Thursday, September 6, 2012

From Sivakasi disaster to Celebration of life

The recent disaster in Sivakasi is not an exception.  Not a single year passes without similar disasters in the cracker-village called Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu.  Right now there are about 3000 living martyrs in and around Sivakasi who inherited burn injuries from the disasters and were rendered impotent for living normal life.  The hundreds who sacrificed their lives to the industry and the delight it gives to Diwali-celebrating Indians as well as the profit-reaping industrialists are always forgotten history.
The crackers industry makes an annual turnover of about Rs800-1000 crore.  But the worker in the industry gets a daily wage of Rs100 to Rs200.  The industry employs about 40,000 workers directly and 100,000 indirectly (ancillary jobs that cater to the needs of the labourers).   
Two questions arise.
1.      Is the industry required at all?
2.      How to find alternative employment for the workers who depend on the industry?
The second question is not likely to be of any interest to most people.  Why should we care?
The first question matters.  Should we be denied of our pleasures of fireworks?
I think we should be.  We should learn to raise the level of our pleasures to much greater heights, heights beyond firework-rockets.
Or to the deeps within our souls that religion is supposed to touch.
Why should our religion be about burning up the lives of other people?  Why should it be about burning up the skies and the environment?
I would like to quote a few lines from an article written by Prof Badri Raina in today’s Hindu newspaper on a slightly different matter (ranging from Maya Kodnani to Narendra Modi).  “Religion is an insult to humanity,” says the quote whose source is mentioned as “somebody” but is actually Steven Weinberg (Nobel laureate in physics).  “With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.  But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”  [I’d request readers to log on to the article and read the comments too.]
Why not make religion enhance the human dignity rather than insult it?  Why can’t religion celebrate the human life rather than mutilate or kill it mercilessly? 
Peter Beyer who studied rigorously the role of religions in our world wrote a book titled Religion and Globalization (published in India by Sage Publications).  Beyer argues that religion is made more conservative by those want to reap political benefits from it.  Not only the Islamic terrorists bear out Beyer’s argument but also people like Narendra Modi and events like the demolition of the Babri masjid in India as well as the rise of Christian fundamentalism in America. 
We need to make religion a social affair, an affair that uplifts the society, everyone in the society.  Unless religion looks after the welfare of each individual in the society, it will remain without soul.  Soulless religions can find joy in burning up rockets in the sky when hunger burns bellies on the earth.
We can change the situation.  We can decide to celebrate life. 
The choice is always ours.


  1. Two points:
    1. You seem to correlate bursting of crackers and religion. No religion professes this including Hinduism. But as you later on put it, in today's world, vested interests play heavy.
    2. I like when you say that religious festivals should act as fuel for inner joy. But I have mostly seen kids bursting crackers. It is not possible to preach inner joy to kids when its difficult to even talk about it with grown adults(that's at-least my personal experience).

    Given a choice, I would like to sit under a Banyan tree and meditate on a Diwali night :D
    That's all religion is .... peace

    1. Sid, the lion's share of the crackers manufactured in India are used for religious celebrations; Diwali, mainly, and also for others festivals like temple festivals (Some temples and churches in Kerala spend crores of rupees every year on fireworks). So there indeed is a correlation between crackers and religion, a very strong one too.

      It's quite easy to change children's likes and dislikes. Give them another toy and they forget the old one.

  2. Matheikal, I really would have liked your sugegstions on "alternative employment".

    While it is not bad to think of doing away with crackers (I am for it), this is not a solution for the simple reason that the only way to do it is through legal means - banning it. And, that never agve rise to sustained change in traditions, at least not in the near term. And, for longer-term and longer lasting solutions, it is better to go incrementally, take people with the change, slowly but steadily. Yes, one has to have loads of patience and the spirit to persevere.


    1. Raghuram, I too would have liked to give suggestions on alternative employment; but I don't possess the expertise.

      Like you, I too am looking for an incremental change, attitudinal change. My blog is in fact an idirect plea in that direction. Since I don't write in a purely logical way - I mix logic with emotional appeal - you didn't get that, perhaps.

  3. Dear Matheikal,

    Cracker industry need to be regulated and strict safety standards enforced, but isn't it farfetched to blame religion for Sivakasi disaster?

    Few days ago there was case of a Dutch teenager stabbing and killing another child over some Facebook dispute. Is Facebook to be blamed? Steven Weinberg was a great physicist, but he appears off target with 'it takes religion to make good people to do evil things'. Indeed there were/are cases of good people doing evil things in the name of religion, but there are also cases of bad people doing good things. Man can kill for anything: religion, politics or lesser things.


    1. Shajan, first of all, I blamed religion because it is for religious occasions that the crackers are used mostly. I understand the logic when you say that Facebook cannot be blamed merely because it is misused; but Facebook can be blamed for its misuse. Personally, I don't find any more use for Facebook than for religion. So the comparison is quite apt.

      I think Weinberg is not off the mark simply because more evils are (and were) done in the name of religion than anything else. Even our PM in his speech today speaks about the rise of communalism in states including Kerala. Don't you think the evils perpetrated in the name of religion is once again on the rise and we are almost regressing to the psychological state of the medieval period?

      By the way, your visit here has been a pleasant surprise.

  4. Crackers need to be stopped. It is time another fashionable movement like organic food, vegetarianism, and PETA takes place and people ban cracker bursting.

    It is obscene to burst crackers and spoil the atmosphere and add to noise pollution.

    1. Thank you, Pattu, for the enlightening comment. Crackers rape the environment!


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