Diwali - should we celebrate it with crackers?

Given an option, I always chose window seat on the flight. reason being, I take childish delight in looking over the scenery, the snow white clouds, the ground where everything is minuscule, and far off objects.

Thus it was no wonder that I found myself occupying a window seat on my return flight from Calcutta to Delhi last Tuesday, after having celebrated Diwali at home. Flight from Calcutta to Delhi is especially pleasurable as for a large part of the flight, you can look snow capped peaks of Himalaya jutting out of clouds at a distance. The view, for me, is breathtaking and spellbinding. I also like to look at the ground, whenever there is a break in clouds, and try to figure out farms, towns etc. I have noticed the landscape change over the years, from being pre dominantly green, to predominantly brown - the shade of soil. I am always disappointed at the pace with which green seems to be disappearing.

This flight, however, had another surprise in store for me. My flight had to circle over Delhi airspace for almost half an hour before it was granted permission to land. During this time I was surprised to notice that the clouds, or air over Delhi air was not white. For as far as I could see from my vantage point in the flight, the air was grey - the color of smoke!

Prior to this flight, last I flew over Delhi was last year in May. I don't recall Delhi air being as grey then. And this set me thinking, could this possibly due to recent Diwali celebrations? If it was, it would be a rude indication to the amount of pollution that we successfully add to environment under guise of celebrations!! A colleague at office today said that during Diwali, his eyes were burning for two days! Could pollution from crackers, once again, be the possible culprit?

I stopped burning crackers some 12 years back. Not because I did not want to add pollution to environment, but because I did not like to see money going up in smoke. I also did not support child labor employed in cracker producing industry. I disliked being woken up at 2 in night by the loud crackers burnt by inconsiderate neighbors. It was only later, during my MBA, that I learned about carbon markets, environmental pollution etc, and this only reinforced my decision not to burn any crackers during Diwali.

As I understand it, the idea behind Diwali is to spread joy, much like what westerners do during Christmas. I think there are other, far more effective ways to celebrate, come together and spread joy, than by burning crackers. I thus, for once, find myself favoring government's decision to ban certain crackers. I think it is a step in right direction, and we all should embrace it.

I recently came across blog of a noted Author and Journalist Sauvik Chakraverti, who is in favor of burning crackers, and against government's decision to ban them. His post can be found here.

True to my nature, I immediately left a comment on his post (there already was a long string of comments and counter comments) putting forward my view on the matter.

What I want now if to find out what others - primarily readers of my blog think. Should we go ahead and keep burning crakcers, or we can find alternate means of celebration? If some of you don't burn crackers, I would love to hear what made you stop burning crackers. In short, I would like to know your take about Diwali, and crackers. So come on guys.. let it out :)


