It’s Deepavali again and once again debates are raging about whether or not one should burst crackers. The first I heard about this was at a school assembly a few years ago. One senior student focused her presentation on the problem of child labour in factories that make fireworks. But there are other arguments circulating such as air and noise pollution, the effect it has on animals (sometimes injured, oftentimes scared). Of course, there’s also the good, old fashioned pollution that one finds on her street the morning after the crackers have been burst. All of this will end up mixing with other sources of organic and inorganic waste and thus is necessarily destined for landfills.
Funnily enough, I’ve seen very little discussion about the other aspects of Diwali that should be reconsidered. Traditionally, in addition to bursting crackers (which seems to have quite a long and interesting history), Diwali was the day where everyone got new clothes and ate lots of food that was richer food than the usual, austere dishes served. Today these traditions seem to have been blown out of proportion and, at least to this American observer, it appears that Indians have adopted the American Christmas model of high levels of consumption as a way of celebrating.
It doesn’t matter what you want to buy in the weeks leading up to Diwali. Everyone will have a sale. Signs will be posted all over billboards and the Internet. And it seems that there is an increasing frenzy around shopping for the holidays–though, thankfully, it’s not yet as bad as it is in the U.S. on days like Black Friday.
Still, I can’t help but wonder: is all this shopping really necessary? Certainly one needs diyas, oil, and wicks–but most of us have them in our homes already. And in a society that no longer only purchases new clothes one day a year, do we need new saris and kurtas? Maybe. But I think it might be useful to explore some of our consumption habits and consider other ways to celebrate the holiday without participating in a system of consumption that makes us all contribute to the waste stream in greater numbers. There are plenty of ways people are celebrating Diwali in an eco-friendly manner–here are a few to get you started.