Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is here.
And India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and people from those countries living in other parts of the globe are celebrating it with food, festivities and fun.
And firecrackers. Firecrackers are a huge part of Diwali celebration.
The little-noisy crackers they call patka. And the big, very noisy crackers, like chocolate bombs and bottle bombs and the two-repeat and three-repeat bombs, driving people crazy. Noise pollution at this time takes on an unimaginable level.
And the beautiful, noiseless fireworks, like the flower glitters or phul jhuri, colored torches or rang mashal, floor spinners or charki, and fire fountains or tubri. The blue-green-red-n-yellow, fun match sticks made especially for this occasion. The earthen lamps and candles lightening up each porch, terrace and verandah. The spring-up, black snakes or saap baji. The rockets. You name it. The underground, illegal varieties too.
And then, expert artisans make all kinds of incredible fireworks to lit up the dark, new-moon, autumn skies. Some go way up in the sky, and then make shapes of famous leaders and celebrities. Gandhi, Tagore, Modi, Shah Rukh Khan 🙂
But behind all this explosive happiness and gaiety, very few remember the poor workers who make these little and big fireworks and crackers that the affluent and middle-class families and children play with on Diwali. Most of them do not know or care about the fact that a vast majority of these behind-the-scene workers are hapless, poor children who can’t go to school or get enough to eat. Most of those celebrating the Festival of Lights do not remember that for these poor child workers and their families, there is hardly any festivals and any lights.
In fact, these children cannot afford to pay for the high prices for those firecrackers. If anything, they pay for them with their own lives. They die a slow but sure death because of the extremely toxic environment they work in, and the often-carcinogenic chemicals they use. And often in India, fireworks factories explode because of unlawful chemicals wrongly used, killing scores of these child laborers. It has now become a commonplace tragedy, happening every year in India, over a few weeks before Diwali.
Nobody really pays any attention. The fun show must go on. Children filed petition to India’s Supreme Court to stop the horrific noise pollution, but the government intervened to stop the petition from winning.
This Diwali, even though all for celebrating it, I am inviting everyone from every religion and non-religion to be a part of it, I’m also inviting you to remember this untold, dark side of the festival. Think about how you can improve their lives. Think about how we can find an alternative, healthy life for these children and their families so that they don’t have to die working with poisons. Can we send them to schools they deserve? Can we find them money to eat a good lunch and dinner?
It’s easy to say, “Ban Child Labor!” That is the cry the affluent, bleeding-heart liberal cry. But then what? If not an economic way out for them, what other choice do they have?
Diwali is not, and cannot be the Festival of Lights, unless we bring light to illuminate this deep darkness.
Wake up to this reality.