pearl said…
A very thoughtful post Gagan! You have indeed raised a very important issue, of pollution and child labor related to crackers. But, I believe just talking about these points would not solve the problems. Many people talk about various such issues, but are there any impact of such allegations? In a country where so many people are unemployed, isn’t there a solution to employ them instead of children for production of crackers. Have we wondered why children go for just jobs? In certain cases they may be forced but in most scenarios they don’t have a choice because their families are very poor. I don’t think that by stopping the burning of crackers the root problem can be solved. As far as pollution is concerned, yes we can do our own bit for environment protection through this. But for any substantial impact, efforts need to be made at a large scale. Various organizations including the government, NGOs are making efforts towards this, but till the time the masses don’t realize this, the effects would be minimal.
Jigisha said…
I agree with your views. Even we have stopped burning crackers since many years. I think Government should put a ban on all the crackers and this rule should be followed strictly. Just like there is this rule about Navratri celebrations that you can not play after 12:00 am. It is followed everywhere. The reason is that you can not use loudspeakers - the same noise pollution occurs b'coz of crackers. The noise of crackers is much higher than loudspeakers, so even they should be banned completely atleast after 12:00 am even this way a lot can be saved. Otherwise no one understands that there are better ways to celebrate Diwali without spoiling environment. Anyway "Bhagwan sabko sadbudhdhi dey."
Kunal Ratanpal said…
Hmm..point gagan bhai, good point…this cracker burning and pseudo diwali celebrations are definitely killing our planet…gosh!! the pollution due to burning crackers for a couple of hours on a single day is definitely killing our ozone and warming our planet…way more than what the US, UK’s industries have been doing for years…or even more than that done by those countless flights that u have taken from Calcutta to delhi/Mumbai/blore/lucknow…definitely…these crackers are the root and only cause..and should be banned…totally..completely….
lets kill the industry…lets kill the industry that employs 40000 people directly and 100000 people indirectly, contributes 40 million to the govt. kitty, lets kill the industry that has been in existence since 1923, and lets kill the art that has been practiced since god knows when….so what if the Chinese goods will be smuggled in greater nos, so what if the people would have no jobs, so what those kids would not be able to fund their family/life/studies..atleast they will be safe, and the world would be a safer, cleaner place.
Yes, this is the root cause, and the simplest thing to make our world a cleaner, greener and safer place…for me the phrase that summarizes my take on banning crackers would be…‘Penny Wise Pound Foolish’….
No Offence Meant :)
nish said…
Simple yet thoughtful!
It's not been many years that i have almost stopped burning crackers. But this year in particular, I just could not join my jing-bang of friends and decided to be a spectator instead. Very recently I have been reading and watching TV about global warming and how gradually we are contributing towards our own extinction. And having mentioned about the Himalayas, a couple of days back i happened to see on TV, the President of Maldives presenting a report that the Himalayan glaciers will be well gone in the next 26 years. The question is - do we even realize what does that mean??? Well gagan - probably you take a picture of the Himalayas the next time you fly and preserve it for the rest of your life and generations to come! It might sound a little funny and sarcastic too but who knows it might just turn out to be true. And this is just one to come out from this era s Pandora's Box. Well coming back to the main issue of whether or not we should celebrate Diwali with crackers - my opinion is certainly 'NO'. And the reason is no different from what you have mentioned - pollution and wastage of hard earned money(child-labour can be another post for debate in this case;)). At an individual level - i have made a choice of contributing my 'bit' by staying away from burning crackers. We can't force our opinion/choices on anyone. Any substantial impact can be expected only if the government intervenes and take drastic measures like banning the cracker-manufacturing industry altogether.

All in all - a very interesting post once again gagan! :)
Amritha Menon said…
i liked your thoughts gagan! and i was reading what the others have written down too. it seems, children going in for cracker prodution is one of the umpteen ways in which our country misguides youth, and it generates a vivd image in my mind, of the reckless india!
my question is, can we celebrate the festival of lights with lights, but without the fuming and burning? as in, if we banned the louder, more consuming, harmful explosives, and allowed people to use only the handy, colourful ones, that dont send smoke up the sky, or cause potential harm on the grounds, would it take the 'zing'out of Diwali? :) would it let down the Indian spirit, the same spirit that celebrates cricket like a rage :)
this kind of sobering down of spirit is necessary for systematic growth,according to me. the collective lack of self control in all areas that matter, has placed our country, where she is right now.
the answers to these issues, and the ways to rectify would take up way too many posts and some real action that will have to trickle down through generations, i guess. but i'm glad you brought it up, and you guys made me think.
neo said…
i dont think we cause too much of pollution by just celebrating diwali..its manageable..fun is part of one's childhood..lets the kids too enjoy the same fun..:)
Yashika Totlani said…
you've written better. but atleast your heart was in the right place while writing this :)

