This Was One of the Quietest Diwalis in History. So Why is the Social Media Debate on Crackers Lit?

Social Commentary

This Was One of the Quietest Diwalis in History. So Why is the Social Media Debate on Crackers Lit?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Another Diwali has gone by, and the residents of Delhi won’t be able to tell their Afghani chicken from their tandoori chicken for a few more nights. Also back are the familiar post-festival headlines, dissecting whether burning firecrackers does indeed cause a spike in pollution or whether that notion is a myth created by anti-India pollution-haters. The battle raged online all through the weekend, with one half claiming that they would burst a few extra crackers to stick it to the “liberals”, and the other half posting pictures of pets hiding behind furniture in fear. Much ink was spilled over the impact of every bomb that goes off, which was matched by equally valid, but slightly unrelated arguments about the noise pollution caused by traffic jams instead. A few others chose to vent their anger at the Supreme Court for stripping away their rights by imposing a ban on certain types of crackers, while those on the opposite side of the debate put out desperate pleas for people living with disabilities. The festive cheer was in the air.

One of the most bizarre takes of the first of the two sides of the debate — the side that insisted that they were being bullied into not bursting bombs in the middle of the afternoon — turned out to be a BJP leader from Delhi, Kapil Mishra, who tweeted that if we actually wanted to reduce pollution, we should shift our focus from firecrackers, to getting rid of *image of a Muslim family* instead. He later deleted the tweet, and an FIR has been filed against him in Delhi, but not before support came pouring in, in the form of a hashtag, which was accompanied by similar views. Of course, the lack of attention paid to festivals like Bakri Eid and loudspeakers at mosques, was raised as a counterpoint.

Suddenly it seems as though, over the last few years, the inanimate object that is the firecracker — and its most evil avatar, the rassi bomb — have evolved into symbols of pride and community. It’s almost impossible for a single Diwali to go by without someone getting unnecessarily aggressive about their right to burst crackers. There was once a time when only a duplicitous Priyanka Chopra had to bear the brunt of this anger, but the argument has intensified ever since a Supreme Court verdict in October 2018 (presided over by SA Bobde, who was just appointed as the next Chief Justice of India) banned the sale of conventional fireworks and imposed a strict time limit for the citizens of Delhi. The judgment was seen by some as a “direct attack” on their freedom to celebrate any festival in any way they deem fit.

It’s almost impossible for a single Diwali to go by without someone getting unnecessarily aggressive about their right to burst crackers.

This debate has also, at points, devolved into whataboutery —“liberals who eat beef steaks and drive AC cars are ruining the festival of lights with their sudden concern for the environment”. So, in just a few years, fireworks have gone from being a spectacle and an environmental education teacher’s worst nightmare, to being as integral to Diwali as the national anthem is to movies at PVR. You either stand with it, and burst 20 bombs in your neighbour’s face, or you find them annoying, post about it, and risk offending the sentiments of thousands of Hindus. 

What this constant tussle over the importance of fireworks does seem to have done, on the other hand, is suck some of the fun out of the whole exercise. As it turns out, this has been one of the least polluting Diwalis of the last few years. In Delhi, there has been a massive fall in the sale of fireworks, and the air quality (while still terrible and off the charts) has been the cleanest it’s been since 2015. Mumbai also decided to lay off bursting crackers, as a report claimed that it had been the quietest Diwali in over 15 years. Bangalore meanwhile was blessed with two days of rainfall, and as a result was spared two days of toxic air. 

So even as the voices online continue to make “the firecracker” seem more divisive than Marvel vs DC, it seems that more Indians than ever have decided that it’s not worth living in gas chamber-like conditions. For further proof that this trend is here to stay, check out this gloom and doom report about how the Sivakasi factory is unsure of its fate. Maybe one day soon, it’ll be possible to celebrate the festival of lights without the accompanying bang.

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