As I am writing this piece, I can hear the crackers bursting loudly and Diwali rockets being fired continuously. A week ago, when the Supreme Court of India banned the sale of crackers in the national capital, the environmentalists were almost filled with a sense of joy. Their happiness was because of the fact that maybe this year, many of the people won’t have teary eyes due to a the smoke left after burning crackers.
Little did they know that things are never hunky-dory in India – especially when it comes to following rules, guidelines and laws in general, unless there is a fear of being criminally prosecuted. Diwali, a festival of lights, has almost become a festival of crackers in last two to three decades, mainly due to the absolute commercialisation of the festival itself.
Many generations of people have grown up bursting crackers on Diwali, realising very little about the harmful imprints they leave upon themselves. Although, over time, people did become aware of the harmful effects of bursting crackers, it didn’t do much to change their habits which are now deeply entrenched in their psyche.
It’s almost glamorous for many to burst crackers on Diwali – and till date, there have been (and still are) informal competitions between groups over who can burst more crackers. Knowingly or unknowingly, these people harm asthma patients, old people, small children, people with heart diseases and animals severely. If one tries make the sane argument of saying ‘no’ to crackers, it’s always countered by the insane argument that “what harm can happen if crackers are burnt for a day?” Or, “will the pollution fade away if people don’t burst crackers on Diwali?”
Now, these people seem to want results in binaries – either it’s 0% or it should be 100%. Secondly, the problem lies in their argument which often consists of bringing in the question of religion. When the Supreme Court gave its decision to ban the sale of crackers, some people were so irked by this decision that they went outside the court premises and burst crackers as a form of protest. The argument was that not allowing people to celebrate the festival in the way they wanted to (which they have been doing) for decades is being ‘anti-religious‘.
The question here is whether this adamant attitude of celebrating a festival in a particular fashion is a result of growing up in a time when almost everyone is used to burst crackers during Diwali. Can the idea of celebrating Diwali not be imagined without the involvement of crackers? So, another question is whether the people don’t know how to celebrate Diwali in an alternative way.
Also, since Diwali is a festival of having ‘fun’ and enjoying, especially in Delhi (where it’s like the biggest festival of the year), does the ‘fun’ element only consist of bursting crackers? This despite the fact that the ‘say no to crackers’ slogan is not a recently-coined one, and environmentalists have been saying it since decades.
Celebrating Diwali with just lights, candles, decorative bulbs and distributing sweets has been a ‘very ideal’ concept in the minds of many. For them, it’s just ‘too good’ to follow, and is something like a ‘bookish concept’ which looks good in the books only and need not be followed. Though a percentage of population which used to burst crackers previously has stopped doing so, the problem still persists.
Are the harmful effects post Diwali, and the adamant refusal of people to stop bursting crackers, a result of the glamourisation of the concept of bursting crackers in Diwali – to the point where for many, Diwali automatically means bursting crackers? I think that this is indeed the case, to a great extent. For many, the problem (as mentioned earlier) is that they don’t know how else to celebrate Diwali other than the way they have celebrated it while growing up. An alternative way of celebrating the festivals without crackers just isn’t appealing enough for them.
Festivals are as much about the celebrations as they are about the emotions. With the fast-paced nature of life in metropolitan cities like Delhi, the old-world charm of celebrating festivals is already losing its essence. We don’t see kites flooding the skies on August 15 anymore, as it used to be during the 1990s. Neither do we celebrate Dussehra for 10 days, as we used to. Diwali, being an exception, is still the most-awaited festival in Delhi – and people genuinely want to celebrate it in the manner like they used to do it earlier.
Bursting crackers has long been an integral part of Diwali celebrations. Many people just doesn’t want to let go of this habit, because somehow, it makes them remember about the good old days and fond memories. But the problem is they want to do it at the expense of deteriorating that very environment in which they live.
To sum up, people will stop burning crackers only when their deep-rooted psyche (on how Diwali can be celebrated) changes. At the same time, they also need to reflect on whether there are alternative, appealing and environmental-friendly ways to celebrate Diwali.