There is a quiet in the night. The roads are cleared of all the debris. My dogs have a smile on their face as they sigh and slip into a safe slumber inside my home. I can once again smell the frangipani flowers as I walk around the community where I live in Bangalore. As I go for a walk, some of my neighbours look away when they see me as, I am the anti-Hindu chap who appealed for a cracker free Diwali. Diwali is behind us and the explosions have died, but the debate has been ignited again.
The debate started with the Supreme Court (SC) ban on the sale of fire crackers in Delhi. The SC ban seems to have worked as it has been reported that the noise and smoke levels on Thursday were much lower than in previous years until about 6 pm. While the Air Quality Index (AQI) value on Thursday was 319, terming it in very poor category, the AQI last Diwali had touched a severe level after recording an index value of 431. This year the online indicators of the pollution monitoring stations in the Capital glowed red, indicating 'very poor' air quality, means that people may suffer from respiratory illnesses on prolonged exposure to such air, as the volume of ultra fine particulates PM2.5 and PM10, which enter the respiratory system and manage to reach the bloodstream, sharply rose starting around 7 pm on Thursday. Real time pollution data also looked alarming. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee's RK Puram monitoring station recorded PM2.5 and PM10 at 878 and 1,179 micrograms per cubic metre, respectively, at around 11 pm Thursday. The pollutants violated the corresponding 24-hour safe limits of 60 and 100, respectively, by as much as 10 times.
The SC has come under attack for its ruling by experts who contend that this is a knee jerk reaction not based on science. Anil Suri, a PhD in chemistry from Durham University, UK, and a materials scientist based in Aalborg, Denmark, whose research interests lie in carbon nanotubes and graphene, penned a detailed article titled 'Diwali Cracker Ban: When pseudoscience guided decision-making' where he explains the flaws of the SC ruling. He says that the months of pre-winter crop burning, and dust from construction contributes to air pollution more than one day of fire crackers during Diwali. He also goes onto expound the 'benefits' of fire crackers, including how the burning phosphorous cleanses the air of vectors that carry diseases like dengue. In conclusion, he rues the fact that Hindu traditions are under attack.
My intention is not to question the wisdom of Dr. Anil Suri, the cultural and religious sentiments of the Hindus or defend the judgement of the SC. It is merely to point out that pollution levels are alarming in India and anything that contributes to it has to be re-examined - irrespective of religious sentiments. It is difficult to pray when you are choking for air! The recent 'State of Global Air 2017' report has stated India now accounts for the maximum number of premature deaths from air pollution in the world. Not only has India surpassed China, a study by medical journal The Lancet, had also said that the air we breathe in India is turning more toxic by the day and an average of two deaths take place daily due to air pollution.
The fact remains that while Diwali is a joyous festival, the by products of the joy are air pollution, noise pollution, and large quantities of waste. The world in general and India is reeling under the effects of global warming resulting in climate change events that is having effects on our health and food production. Given this scientific reality, will it hurt our faith if we desist from the thrills of lighting fire crackers? Will our Gods be upset if we only light lamps around our homes, and not emit phosphorous into the air? Will our children be cross with us if we tell them that instead of burning fire crackers this year, that money will be used to feed some hungry children in an orphanage.
Evolving societies re-examine prevailing norms - if celebration, like burning fireworks is leading to harm, then it needs to be questioned. Will the celebration during Diwali diminish because we do not burn firecrackers? Will the planet smile with or frown with despair when we persist and burn fire crackers? The planet needs hope, and we Indians need to question the logic behind creating more pollution. Diwali signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Let's hope the spirit of Diwali is restored.