(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Firecrackers were burst with vengeance not just in Delhi NCR last night. The story is true everywhere. People have drawn a line in the sand against State, judiciary or National Green Tribunal (NGT) throttling their beliefs. If it involves a jail of six months, so be it.
The rulers believed banning crackers was for the good of people only. India could hardly breathe in winter. That the season of Coronavirus could take you over the edge. Decrees were declared. Orders were announced. Gazettes were notified. The word got to everyone through that sublime monstrosity of our newspapers.
The trouble is State and its organs speak a lot but listen little. They have oil poured in their ears. The voices of people don’t reach. Or maybe they have no answer why air pollution is bad but cutting trees for Christmas isn’t for the environment. Why do we have ban only till November 30 when firecrackers are also burst during Xmas and New Year too? Is December any less polluted than November in India?
People are talking. All the time. If Rulers don’t listen, they appear prejudiced which is lethal in a deeply religious society like ours. Why wasting water is bad in Holi but drinking the one mixed with the entrails and blood of a goat sacrificed in Eid through its water distribution artery isn’t. There is a Supreme Court ruling how many millileters of water can be poured over the Shiv Lingam in Ujjain Mahakaal temple. Or why chanting mantras could bring about an avalanche in mountains but not the blaring of Azaan from mosques. Or why Rakhi and Karva Chauth is patriarchal but not so the abysmal treatment of Muslim women in our society.
Do you think I am getting into a religious binary? Ignoring the damage which firecrackers evidently inflict on our air? A toxicity which doesn’t discriminate a Hindu from a Muslim?
So let’s play this game too. What has State done in all these years to the farmers’ stubble burning if I may ask? What answer it has to the oil-based solvent type exterior and interior paints which fill our air? How credible are the pollution certificates on our cars which is a joke on how its’ managed and unquestioned after expiry? My friend Veeresh Malik calls it a dystopian state from George Orwell’s book where you find the rope that fits the nearest neck but you.
As I write this, firecrackers are bursting around every minute. It must be true around you too. But the State is deaf. It’s losing its moral high ground. The state appears prejudiced and timid on religious scales. Prejudiced are instanced above. Timid is to ignore that sacrificing goats or cutting trees for Eid or Christmas which is being disapproved these days even in Islamic and Christian countries. Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Slovenia are even-handed: They do it with Muslim practices and so with Jewish Kosher. No ritual slaughter.
The State is also shown as powerless. You don’t even enough Khaki to enforce it who, unconvinced for all you know, might be turning their backs to such blatant defiance. Those who try are left bloodied by people.
If the State can’t appear even-handed. It could at least summon common sense. Fix hours for firecrackers. Promote green bursts. Don’t make it appear as if your criminalizing a whole civilization. If you are defied now, you would be defied again and again. You can’t fetter a billion voices. Worse, India would be in flames.
We all know Supreme Court was mocked disdainfully by the citizens on Deepawali as firecrackers dinned in our ears till wee hours next day. There was no adherence to time slots; no indulgence by stealth; a few selfies in social media of individuals standing over the bomb-scraps as a hunter would over a sprawled killed tiger.
This was a serious matter. The vaporous, poisonous air of the Capital was unlikely to get better. The long arm of law loomed big. Spending the Festival of Lights behind a cold, bleak and dark lock-up isn’t quite one’s idea of an adventure. Yet here were citizens thumbing their nose in disdain; preferring faith over law.
Police, it would appear, had given up on enforcement long before it was breached by millions. How do you patrol lanes and streets; verandahs or terraces? Only when fellow residents complained about violating neighbours, did the cops reluctantly hauled themselves up for action. Ignoring a breach was tantamount to risking their own jobs.
The citizens apparently have drawn a line in the sand. They risked legal censure, incarceration, a possible blot on their careers. But let nobody, not even the supreme judicial whip of the land, come between them and their faith.
Even Lutyens’ media couldn’t ignore the masses’ contumacy. Hindustan Times made it a lead story of their edition aptly headlining “Ban Goes Up In Smoke…”. The Times of India too made it the day’s biggest headline, “Most Flout…” The Hindu noted in headline: “Supreme Court restrictions on crackers violated.”
Indian Express was another matter. It chose the story of stray arrests over people’s defiance. Not a line in their front-page story mentioned of grave violation of Supreme Court order by the masses. All they did was to report how many were booked for violation of the ban across the country. As if to warn its readers that they would be literally playing with fire next year; as if to engulf them by a sense of fear. What ought to have been a moment of reflection for them, or judiciary for violating people’s faith, was lost in the enthusiasm to show the punitive arm of the state.
Indian Express ought to have paid heed to their former editor Shekhar Gupta who slammed the judiciary for coming between the people and their faith. In trying to enforce what is un-enforceable. “Do you really see police in our various states entering households, arresting and prosecuting people,” wrote Gupta, admittedly in the wake of Sabrimala, no different from Deepawali in legal crosshair.
So complex, traditional and long-held are the beliefs of millions that Supreme Court is best adviced to leave citizens alone on the matter of religion. Upholding the Constitution on gender equality and grave societal matters is one thing; wading into centuries-long faith is quite another. One shouldn’t come at the cost of the other. And as we know from last year, banning firecrackers didn’t help the Capital’s poisonous air. The known reasons—stubble burning, construction, sand-debris bearing trucks, car emissions—remain unattended. That sends the wrong message of being selective in fight against pollution. More so when the ban, barring a small window of two hours, was not for Delhi NCR alone but covered the entire country.
All this does is to undermine the authority of the judiciary. Judiciary against citizens has only one winner. More so when whispers start gaining volume that Hindus are under a sustained attack on their faith and practices in their own land.
Deepawali, a joyous festival, is second to none in a Hindu calendar, carrying an ethical lesson on good lording over the evil in the form of their supreme deity, Ram. Tragically, the news in newspapers is about seizing of firecrackers, violations and arrests, with the same sense of foreboding as bomb-attacks in our cities, seizures of cache of rifles, machine guns or handcuffed terrorists. It’s a classic case of solutions being worse than the malady.