Ever since the apex court announced its ban, a virtual fight ensued on social media, between people who stand divided on the matter, which also includes celebrities and troll-armies.
The inevitable happened: the entire matter boiled down to a problem of secularism – a term that is much abused and denigrated in our times. The ones with whom the ban did not go down too well started accusing the Supreme Court of trying to prove its secular credentials.
Notwithstanding the seriousness of the matter, conspiracy theorists believe this to be a concerted attack on the Hindu sentiment. Reducing the ban on crackers to a communal/secular problem is not only a misleading interpretation of the judgment, but it also undermines the cosmopolitan character of the festival.
That the days (and the month) following Diwali become nightmarish in Delhi is undoubtedly true. People living in the national capital and celebrating the festival won’t disagree with this.
Despite the drop in use of crackers last year, the consequences were horrific. An octogenarian I know, all of a sudden developed a lung infection primarily because of the pollution that accompanied Diwali. The sky looked smoky and pale, and the air felt heavy for days following the festival. In the face of such dangers, the decision of the Supreme Court comes across as a desperate measure.
Critics have found this to be an example of judicial overreach. This takes the debate to a different plane. But the usual whataboutery and false cries of victimhood are signs of irresponsible behaviour and unwarranted show of hostility towards other communities.
To equate the announcement with feigned secularism, or to bring in the argument of the court not intervening in other festivals such as Muharram is no argument or solution to the problem at hand. It takes common sense to understand that the solution to the problems that crackers create on Diwali and after, does not lie in blaming other festivals, particularly those belonging to other religions. If we are so keen on finding faults in other religions such as Islam or Christianity, we must be able to see our own first.
If for instance, Bakra Eid is a problem, are we willing to question animal sacrifices which take place during various Hindu festivals? If self-flagellation is not acceptable, then we must be willing to question traditions such as walking on embers or ceremonial branding of little kids with hot rods.
Who is denying that violently regressive practices are unacceptable, no matter whatever religion prescribes them! But that does not take away the menace we are faced with. Besides, there are other Hindu festivals in which crackers are used. Apart from Christmas and Eid, those festivals are also not being ‘targetted’. It is because Deepavali has been reduced to an insane show of sound and fury (to the extent of presuming religious sanction) that a ban was deemed necessary.
If the damage that Diwali causes cuts across contrived barriers of religion and ethnicity, the festival, over the years has acquired a cosmopolitan character too. For the northern part of the country, it may be the biggest occasion to look forward to, but all over the country, people celebrate it with much pomp and joy. Growing up in Odisha, I remember how, in the evenings, the elders would organise a puja for the ancestors while kids would enjoy waving their sparkling jhurjhuris, and later partake in the puja offerings.
Despite its Hindu origins, Deepavali is celebrated by people of diverse religious backgrounds. Do we think of religion while availing Diwali discounts? Just as many of us might have eagerly waited for our biriyani on Eid or cake on Christmas even if we were from other religions or did not associate with any religion at all. In a typically cosmopolitan city like Delhi, Diwali involves people of all kinds and not just Hindus. On the flip side of it, the damage it causes affects Hindus, non-Hindus and non-humans alike.
The real sufferers of the cracker-ban are those who are in the trade; who may or may not be Hindu, and couldn’t care less. If the ban is to be criticised, it is for its timing. A timely announcement could have saved the sellers. Calling the ban on crackers an act of prejudice against the Hindus is analogous to the fallacy that warnings on cigarette packets are the doing of biased non-smokers. Instead of sulking in imagined-victimhood, we should promote a pollution-free Diwali. Come on, let us be a good sport.