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Crackers: Do They Amuse Or Are They An Abuse?

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By Saoumya Vashisht:

In the 19th century, two brothers, Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar came to Kolkata in search of their fortunes and worked in a match factory. The brothers could visualize the abundance of opportunities that the industry would bring with itself. Taking that vision, they returned to Sivakasi and opened a match factory there. In the year 1940, the Explosives Act was amended, making the manufacture of a certain class of fireworks legal. The Nadars got a foot in the door and created the first firework factory in Sivakasi. They worked hard and promoted the association of fireworks with Diwali, their promotion was in sync to how Diwali is incomplete without bursting crackers. The trend took off and by 1980, there were 189 factories in Sivakasi supplying fireworks all over the country. Started as a business venture, firecrackers then became a ritual and an indispensable part of Diwali celebrations in India.

Incorporation Into Mainstream Culture

The glory of these pyrotechnical mixtures has only increased over the years due to the augmenting population and economic prosperity of the Indian middle class, especially in the last three decades and with ready supply coming in from the flourishing domestic industry. While the fireworks industry made hay as the sun shone, the air we breathe kept on deteriorating. Studies based on recorded data have shown that the pollutant concentrations in air increase manifold during the Diwali season with average increases of 6 to 7 times in suspended particulate matter and twice in sulphate plus nitrate levels, as compared to a typical winter day value.  These concentrations shoot up to 12 and 5 times respectively on the night of Diwali whereas the metal concentrations increase by 50-60 times.

Matter Of Public Scrutiny

This issue of un-breathable air served as the bone of contention in the 2015 petition of Arjun Gopal and Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors., which brought soaring levels of air pollution in the public eye, making it a national concern. Several remedial actions were taken to tackle the problem over the next two years, including a ban on the sale of crackers in 2016. The ban imposed by the apex court brought some relief to the air as the union environment ministry said, that the AQI which was 426 and 425 on Diwali and post-Diwali day, respectively, in 2016, reduced to 326 and 367 in 2017. The year 2017 saw positive changes with respect to air pollution in Delhi due to a number of steps taken by Union Government, State Governments and Government of Delhi. One of the main steps taken by Delhi Government is the banning of inflow and sale of Chinese crackers, this issue has been said to be approached with a political agenda, fuelled by Beijing’s continued support of Pakistan and its blocking of India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. However on the forefront, the concern was expressed to be the virulent air of the capital.  Special teams were put together by the government to not only enforce the ban on Chinese crackers but to also resolutely follow the ban on potassium chlorate (a heavily polluting agent used in Chinese firecrackers) which was imposed in 1992, as well as to help the Indian manufacturers thrive.

Stakeholders Involved

Indian manufacturers refer to themselves as primary stakeholders to this discussion stating that their monetary interests cannot be sidelined. Their main submission pertains to firecrackers not being the cause for the current state of apathy, they contend that the months of October and November bring with themselves a grim situation in Delhi as a result stubble burnings in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; low wind speeds; and a drop in temperature raising pollution levels, making it common for the city to reach a count of 400-800s ug/m3 in few areas during Diwali season. In summation, they view crackers as a single day activity to express joy, with not much impact or addition to the already existing levels of pollution. This fascination with crackers stems from the joy of watching colours shoot up in the sky. However it is necessary to recognise that, all these colours come with a cost. This price is paid by the consumers as well as the environment to these manufacturers in kind, through constant degradation. The wellbeing of users is jeopardized due to the composition of these crackers which consists of Lithium Compounds that produce the blazing reds, Barium Nitrates that produce the glittering greens and Aluminum produces sparkly whites, making all of us believe that all that glitters is actually strontium. These chemicals expose us to a risk of various health hazards, namely, cancer, dermatitis, bio-accumulation. In addition to that, acid rain and contamination of groundwater are the result of their usage.

A bearing of anti-cracker campaigns has brought about social and behavioural transformation among people, making it susceptible for a gradual change to take place, however immediate measures taken by the lawmakers are seen to be all words no action. The need of the hour requires us to look beyond quick gratification and churn out the consequences of bursting crackers, there is no shine down that road. It is not only a cost unworthy of being paid economically but is also a hazard for the ecosystem. It is for the people to realize that they are at the moment playing dice with death by not acting upon it.

The author is pursuing her BA (LLB) from Amity Law School, IP University. She is currently interning with Chintan’s Voice for Waste team.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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