As a general principle, I don't like bans.
I don't like diktats, whether from courts or governments banning what I can eat, what I can drink or what books I can read or what I do in my bedroom.
In that vein, I don't like the Supreme Court telling me I can't buy fireworks for my Diwali even if it's only in Delhi NCR.
But what I like even less is twisting that story into being one of Hindu victimhood in their own country.
If there's a victim during Diwali, it's those with pulmonary diseases, it's those children with asthma, it's the elderly, it's street dogs and house pets. Actually it's everyone breathing in the smoky air heavy with particulate matter.
Now thanks to the noxious Diwali debate spurred by the Supreme Court argument, particulate matter has acquired a religion.
Writer Chetan Bhagat has fanned the flames.
First off, it's not true that only Hindus burst firecrackers during Diwali. This is not a ban on Diwali, not even a sideways ban and to present it as such is plain mischief-mongering.
Secondly, there's a ban on sales, not on bursting crackers.
Third, the court has made it clear it's a one-time experiment for now to see if the ban has any impact on the air pollution. It said, "We are of the view that the (November 2016) order suspending the licences should be given one chance... to find out whether there would be (a) positive effect of this suspension, particularly during (the) Diwali period."
One could have legitimately raised many extremely valid concerns about this ruling without a knee-jerk communal bonfire.
Is this a case of judicial overreach, the nanny state trying to dictate everything we do, on par with the mandatory national anthem in movie theatres?
Why have a ban instead of enforcing stronger regulation?
Can such a ban be really effective since there's no ban on bursting fireworks?
Will this encourage a blackmarket in fireworks?
All perfectly valid arguments and not unlike the debate about the efficacy of the Delhi government's famous odd-even scheme to combat vehicular pollution.
If we had the sense to self-regulate, to understand the importance of common sense moderation it would not come to this pass.
Instead it's boiled down to this.
Bloody hell, how dare the court say Hindus don't have a right to be choked and deafened?
No one is arguing about the pollution spike post Diwali. No one is really contesting the particulate matters numbers. No one is denying that it affects children and elderly and the asthmatic. That would be hard to do in a city already gasping with air purifiers.
Instead the argument that Bhagat makes is that this is for one day only. So just choke and bear it, whiny asthmatics?
Actually before Bhagat went down the Bakr-Id whataboutery route, he raised a perfectly valid point. "Come up with innovations not bans," tweeted Bhagat. Could there not be innovative steps to combat pollution instead of banning sale of fireworks? All bans, even with the best of intentions, set problematic precedents, a sledgehammer approach to a complicated issue. But that's exactly the problem. If we had the sense to self-regulate, to understand the importance of common sense moderation it would not come to this pass. But instead we think bigger, louder, flashier is always better, PM levels be damned. When we communalise the issue we make even less room for moderation. Thus when the court feels compelled to step in, it does so with a measure like this.
It's an open question whether this firework sale ban can be more than symbolic. But Jyoti Pande Lavakare, co-founder of Care for Air writes in Hindustan Times, that it is a "tiny step" but a great place to begin because "it is a low-hanging fruit and relatively easier to enforce and control" unlike burning of crop stubble, garbage or biomass.
Indeed one could also ask what's Diwali for everyone without a spike in asthma attacks?
The Bakhr-Eid whataboutery is an apples and oranges comparison. First off why assume that those who are troubled about firecracker pollution necessarily support wholescale animal slaughter? But the animal cruelty argument is different from particulate matter levels affecting the health of all strata of society. In that sense firecrackers are different from the Christmas trees of Christmas or the goats of Eid. If firecrackers were being burst all over the city at Diwali levels for Eid and the court refused to regulate it, that would be a valid point. But like all whataboutery it misses the larger point. Even if Eid rituals were problematic, is that any reason to persist in masochistically choking our lungs evermore each Diwali?
And speaking of whataboutery, it's ironic that those who insisted that the cattle market rules were all about environment and animal welfare and had nothing whatsoever to do with Muslims and eating beef, are now hellbent on insisting that the fireworks sales rules are all about Hindu festivals rather than particulate matter and environment.
"What's Diwali for children without firecrackers?" laments Bhagat. He forgets that this ruling was in response to a petition filed on behalf of children aged between six years and fourteen months. Indeed one could also ask what's Diwali for everyone without a spike in asthma attacks? By turning this into a story of Hindu victimhood instead of everyone's lungs, we are showing adept at cutting off our own noses to spite someone else's face.