Firecracker ban during Diwali is about pollution, not Hindu festivals

The wounded defenders of culture must understand that the prohibition is only in the poisonously polluted Delhi NCR.

 |  6-minute read |   09-10-2017
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As the Supreme Court on October 9 banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR till October 31, louder than the loudest of firecrackers rose voices of protests, decrying the latest "attack on Hindu culture" while festivals of other religions continue uninterrupted.

The SC order is against pollution, not Diwali. The protesters are communalising what is just an attempt to address a grave problem.

Anyone who has lived in Delhi will accept that firecracker-bursting here has become a competitive sport, with people aspiring to burst crackers fancier than their neighbours till later into the night. Photo: India TodayAnyone who has lived in Delhi will accept that firecracker-bursting here has become a competitive sport, with people aspiring to burst crackers fancier than their neighbours till late into the night. Photo: India Today

What the wounded defenders of Hindu culture seem to have missed is that the SC ban is effective only in the poisonously polluted National Capital Region (NCR). The rest of India - and Diwali is among the few festivals celebrated in some form across India - can burst firecrackers. Also, the ban is only on the sale of crackers. Dilliwalas with firecrackers left over from last year are free to use them.

The SC judgment says, "Let's try at least one Diwali without firecrackers". This in no way amounts to banning them forever. For years, there has been a debate on how much are firecrackers actually responsible for the pollution in Delhi, which annually peaks around this period, when farmers in Punjab and Haryana are also engaged in crop burning. Maybe this Diwali can settle the debate with some finality.

Limited to Delhi, because it is most polluted

Last year after Deepavali, Delhi awoke enveloped in a grey blanket. This shroud-like cover of poisonous gases affected everyone, Hindu or belonging to any other religion, "anti-national" to patriot. Poisoned lungs are a steep price to pay for one night of Hindu tradition-certified fun.

There are reasons why the need to ban firecrackers arose in Delhi alone. For long, the NCR has ignored its dangerously rising pollution levels. Now that the time has come for drastic measures, it is kicking back like a petulant child.

Before firecrackers, in August 2016, the Supreme Court had banned in Delhi the registration of diesel-run private cars of the capacity of 2000 CC and above and SUVs, which guzzle fuel, are more polluting, and affordable only to the richer strata. There was a similar hue-and-cry, and the order finally had to be lifted and vehicle registration allowed after payment of a green cess. Effectively, those who could pay to pollute the environment were allowed to do so.

Anyone who has lived in Delhi will accept that firecracker-bursting here has become a competitive sport, with people aspiring to burst crackers fancier than their neighbours till late into the night. The pleasure has not much to do with having observed a tradition, but in having one-upped your neighbour - not a feeling any religion would approve of.

After your revelry has polluted the environment, the poisoned air has to be inhaled by everyone - those who had no interest in bursting crackers, the poor man's child who wistfully watched your crackers, and the plants and animals who were just collateral damage. Hinduism, as any other religion, emphasises on one's duty to one's fellow creatures, and ignoring that is a bigger violation of your religion than not bursting firecrackers one year.

Delhi has long ignored the lethal problem of pollution. A ban on firecrackers can possibly bring its magnitude home to people better than figures or statements have.

Whataboutery is pointless and stupid

Much of the arguments put forward against the SC order are whataboutery - why only Hindu festivals, why no protests against killing of animals etc. Once again, the problem at hand is pollution, and the order is in relation to that. There have been petitions filed against animal slaughter too, and they are in court. Also, firecrackers are not limited to Diwali alone. Shab e Barat also sees bursting of firecrackers, though, of course, on a much smaller scale.

Arguments such as why ban firecrackers when we are using cars and ACs are similarly specious. Policies are underway to address other pollutants too - the Delhi government's odd-even policy for cars being one case in point. Pollution levels go up drastically after Diwali, and the order is an attempt to tackle that.

Diwali is much more than just firecrackers

However, if we were to examine whether or not the order does impact "Hindu culture", there would still be little to find fault with. Diwali is much more than bursting of firecrackers. Those who seek to make it just about the loudest aspect of its celebration are diminishing the festival.

Deepavali is about the celebration of good over evil. It is also the time when traders and money-lenders settle payments and begin new books of accounts.

Even without firecrackers, Delhi residents gave much to celebrate in Diwali. Photo: India TodayEven without firecrackers, Delhi residents gave much to celebrate in Diwali. Photo: India Today

The celebration involves cleaning the house, lighting of lamps, decorating homes, and worshipping Ganesh Lakshmi, many of these given a miss by children giddily bursting crackers.

Those who are wondering what Diwali will be to children without firecrackers are displaying ignorance about the rich mythology and the traditions attached with the festival. Instead of bursting firecrackers, families can get together to decorate their homes with diyas and rangolis, children can be taught the many stories around the festival and their significance. I know of a family where during Diwali, the children would start a new account book for their pocket money.

The hue and cry over the SC order shows how festivals are being increasingly reduced to their ostentatious and commercial aspects. Insisting on your right to celebration in your own way, while neglecting the harm you are causing to others, is in no way in keeping with the spirit of the festival.

Maybe this year, with the din of firecrackers absent, Delhi can think about the values that Diwali stands for.

Also read: Why Supreme Court banning firecracker sales in Delhi-NCR doesn't help

Writer

Yashee Yashee @yasheesingh

The writer is a journalist.

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