Polluting in the name of Diwali is honour killing of the environment

Knowingly, willingly adding to higher toxicity of the air, water, earth and sky over moribund rituals cannot be what our religions want us to practice.

 |  Angiography  |  6-minute read |   31-10-2016
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Life is a wheeze.

We can hardly breathe. We can barely see. Or hear. Or smell. The residual toxicity in the air, this enormous blanket of smog, is a souvenir of our collective "festive" orgy. We celebrated, now we will pay through our noses. And eyes and ears and skin and heart and lungs. Literally.

Our children are coughing uncontrollably, just like last night they were hysterical setting off that anar, or string crackers, or pul-pul, of course under our able supervision.

We guided their little hands into triggering off that controlled mini-explosion. Oh the light and sound - the brighter and higher the better. It's a divine sign of wealth and prosperity after all. All that light sound and attendant smoke and dust.

"Lead us from darkness to light". That ancient wisdom is holding our hand, pinning us to our madness. The humble light of the lamp is now a blaring, intimidating, citywide lighting that obscures the night sky.

Had it foreseen this, the ancient wisdom would have warned us against this hedonism of luminosity. And of sound. And our chemical romance with particulate poisons which we inject into the air with clockwork punctuality.

Every day in the name of progress. Every year in the name of tradition.

Reports are pouring in of the dying state of Delhi's air and sky and earth and water. Post-Diwali night bash, images of a smog-infested city somehow plug us back into that daily charade called reality.

firecrackers_103116022644.jpg Why must our joys be shared with these bangs of poison? (Photo credit: Reuters) 

That prelude to a long, distressful winter of heavy, choke-inducing air, filled to the hilt with toxins released from items of our monetised pleasure and custom and modern life - crackers that boast of powers equal to a hundred, a thousand cigarettes each, and outrival the automobiles for a while - is almost comforting in its yearly occurrence.

A particularly damning report in the Indian Express greeted us this morning.

"Air pollution across the country went up to alarmingly high levels amid Diwali celebrations on Sunday and the morning after. In the capital itself, people woke up to dense smog, which reduced the visibility levels drastically. According to air quality monitored by the Central Pollution Control Board, PM 2.5 in Delhi went up to 999 in the US Embassy area and 702 in Anand Vihar. In R K Puram, PM 2.5 went up to 643 micrograms which is almost ten times the safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metres and PM 10 stood at 999 micrograms per cubic metres which is also way more than the safe limit of 100 micrograms."

A United Nations (UNICEF) report saying that almost 300 million children are breathing deadly toxic air is also doing the rounds. Many of them live in India.

But it's not just our children. Latest reports say the planet is going to lose almost 70 per cent of its wild life by 2020. That is just four years from now. Less than a blink in earth time. It's being called the Sixth Great Extinction, but once that geological aura is lifted, we realise it will be too soon, and completely because of relentless human encroachment and destruction of habitats worldwide. We fondly call it the Anthropocene.

How staggeringly inert are we to not see, not correlate, not understand how our perpetually festive modernity and modern festivities are not-so-gradually exterminating the planet, the ecosystem, our immediate and distant environments - all in the name of tradition and progress?

What sort of tradition ensures its own destruction, now no longer slow-poisoning, but a heightened, accelerated toxicity of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the ground we walk on, the sky we look at?

If we are aware, even vaguely aware of all the pollution data that are screaming out loud for attention, but are dismissing them in one fell swoop all as one elaborate conspiracy of targeting festivals belonging to a particular religion, namely Hinduism, then not only are we suffering from a raging, insane persecution complex, but we are, in fact, participating in something that can only be called the "honour killing of our planet".

Because what else is honour killing but the lowering of a living person's value with respect to ossified notions of ritual, tradition, valour, family honour, societal code - uninterrogated through years, the calcified bigotry of the privileged against those who aren't?

If we are dubbing the killing of a lower caste woman or man for daring to besmirch strict caste diktats, or the murder of a man or a woman for daring to love outside his/her religion, then why wouldn't this systematic, collective murder of our environment, of our planet - and hastening that brutal death in the name of celebrations - not be called "honour killing" as well?

This murder of our ecosystem is as blind and as insane as hacking a woman to death in the name of perpetuating "family honour". Honour is a code word for this new insanity, which marries the most regressive elements in our rituals to the most potent weapons of late capitalist consumer culture.

As Omair Ahmad writes in The Third Pole, "The setting off of firecrackers would have been on top of the list of activities to avoid, as burning material add most to PM2.5 levels. The Delhi-based think tank, Centre for Science and Environment, also put out a press release, advising the public to abstain from using firecrackers, and suggested that India follow the models of China and the UK to deal with this problem."

As Diwali becomes an excuse (among others) to revel in soul-splitting noise and smoke that announces this "prosperous", mindlessly consuming India once again to itself, we need to introspect.

What would a "festival of light" mean in an age that's blinding itself with light pollution? How can bursting crackers that leave deadly, deafening toxins in the air be the hallmark of an annual revelry, a marker of shared joy?

Why must our joys be shared with these bangs of poison, this death in installments, this traumatising of animals and birds that share our environment and killing many of them as a side-effect? Why would we subject ourselves and our children to citywide gas chambers filled with the air of toxic revelry?

We need to reconnect with the sobriety of our ancient wisdom, and eschew this monstrous, self-destructive method of being traditionally modern. We need to live by letting live.

Also read - It's no longer okay to 'adjust' to climate change


Angshukanta Chakraborty Angshukanta Chakraborty @angshukanta

Former assistant editor, DailyO

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