By Devansh Mehta
Edited by Madhavi Roy, Senior editor, The Indian Economist
As it was approaching midnight on Diwali, a group decided to place a rocket horizontally instead of vertically. As the rocket flew along the road, everyone jumped out of the way, until the rocket finally veered upwards and hit a billboard.
Scenes like these filled Delhi on Diwali night. Roaming around the streets of Delhi revealed something quite different from the much hyped and discussed noise and pollution level problems generally associated with Diwali.
Families with children were bursting crackers on the inner roads and colonies, but the major roads and junctions were primarily filled with drunk, young men who were armed with crackers and followed by a procession of street children. At these major junctions and roads, these people weren’t lighting the regular fountains and chakras – they were launching missiles and throwing grenades.
The more daring the actions, the better the thrill – that’s the feeling present on the streets on Diwali. Safely putting down the tada-tadi’s (more correctly called bombs), igniting them and then running away just isn’t good enough.Lighting them in your hand and then flinging it at cars passing by – now there’s the real thrill.
It isn’t hard to understand why this feeling – the more daring the better – is so pervasive during Diwali. Firstly, there is a sense of competition – both within the group on ‘who has guts’ and also between the different groups and communities – to outdo each other. Secondly, each time you do something daring, like ignite a rocket horizontally on the street, you win the applause and appreciation of your peer group and the attention and envy of the other groups. Lastly, and most importantly, most of the people on these major roads have drunk copious amounts of alcohol, which makes them to disregard the risks and dangers entirely.
I followed a particularly rowdy group as they went about the streets armed with an arsenal any terrorist organization would have been proud to own. After releasing one of their deadliest Diwali bombs which lasted a full ear-splitting 2 minutes and 23 seconds, the entire community woke up. Immediately after this bomb, they released another potentially deadly firecracker, a bunch of 30 “flying chakras”. Flying chakras are disks which go spinning up into the air and then burst. They lit it near someone’s building, so the chakras didn’t go up into the air as intended but crashed into the building.
The owner of this entire arsenal and the leader of the group was from the ABVP, BJP’s youth wing. He was lighting the crackers with local male residents who were from a poorer socioeconomic background. He had gotten them all drunk.
A woman living in the building got hit by the “chakras”, and got really angry and began shouting at the mischief mongers. The rest of the community, already irritated by the loud bomb, joined in. Some of the wives of the local male residents began shouting at their husbands for being drunk and causing a nuisance. The leader was very drunk by this time and just kept saying ‘Happy Diwali’ to all the people complaining. The residents held back as they knew the leader had powerful connections.Just as things were threatening to get tense,the leader decided to call it a night.
The previous night, a riot had broken out in Valmiki Colony in MajnuKa Tila. A few people objected to the bursting of crackers by some children in the colony and roughed them up a little to get their point across. The parents of these children then got involved and a fight broke out. Twelve people were injured in the violence and a dozen cars were damaged. The residents attacked each other with sticks and stones. The police had to finally use their ‘lathis’ and teargas to bring the situation under control.
According to The Times of India, there were 450 burn injuries in Delhi. The worst situation was in Jaipur, which saw over 100 injuries and a fire that kept the firemen busy through the night.
Some of these accidents were no doubt caused by bombs bursting prematurely in people’s hands and injuring those who took the risk, as well as those in their vicinity. The more unfortunate cases are those involving innocent bystanders. Amit, a juice vendor in Kamla Nagar in North Delhi, recounted how a girl in Geeta Colony got hit by a rocket and had burns all over her face. She was rushed to the hospital, and he hasn’t seen her since.
So what ultimately can be done to get rid of this Diwali menace and make it a safer and happier time for everyone? First of all, the government can and should declare the days preceding Diwali and Diwali itself as dry days, when no alcohol sale is permitted. Secondly, they should designate specific areas in which people are allowed to light crackers, with heavy patrolling in the other areas to ensure that no one is breaking this rule. These will go a long way towards making Diwali a happier time for everyone, and not just the few who use it as a license to act as hooligans.
Devansh Mehta is in 3rd year Philosophy at St. Stephen’s College. He pursues any activity as long as it promises to be an interesting one. He also believes that we cannot write about something we don’t have experience of, and so stays away from theoretical discourse and instead writes about the experiences and problems of the people he comes across. Don’t hesitate to tell me something interesting by dropping a mail at [email protected].