Yesterday was the 4th of July, the Independence Day of America. Those who have lived in the USA know that the day is celebrated with a lot of fireworks (among other things). People burst crackers at home, but even the local cities throughout the country organize huge fireworks shows on this day. People gather around large open spaces, such as parks or playgrounds to enjoy these public fireworks events. This year, my city of Fort Wayne postponed its official fireworks show for a later date because of safety reasons related to the COVID-19 outbreak, but individuals happily burst away crackers from their homes. All the (double glass) windows of my apartment were closed, and the air-conditioner on, but still, I could hear the non-stop barrage of firecrackers from outside late into the night.
It may seem like I am complaining, but I am not. People got to celebrate their culture and traditions, as long as those traditions don’t hurt other people or animals. Now, I stopped lighting firecrackers a long time ago because of its environmental impact, but the damage from firecrackers can be considered relatively minimal and temporary. Thus, such traditions could be allowed to continue, when they occur only once a year and if people are taught to celebrate the occasions responsibly.
In India, this once-a-year time of bursting crackers comes during Diwali. Although the original tradition was to light only diyas (lamps made from clay that have a cotton wick that is dipped in ghee or some vegetable oil), once Indians had access to gunpowder (estimated to be somewhere around 1400 AD), people also started using fireworks to celebrate Diwali. Over the last few decades, with increased incomes, the use of fireworks during Diwali has skyrocketed. This obviously has also had a negative impact on the air quality, albeit only in the short term. This has given many self-proclaimed “environmentally-conscious” celebrities a reason to ask for bans on fireworks during Diwali.
For a long time, I sided with these celebrities, but in recent years their hypocrisies have been too stark to ignore. For example, they celebrate weddings in their families with a huge amount of fireworks but preach others about how the same fireworks during Diwali scare dogs (and other animals) and damage the environment.
I see no American celebrities trending on social media speaking against the use of fireworks during the 4th of July celebrations. Then, why do so many Indian celebrities deride Diwali? Why doesn't Priyanka Chopra, who now lives in America, not say anything about the 4th of July firecrackers but speaks so derisively about Diwali’s fireworks?
As I have already mentioned, I personally don't burst crackers (because of the noise and air pollution) they cause, but personal choices apart, the systematic campaign against firecrackers every year during Diwali seems to be nothing else but campaigns against all Hindu traditions and festivals. This year some Indian celebrities even ran campaigns against the celebration of Holi because it caused “wastage of water”. All this while they themselves waste thousands of gallons of in their bathtubs and personal swimming pools. And I don’t even need to mention that these animal- and environment-loving celebrities never speak up against the horrible traditions of certain other religions that kill millions of animals every year and waste millions of gallons of water to clean up the mess created by it.
So, what is the way forward? It is certainly important to point out the hypocrisy and Hinduphobic biases of our celebrities and Indian governments and courts that initiate and implement bans against Hindu traditions. But we need to do more. First, we need to take pride in our animal- and environment-friendly traditions. It is beyond the scope of this post to list all these traditions, but I can say with confidence that there is no other tradition in this world that is more compassionate and environmentally conscious as the traditions that emerged from the Indian sub-continent. And we need to take this forward. In context of firecrackers, we should campaign for the manufacture and sale of only those varieties that are made from environment-friendly materials. All the Chinese junk that gets sold and purchased during these festivals must stop.
|Firecrackers made from environment-friendly materials in India|
While growing up as a kid in Odisha, we only used Tala Phootka (firecracker made of dried palm leaf) during Diwali. And there are many other such options, made from clay pots, jute strings, and bamboo twigs [see collage above for examples]. We should call for a ban on all other forms of firecrackers that use non-biodegradable materials. Coming to Holi, all chemical-based colors should be banned, and its use be made punishable. The traditional colors used in Holi were all made from plant-based materials that were actually good for our skin.
The Islamic and European rulers who ruled over India for centuries instituted systems in place that progressively undermined the pride we had in our traditions. And the assault continues today in name of "secularism". The flaws that have seeped into our practices (e.g., the use of firecrackers made out of plastic or the use of chemical colors during Holi) are not the fault of Hinduism but our shameless embrace of cheap materialism. We need to educate ourselves about the philosophy and history of our festivals. We need to celebrate our traditions unapologetically and do it by actively adopting and campaigning for the environment-friendly ways of celebrating our festivals. This way, we can also be an example for the rest of the world, as we were for millennia. If you have doubts, watch the video below.