A Dharmic society is about upholding the right balance where society, despite its diversity, can resolve its conflicts and move forward taking everyone along.
If society can show the way, even the Supreme Court, tutored in Western ways of binary thinking, will follow.
As another Diwali, or Deepavali, is with us, it is a time for Indians, and Hindus in particular, to not only celebrate the festival, but also introspect on how to redefine it. This time the festival of light is being held under the dark shadow of a ban on the sale of crackers in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR). The ban has been imposed by a Supreme Court that sees itself as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong in a Dharmic society that actually has natural ways of balancing them.
Never mind. We need to forgive even the Supreme Court for its narrow vision. Sometimes it is society itself that must show lawmakers the way forward. Decisions that are in the interests of the whole of society must be taken not only amidst the smoke and sound of crackers, but also the fog of political posturing and single-agenda NGOs, who want us to believe that all they want is reduced pollution in Delhi.
So, let’s start by accepting this claim at face value and ponder over what we can do in Diwali to address the underlying concerns.
First, we could start by emphasising that Diwali is a festival of light; it need not be a festival of excessive sound, where extra-loud crackers are burst, frightening humans and animals. Clearly, we need to reduce the number of deafening crackers and shift the emphasis to items of beauty and light.
Symbolically, this is the Dharmic thing to do, for when we decide that we need light more than heat or dust or smoke, there is a greater chance that we will listen more to one another. Amidst sound and fury, no one can hear anybody, as we would have noticed on all our TV channels. We cannot get better debates and discussions with excess sound. So, this Diwali we must pledge to listen more and talk less, so that all our people are heard, and not just those who are loud and vociferous.
It is not unlikely that when people are not heard, they tend to become louder and angrier. An angry nation cannot talk to itself, and the prime role of a Dharmic society is to start those conversations that are vital to its survival. We need to learn to be less angry, and more compassionate.
Second, we need to realise that the Indian state, and its various arms, including the Supreme Court, are essentially weak institutions. Therefore, they need draconian laws and forays outside their constitutionally-mandated areas to deliver so-called justice. India has been a relatively peaceful place, given its size and diversity, not because the state can guarantee law and order, but because our society has an in-built commonsense gauge that learns to operate within its limits. When it periodically exceeds the limit, it pulls back to give society time to recuperate.
Thus, it is society that must show the way forward to the state and its institutions, as both have lost their way. The state can no longer protect Dharma, or ensure law and order, or even enforce the umpteen laws it makes. We need only look at cow protection laws, where gau rakshaks rather than the state are trying to enforce the law, often vicariously and with violence, to underline this point. A Dharmic society must directly set the pace of change by organising itself better in terms of creating new social institutions that can help drive order from within. We may need new types of temples that are not controlled by the state, or other forms of Dharmic institutions to achieve this, but that is the way forward. Once we learn how to do this, the state and its institutions will learn from it.
India, as a Dharmic society, needs to lead the world in setting up a new template where the state, society, institutions and individuals are not antagonistic forces, each bent on protecting its own interests, but where roles are harmonised. Rights and duties, whether of the state, its institutions, its citizens or social organisations, including temples, need to be balanced. Unlike western binaries of right and wrong, a Dharmic society must be about balance and stability, where steady change is the order of the day.
Third, coming specifically to the problem of crackers adding to pollution not only in Delhi but in all cities, we need to create socially-funded R&D – assuming state-funding is not possible – to make crackers that are less polluting, less noisy, and more beautiful to behold. This is what the Supreme Court should have mandated in the first place instead of kicking cracker sellers in the gut by banning sales in the National Capital Region. You can’t build better compliance by denting the incomes and livelihoods of traders. You need to invoke Saraswati to help us with the knowledge on how to reduce pollution by improving the quality of our fireworks, and not drive Lakshmi away by damaging the “artha” that is the key to upholding Dharma.
A Dharmic society is not about Hinduism alone. It is about upholding the right balance where society, despite its diversity, can resolve its conflicts and move forward taking everyone along. If society can show the way, even the Supreme Court, tutored in Western ways of binary thinking, will follow.