nit/

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