Another year, another Diwali, and another ill-conceived order to ban the storage and sale of firecrackers in Delhi, stemming from the incapacity of the sitting Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to address the issue of stubble burning in the neighbouring state of Punjab, and to shield the hypocrisy of his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that supports the very same farmers engaged in stubble burning, and earlier this year, the vandalising of the capital.
For the firecracker critics, refuge lies in selective logic.
Does the cheap plastic flooding the markets on Christmas in the form of decorations, artificial trees, or an imaginary Santa Claus make sense for the green world? Does animal slaughter in the name of pleasing a god make sense? Does dressing up like voodoo dolls in a twenty-first century environment to ward off ghosts make sense? Did humanity forever mark the beginning of every new year with fancy fireworks across the globe?
The counter to such biased critics does not lie in demanding similar orders for other festivals, for a secular nation like ours must allow every religion to have their way of life, unless of course, they are Hindus.
What is the place for logic in rituals and customs? One community’s customs and rituals can be others’ superstitions and so forth. Firecrackers are without logic on Diwali but how do they find relevance during New Year, or during Christmas, or during the election results for the very parties that remain silent on their ban or themselves engage in bursting them on Diwali?
Thus, it is to engage in a futile debate if one is to debate the ‘logic’ around firecrackers, for if this nitpicking was extended to other customs and traditions, in other religions, one would open the Pandora’s box of deceit which will make many politicians uncomfortable.
The problem here, with regards to Delhi, is not the ban of firecrackers, but the political gimmicks around it. In some other year, one could have excused them, but this year warrants an urgent exception.
Kejriwal, for more than a year now, has been appeasing the farmers of Punjab. These farmers, while turning a national highway into their private camping site under the patronage of the Delhi Chief Minister, not only resisted critical reforms in agriculture but also demanded a free hand to burn stubble.
Kejriwal, in order to better his odds for the assembly elections of 2022, stood by these farmers. However, anticipating the smog problem that should encompass the entire National Capital Region within a month from now, and to immune himself from the political backlash, Kejriwal announced a ban on firecrackers.
From a chief minister whose party leaves no opportunity to showcase his IIT legacy, a reading of a report from IIT-Kanpur was certainly warranted.
In 2016, IIT-Kanpur conducted a detailed study of the cause of pollution in Delhi. The report was then submitted to the Delhi government and Delhi Pollution Control Committee. While citing numerous reasons for pollution in the region, the report had no mention of firecrackers. Road dust, industrial stack, vehicular movement, concrete batching, hotels and restaurants were cited as leading causes of pollution.
However, the report did not skip the mention of Diwali as a contributor to the depleting air quality, given the crackers involved. For the duration between 2010 and 2015, across 1,891 days, the levels of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 were hazardous for eight Diwali days and very unhealthy for two days. These days included the day of Diwali and the following day. Interestingly, for the same duration, there were 469 days of very unhealthy levels and 154 days of hazardous levels. Additionally, there were 632 days of unhealthy PM 2.5 levels.
The story was the same for PM 10 levels. For the same number of hazardous and very unhealthy levels days, there were 188 days of hazardous levels and 340 days of very unhealthy levels. So much for attributing the pollution of the region to Diwali alone.
In 2020, most cases of stubble burning were reported from Sangrur, the sole Lok Sabha constituency of AAP.
While Kejriwal projects himself as the saviour of Delhi with ads and innumerable PR stunts, his party’s lone Lok Sabha constituency is adding fuel to the fire.
Rest assured that this will not stop here. Already, this year witnessed enough instances of selective action when it came to gatherings during festivals. On Ganesh Chaturthi, people were advised to stay at home, not get together on the streets, but the same orders were not extended to Bakrid. Instead, Kerala eased the Covid restrictions for three days in the state. Gone is Article 14 for a toss.
Today, it is the firecrackers. Tomorrow, the consumption of sweets may next in the decimation drive, with non-communicable diseases being attributed to what people eat on Hindu festivals.
Some years later, gatherings might be prohibited because certain journalists would label them as an excuse for Hindu men to stalk women amongst other imaginary allegations and claims.
Another point for concern is that is many Hindus themselves are falling for these gimmicks and endorsing irrational orders.
These orders, almost fatwas, are not far-fetched, for if the people today compare the festivals and how they were celebrated in the 1990s, or even the early 2000s, the dilution and decimation is clear.
Schools, convent and public, already discourage Holi celebrations in the name of conserving water. Ganesh Chaturthi is hazardous for oceans, and more excuses are on the way.
There is also the question of generational impact. Children are critical in taking the festivals ahead, from this generation to next, and for them, the festivals, before their cultural importance, need to be fun.
No child, between the ages of four and 14, brought up by urban schooling, English language media, and social media trends, would look forward to a festival if it is not fun for them. It is precisely why Holi is beginning to lose traction while children celebrate the legend of Santa Claus. Ban firecrackers today, and 20 years later, Diwali would be what Holi is today.
There is the economic question as well. As fans of ease of doing business, what explanation does the government serve to the firecracker industry? Are we okay with a tax-paying industry, catering to a market of middle-class tax-payers, being eliminated to serve the whims and fancies of political leaders, judiciary and, farmers who do not pay taxes, and have become a burden tax-payers are cursed to carry for years to come?
This is not about Kejriwal or the opposition alone, for the Bharatiya Janata Party ruled-states are also guilty of banning firecrackers, if the high courts or the Supreme Court have not banned them already.
One wonders, what would it take for one pious Hindu in what the Western media famously terms as a Hindu nationalist government to check this flow of events? This is not a sentimental issue, but one that bridges culture and appeasement politics.
We must protest against politicians using Diwali as a pedestal for their politics and as a shield to hide their callousness and failures in dealing with the bigger problem at hand.
The firecrackers fatwas must stop.
Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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