The thought of Diwali, which was universally celebrated by many people last weekend, first evokes strong images of colorful, beautiful firecrackers and sparklers. The holiday actually involves fire-lit lamps, prayers and food. This association is followed with the sentiment that fireworks are integral to celebrating this holiday; as an Indian firecracker peddler claims, “And in Diwali if there are no crackers, then Diwali doesn’t mean anything”.
Vehemently disagreeing with this notion, I find myself more aligned with those who support the New Delhi firecracker ban. Issued in 2018, it banned the sale of conventional firecrackers and designated a two-hour period to set them off in specified locations. While I understand the heavy traditional element to fireworks (my childhood consisted of wanting to skip the prayers and go straight to the fireworks), Indian citizens, especially those who reject the idea that fireworks need to be banned, must reconsider what it means to celebrate this cherished holiday. Why did we let fireworks become the face of a religiously significant holiday, and more importantly, why did we let Delhi’s toxic smog crisis accumulate over the years to even have to consider a firework ban?
Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, commemorates the victory of knowledge and good over ignorance and evil. According to the Hindu tradition, prayers (pooja) is supposed to be observed with clay oil lamps arranged in rows and lit to symbolize light overpowering darkness and various delicacies prepared to be enjoyed by the community. Even though fireworks were used in conjunction with Diwali by the rich as early as 1400 AD, the modern-day industry has convinced people that Diwali is primarily a firecracker enjoyment day rather than a dramatic symbol of good triumphing over evil. As it follows, Diwali should be a holiday that focuses on the cultural or religious significance rather than a holiday that inflates the need for extraneous factors like fireworks. If this outside tradition did not develop the intense connection it did with the people who celebrate it, people would not find it particularly difficult today to comply with a ban that is trying to do the right thing for its citizens.
Furthermore, the environmental consequences associated with extensive overuse of fireworks have proven that fireworks are part of the reason why the air is unhealthier than normal in places like New Delhi. Obviously it would be a crime to state that fireworks are the sole cause of pollution in New Delhi, but is it really a stretch to consider that a city with 25 million residents, with the majority living in close quarters, and who engage in the firecracker lighting, cause significant problems both environmentally and physically? I mean, with the current air pollution crisis now, half of Delhi’s millions of children have diminished lung capacity. Why do we want to worsen this public health emergency when experts have clearly identified a connection between fireworks and bad air quality?
Some might employ the argument that since fireworks contribute very little to the smog, the New Delhi government should focus on the other larger causes of smog such as farmers illegally burning crops and motor vehicle emissions instead of ripping away a small source of enjoyment for the public. However, motor vehicle emissions and crop burning by farmers are systemic and require a much deeper look at the economic infrastructure of New Delhi, in terms of what the alternatives and solutions might be to those problems.
Is it practical to ban cars, buses and auto rickshaws to have fireworks on Diwali? It would certainly eliminate the problem to an enormous degree, but the probability of that ever happening is doubtful. When the solution to solving the smog crisis lies in systemic change, which does not happen quickly, we shouldn’t be stingy in giving up something small but significant like fireworks, which are purely there for entertainment purposes. If we did not hype the necessity of fireworks in Diwali celebrations in the past, it wouldn’t be so hard for us to give them up now; as it is, Diwali is not all about fireworks anyways.
Lavanya Sambaraju is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.