grey clouds could be rains too... but il take ur word when u say it was smoke. i might sound sharp... but thats only cause i burn lots, LOTS, of crackers each diwali. its still the festival of lights, right? Besides, I was in the US a few years back. Chanced to visit Disneyland (orlando) and watched their earth show at night. Gagan you wouldnt believe it, if these crackers bother you on one diwali day, you would have flipped looking at what they do each night in the name of entertainment. Its a firecrackers show that lasts an hour. So comparison with western values is unfair. You should, instead, loosen up and enjoy the show :)
Divya said…
I think I saw three major points being raised against burning crackers on Diwali.
1. Child labour employed in cracker production - Can't see how killing the industry is gonna solve this problem even slightly. With their only means to support themselves (and their families in most cases) gone, these children will turn to other available employment opportunities or be forced to go hungry. A safe environment to grow and education are the only ways to help these children in need; not a ban on burning crackers.
2. Pollution - Can't agree more with Kunal. At the risk of repetition, "penny wise, pound foolish". Period.
3. Noise pollution and subsequent infringement of personal freedom - This is a complex issue and the only real issue (according to me) among the three points raised. A few in our society have issues with crackers during Diwali. I'm sure many more have issues with blaring loudspeakers at religious places & during elections, or all the hallabaloo that we see on our streets on the rarest of rare occassions when India wins a cricket match, etc. Is it possible to ban every single thing of the sort? If yes, a point might come when we would have to think thrice before raising our voices even within our own houses; who knows, someone who might take offence to this act might be passing by the nearby street.

Blanket ban isn't the answer. Like the Delhi highcourt ruling for loudspeakers, reasoable restriction on time or place for public expressions of joy is the sane & sensible thing to do.

P.S. I'm not a fan of crackers. Can't remember the last time I burned crackers. Does that give me any right to impose my choices on others? May be not, me thinks.
Neha Nahata said…
All i can say is "agree to disagree". I dont deny the fact the burning crackers doesnt pollute the air... but its more.. beyond that! Diwali is not an everyday affair...
How bout taking an everday activity n doing something bout it... For instance stopping people spitting on the walls, cleaning the litter on the ground, avoiding use of plastic bags, discarding styrofoam cups !!!
Can we stay away from everyday convenience... be out of our comfort zones n get to work rather than just talk about them!!!
Can we take a small initiative n work on our basic civil sense rather then to talk about the much celebrated festival "Diwali"...

My heart cries when I see people living in filth (crap, plastic bags, cigs, paper, dead animals to name a few)... this is not the story of one area in Mumbai... but all stations that I pass through twice a day!!!

Can we make life little better for them... for us ... by working on our "Civic Sense"...
Diwali is for a day but the above mentioned issues are everyday concerns!!!
Gagan said…
@ all: guys.. thanks for your comments. I have been extremely buys these last few days, and hence have not been able to address points raised by you all. Will counter your comments in a day or two for sure. Thanks for bearing with me :)
Dark_Temptation said…
True Gagan.... it is indeed an important issue to ponder on.I second your thoughts. But the remedial measures are to be taken at a larger scale.It has been sometime since i have stopped burning crackers :)
Dark_Temptation said…
True Gagan.... it is indeed an important issue to ponder on.I second your thoughts. But the remedial measures are to be taken at a larger scale.It has been sometime since i have stopped burning crackers :)
Gagan said…
@pearl: what you say is correct, but there is no "over the counter" solution for problems like child labor and unemployment etc. What is actually required is that people should stop talking and start doing their bit. Many refrain from doing anything at all because they feel alone, they wont have significant enough impact. Its like casting votes.. either u cast vote and help the right person get into office, or shut up and live with corruption. As for pollution, India has the distinction of being among the first nations to ratify Kyoto Protocol, and as a nation we are actively trying to control emission at all levels, including industrial, though this is not apparent to masses yet.

@ Jigisha: thanks for the support. :) wouldnt it be better if people decided themselves to refrain instead of government having to ban something?

