Saturday, November 10, 2012

Change the way they live by changing the way you celebrate

Dear Indian,

It is that time of the year again. Diwali will soon befall upon us. Doesn't sound very festive, does it? Well, my lack of interest sprouts from the contemporary methods of celebrating this festival of lights. In recent years it
 has turned into a festival of smoke. The manner in which we celebrate it puts me off from anything related to it. Almost. Every year the closer the calendar inches towards it, the fainter my heart grows.

Firstly, let me tell you that this article is addressed to a specific set of people. It is aimed at that 30% of India’s population who live in her cities; those who have been exposed to modern city-life and who, I would assume, are sensible enough to understand the difference between a ‘cow’ and a ‘car’. If you think you do, read on.

It is then addressed to 80% of those 30% living in urban India who are literate; which would be those Indians who know what ‘pollution’, ‘traffic’, ‘child labour’, ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ mean. They can probably also operate a computer. You should stop reading further if you think 'Google' and 'Internet' are the same thing!

Narrowing down further, it is for those 34 million of that 80% who are literate and live in urban India, who are active internet users, who blog, use social networks, share ideas and (may be) are budding entrepreneurs.
You are probably one of them if your are reading this.

And lastly, it is addressed to all those who have made it through the above screeners and who burst fire crackers!

If you are a firecracker-burster, this article is addressed to you. With utmost sincerity and respect, all I request you to do is - Quit crackers! Celebrate a cracker free Diwali.

For those of you who never burst crackers or have already quit, and are still reading this request letter - Thank you, really! Please spread the message and get more Indians to join the cracker-free bandwagon.

It is beyond my understanding why someone who lives in a city, is well educated and can operate the computer would find the need to light up hazardous, life-threatening, menacing objects (read: firecrackers) to prove their allegiance to a God or celebrate the return of a king from exile. Firecrackers didn't even originate in India (it was China), so their association with a magical festival of lanterns and rangolis is bizarre!

Besides, our insatiable, unjustifiable, suicidal want for firecrackers has made India the second largest producer of firecrackers in the world. Shocking, isn't it? It’s outright shameful to be second on the black list of countries producing civil bombs, in broad daylight, all year round by employing two lakh child labourers in near-death-inducing environments. And what’s worst, almost 100% of those fireworks are consumed within India

Let's put this into perspective. We have this mad urge to burst crackers, we have a mad industry supplying them to us and in the bargain we have cultivated a mad demand and supply chain where we do everything possible that defies common sense.

We harm our health and environment, smog our metropolitan cities, strip our atmosphere of fresh air, tear our ear drums, cause a rise in respiratory disorders (short-term) and cancer patients (long-term) on our hospital beds, spend a fortune in buying fireworks, put our children at risk of getting struck by stray flaming rockets, petrify our beloved pets, force the less privileged of our society to work under inhumane conditions and oddly enough, yet manage to celebrate our most auspicious religious festival. An auspicious festival of that same religion which preaches non-violence, equal rights and environmental sustainabiltiy.  No wonder we are known as the country of nutters world-over! Talk about double standards.

To all those who believe fireworks build a sense of bonhomie, bring cheer and foster community spirit...Ahem, ahem! Please go back to school and learn what these words mean. Get in touch with me thereafter. I will give you a million alternative things to do which will bring all the cheer and spirit back in your life! Duffer!

I cannot convey this message in a simpler way. Please quit crackers, if you haven’t. Spread the word and get others to join you
. Write a letter to the building society you live in and put up posters about why everyone in the colony must quit crackers. Also offer alternative ways to celebrate the spirit of Diwali. Run speaker sessions in local schools and sensitize as many people as you can. Get the local governments to organize a community fireworks celebration (one pyrotechnic rocket is better than hundred). In the long run, organize meetings with the shops in your locality who sell firecrackers and offer them alternative business ideas to make the most from the increased level of festive consumer spending. Speak to your friends and family. And all the children you know. Request them to take the cracker-free route. Address the issue as soon as you see it happening. And make this a conversation starter, 'Will you burst fireworks this Diwali?'

Where do these crackers come from? How can we offer alternative jobs to those who will be unemployed if factories where they are made are shut down.? The driving force is a life of desperation, the desperation to earn a living. The owners of these factories engage in cracker-making as it is (sadly) a lucrative businesses, it brings in the cash. It is lucrative because we consumers make it so. We give them our cash. We need to offer them another lucrative business idea to manage and work in - Sivakasi itself has a big BPO/IT and printing industry. Why not train the workforce to enlarge those industries? Why is a UK, USA or Australia not in the top three fire cracker producing nations? Because they have an aorta of sense and they take up ethical welfare oriented business. (Okay, may be not, but you understand the sentiment here don't you? We need to shut down the fireworks industry and replace it with another one. If not the least we can do is to ensure utmost health and safety of those working in those environments.)

If you are still not convinced, go to any search engine's news section and type 'fire crackers'. Every news story that pops up will give you real-life stories of affected communities, burnt factories, high pollution levels, suffering asthmatics and all things negative. 

Although I must admit, there is awareness and there are numerous Indians who have taken the steps to reduce fireworks and who are doing their bit to make Diwali a cracker-free festival. But I also do feel, there is much more to be done. Every time I hear the sound of a 'bomb' or a rocket zooming in the night sky I tell myself, 'We haven't done enough. There is lots more to do'.

Hopefully, someday the rippling effects of our actions will reach the life-snuffing-factories of Sivakasi and other Indian firework-torture-camps. When the demand will stop, the supply shall too. Surely no employee loves working in a poison-chamber and no employer loves putting the lives of hundreds of families and workers on the brink of danger every day. They do it only because they don't have alternative sources of income.  

I urge you to put your creative minds together and to give them a chance to change the way they live by the changing the way we celebrate. Let’s not think cash and let’s think conscious. Let’s be the kind of people who live in cities, go to school, surf the internet and are sensible and wise enough to quit crackers. Please.



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