It’s that time of the year, when crackers compete with lights. It is also the time when eye hospitals are on alert to attend to emergency cases. This is when Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) starts measuring air pollution in Bengaluru diligently and collects data to compile reports on air quality. This is also when activists, media and government agencies start coming up with fire safety guidelines.
And this also is when activists who advocate eco-friendly celebrations are countered with whataboutery on crackers:“What about animal slaughter done by other religion?” “What about industrial pollution?” “Don’t you pollute air by taking out your car?” “If you are talking against this you should also talk about that, otherwise you are biased,” etc. etc.
Whataboutery on firecrackers now has become a ritual. It rules social media discourses. Debates heat up on the topic, without really reaching anywhere, everyone sticking to their own stands.
Why are crackers bad?
Due to the religious angle brought in by conspiracy theorists, whataboutery on crackers started this year a bit early, following the ban on sale of crackers in Delhi, directed by the Supreme Court of India. This was a result of a petition filed by three children, Arjun Gopal, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin, through their legal guardians. They were all infants aged between six and 14 months, in 2015 when the petition was filed. The petition focused on the health impacts on infants and children due to air pollution from crackers.
The Supreme Court based its judgment on data and evidence of air pollution peaking during Deepavali. “The air quality deteriorates abysmally and alarmingly and the city chokes thereby, leading to closure of schools in view of the health emergency situation,” observed the Supreme Court during the judgment.
Crackers are made of toxic heavy metals such as copper, cadmium, chromium, strontium, mercury, lead, barium, manganese and zinc. They also contain sodium, sulphur and potassium.
These chemicals float in the air when the cracker bursts, and can trigger asthma attack or respiratory problems, apart from chronic cough and headache etc. These pollutants can damage the functioning of body in the long run and cause chronic ailments. This article from The Indian Express explains how firecrackers can spoil your health.
The deafening noise coming from loud crackers like atom bombs traumatises animals. People travelling on two-wheelers and cars in residential areas often become the victims of rockets or atom bombs, injuring people or damaging vehicles. This article from India Today explains the effect crackers can have on our cities, people and atmosphere.
When a cracker is burst in your area, the suspended particulate matter (SPM) in the air gets a big boost. Check this tool developed by Hindustan Times to see how bad air can get, when we burst various crackers.
Whataboutery knows no reasoning
The argument for firecrackers does not care for the scientific evidence we have on the harmful effects of air and noise pollution—it diverts the attention to something else and hijacks the direction of the argument. People who fall for these arguments end up thinking that crackers are not as bad as they are projected to be.
Deepavali is the Festival of Lights. This is a religious festival, true, but crackers had no place in it traditionally. If a ritual does no good to people and environment, what is the point of continuing it?
Countering someone who appeals against crackers by highlighting another religion’s celebrations does not really help. Religion was invented by humans. It is flexible, not static—it has the scope to evolve. Discarding the bad aspects of a religion and retaining the good ones helps everyone. Longer-lasting religious reforms occur only when they come from the concerned community itself, rather than someone else imposing it on them.
History is full of examples of age-old rituals – illogical, inconvenient, or just plain harmful, being abandoned by people or overruled by the judiciary. We have done away with many evil and discriminatory systems that were part of religious fabric—be it untouchability, child marriage or tonsuring the heads of widows. Similarly, instant Triple Talaq was accepted in Islam, but women in the community bore the brunt of it. Recently courts ruled it illegal, and everyone agreed it was progressive.
Cracker should also be taken in the same spirit, as it makes use of precious metals and elements extracted spending a great deal of money, to pollute our atmosphere. The sad part is, there is no scope for recovery of these precious metals. They end up polluting our air, lakes, water bodies and soil, and enter the food chain and human bodies, making people sick. They can even kill.
Stop comparing crackers to other bad things
If one thinks open animal slaughter is bad, one needs to work with the government to tighten the rules on open slaughtering and bring in discipline. Justifying crackers citing this example does not help.
Same with industrial pollution. There are laws to deal with them but corporates hoodwink the authorities and flout the rules. An individual can only lament about it, but further action is beyond an individual’s scope—it’s a bigger battle that needs to happen at a different level. Comparing that with crackers is problematic.
Same with public transport. If our cities had reliable public transport, people would ditch their cars and go for it—Metro in Bengaluru is a proof. But if one does not use public transport because of whatever reason, it does not take away her right to stand against crackers.
Each one of us does only what one can, however small it is. Existence of one bad practice does not justify another bad practice. Both need to go if they are bad, and those who care work towards that.
So comparing crackers to animal slaughter, industrial pollution, vehicular pollution etc needs to stop—all are totally different, sometimes equally bad. The whataboutery we see is a product of the excess wanted and unwanted communication/propaganda we see on social media. It’s a reflection of our own ignorance and lack of awareness about the environment. It is a product of our own resistance to see things as they are.
Only hope: awareness on crackers
However, campaign against crackers cannot be won fully as long as there are laws and regulations on manufacturing. Crackers are bad, true. But, combative attitude of belittling people for using crackers can do more harm than good. Patronising people doesn’t help either. Change of heart takes place at a different level. These are not the issues that can be won by arguments, unless we have specific laws in place that are implemented diligently.
The good news is this: change of heart is already taking place. A lot of people find sense in the arguments. The declining sales of firecrackers is a proof of this. Cracker sales had gone down last year considerably, and cracker bursting also got reduced in Bengaluru. Cracker sale has further reduced this year. Officially as declared by Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), the pollution levels were also reduced. This only gives some hope.
Schools have realised the importance of having no crackers, and create awareness among children. In this season it is normal to see children go door-to-door in residential neighbourhoods around schools, requesting people to not use crackers.
Finally, crackers are not the only eco-evils. There is so much each of us can do to promote eco-friendly living, right from being mindful of what we buy in shops or online, to where we choose to live, to what we wear to how we travel to what we invest on. In Bengaluru, garbage burning is the seasonal hottest thing that’s causing a major impact. There are bigger things happening, so one could expand the horizon beyond the realm of one’s own pets or intolerance to noise.
So, let us make this festival of lights as eco-friendly as possible. With the hope that light of knowledge and wisdom helps us outgrow the bad practices of the past, let’s celebrate a safe Deepavali with lamps, good food and warm celebrations with family and friends!