@ kunal: your points are well taken, and to an extent I can understand where you are coming from. However, if developed nations are polluting, and are too arrogant to take corrective steps, it doesnt mean we should follow suit. Incidentally, UK and Germany were among the first developed nations to ratify Kyoto Protocol and not only put a cap to their emissions, but also bring it down. America has ratified it now under Obama administration - several years later than most of the world! As for industry and job, I dont think there is any perfect answer to the points you have raised. But would like to present some food for thought for you to chew on:

1. Even this year, much of the stuff, including crackers were produced in China, esp the large crackers which has 20 sounds - 30 sounds - 160 sounds n wot not.
2. Bhai, going by the logic you have given, everyone should start smoking cigarettes too. After all, tobacco industry adds much more to the government’s kitty, employs far higher number of people, and has more direct impact on everyone lives. Yet we do not hesitate even for a moment before discouraging people from smoking. We all nod in agreement when government bans smoking in public places. Change and transition are the only constant in this world. Which industry has not undergone several changes in last few decades? Protection has always led to decay in the industry. Best example would be American Automobile companied. GM was considered to be too big to fail. Where is it now? Most of its products do not meet emission standards of many developed and developing nations! Another good example will be retail industry in India. Large hypermarkets, chain stores etc are forcing small retailers out of business. As a result people identify other opportunities. I do not dispute that transition also entails hardship for many, but that is what market economy is all about.
3. Instead of protecting the industry, wouldn’t it be better if we could help people develop new skills so that they do not remain industry dependent? Wouldn’t that be more progressive?
4. Pollution from travelling and other activities: no doubt most of our activities results in emission either directly or indirectly. Thus I come back to saying what I wanted to articulate in my post in the first place: it all boils down to individual choice. What activities does one feel are necessary and must be undertaken, and what can be avoided. For me, visiting home once in six months justifies slight emission that it will result it. but I do make sure that I close taps properly, recycle as much paper as I can, avoid using plastic bags whenever I can, and make sure that I switch off all the lights when I leave my room. Btw, I’d read somewhere that one cracker burnt adds more pollution than a 100 watt light bulb left on for a day!
5. each penny saved adds up  as they say in hindi: boond boond se ghara bharta hai!
6. no offence meant and none taken :)
Gagan said…
@ nish: thanks for the support nish… yes it is indeed important to do our bit in whatever way we can. Global warming is not just a theory, but a very real threat for all of us.

@ amritha: rightly said.. guess I couldn’t have put it in better words :) I guess what is required is more dissemination of information among masses, so that they can analyze situation better, and understand logic behind decisions.

@ neo: totally agreed that fun should not be taken out of childhood. And that’s why it becomes important for us to find alternate options to celebrate which does not take fun out of diwali celebration. As for quantum of pollution added, I am not the best person to comment, but I do think that every bit counts.

@ yashika: refer to my response to kunal. Is it possible that we take only the god virtues from west and leave the rest? I never meant to say they do not pollute, but we can be selective of what all we replicate. Cant we?

@ divya: will reply to your comment point by point.

1. Agreed. And this is one area we need to address actively. Just to put things in right perspective, I never said crackers should be banned because of child labor. I personally stopped burning crackers when I learned about extensive child labor in the industry as a form of protest at that point of time. Probably because I was young and did not know how else could I make a difference.
2. Refer to my response to Kunal
3. You are right again in saying that these are complex issues, and that reasonable restriction is probably more sensible thing. And that’s what was done by government. Only certain crackers with high noise and pollution capacity were banned. Even I am not in favor of blanket ban. I think individual, rational decision is far more effective.
4. No one has the right to impose their choice on others. Hence, this discussion :)

@ Neha: Good point raised. If you don’t mind, may I ask what do you do, or your peer group does to address these problems? Why or why not? You’ll find answer to your points in your responses itself. As for Diwali, yes, it is one of the numerous other activities that we undertake, and it does not make sense to stop burning crackers in diwali but not switching off lights of your room when you leave. However, almost all of us in India directly or indirectly celebrate Diwali, hence I started discussing about it 

@ Dark temptation: thanks for the support. Yes, there are larger issues that needs to be addressed. And trust me, they are being addressed, though its not very apparent, and we still have miles to go. The ABM batch has a paper in fifth term called Carbon Markets, taken by Prof Sushil Kumar. Suggest you sit through some of the classes, it’ll be interesting 

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