ByÂ Nanditha Sankar:
The months of October-November usher in a frenzy of activity across the country. For the dealers in gold, it is the time of Dhanteras-a day when they can literally ‘strike gold’ thanks to the seismic wave of customers. Whether buying gold that day really brings in more fortune is a question no one can answer. But the pressing issue here is that of the day of Diwali that follows Dhanteras.
My point here is not to quell the beliefs of anyone and so I go on to that which has been troubling me — the day following Dhanteras which should be rightfully titled the “Festival of Smoke” more than that of lights. Every Diwali, the pollution levels before and after it shows a stark contrast- towards the rise. Every Diwali, at least a 100 people die, thanks to some cracker having burst explosively and another 100 are disabled for life. And these are the estimates from a single city. Multiply that for the entire country and you get a sizeable amount. The amount of residual particulate matter (RSPM), which has already reached the red-zone, is only boosted for the worse during Diwali season only to deteriorate the condition of those with respiratory ailments. The smoke that engulfs the cities during Diwali times goes without mention as well. These may not be good enough reasons for you and some of my friends who would gleefully call me a killjoy.
The most important reason why I decided to write this down is the plight of little kids in India’s largest firecracker manufacturing city-Sivakasi. In a country which is en route child labour eradication, this city stands out shamefully with a workforce of 30 Â from the age group of 4-16, of whom 90% are girls. Almost every year, there occurs an accident in these factories leading to the death of several of these innocent kids who are sent to procure some cash for their hunger-stricken families.
Cheap labour, dire poverty and illiteracy are the key reasons that propel these young girls and boys to these factories. With little surety of coming back alive, they spend their lives in inhuman conditions, exposing themselves to serious health hazards surrounded by a sea of chemicals. If you were to argue that shutting them down would ruinÂ their families, you should know that Sivakasi has a flourishing printing press that accounts for 30% of India’s diaries. Surely, these children could be relocated to other industries.
When fireworks are banned in several other countries, why can’t we take cue and follow their lead? Would it hurt us so much to sacrifice ephemeral joy on seeing the crackers burst make way for some peace, safety and most importantly a greener environment?