The deafening sound of crackers bursting left, right and centre on Diwali often gag the factions who are vociferously at loggerheads with each other. One faction who believes in burning crackers under the garb of ‘Hindu traditions’ and upholding the ‘Hindu way of life’. The other dons a more ‘reformist’ stance of making Hindu practices and traditions amend to the times we live in.
Lately, the Indian government has started to take cognisance of how a night of burning crackers recklessly exacerbates the already alarming rate of air pollution. It did earn the ire of the traditionalists; who, infuriated, got onto primetime slots on news channels and denouncing the move, calling it Hinduphobic and a threat to Hindu practices. Populist Indian anchors such as Arnab Goswami engaged in expected whataboutery by asking Muslim clerics if aazan doesn't amount to noise pollution every day—with cultural icons like Sonu Nigam further normalising it.
The administration banning firecrackers indeed brings up a rather pertinent question — whether religious reforms should be done by the legislature, or those who practice the faith itself.
Right-wing organisations in India currently promote a more radical form of Hinduism, which often clobbers Hindus with memories of the tumultuous history of Islamic conquest in India — rifling the narrative with the sight of blemished or razed temples, on which many mosques built in that period purportedly stand today.
It is from this radical branch of Hinduism where the recalcitrancy of refusing to give up firecrackers stems from. Twitter is mostly bombarded with whataboutery whenever and wherever this debate rises; where Muslims sacrificing goats every year doesn't account for slaughter and Christmas trees don't account for "deforestation".
A more liberal argument from the same branch has a clarion call to ban crackers indefinitely and not do so only on Diwali as the rationale behind a more "progressive" decision is religionism, not environmentalism.
Comparing the damage by burning crackers to the aforementioned practices in Islam or Christianity sets regressive precedence — for it doesn't leave room for reform at all. For time immemorial, Hinduism has evolved to fit societal paradigms. Although the precarious issues of caste and Brahminical hegemony show that Hinduism is a far cry away from major reform, Hindus should strive to constantly reform the tenets of the religion, irrespective of how other religions around the world function.
The extremists deserve credit for coming up with this ruse where Hindus bear the brunt of being righteous. To its bare-bones, it is analogous to a near-anarchistic milieu — where people refuse to conform to a righteous path because others around them are diabolical.
On the other hand, accusing the administration of using religionism as an impetus to ban crackers is reflective of yet another trope of the extremist narrative — to live with an inherent 'insecurity' that Hinduism is under a constant threat from monotheism.
Such an insecure demeanour for an ancient religion is a deterrent to an egalitarian and equivocal India, which is set-in-stone in the Constitution. This insecurity is what the right-wing extremists stand for — making people believe in a false, internal enemy who is alleged to be constantly at loggerheads with Hindus and make conniving plots to attack Hinduism.
The far-right ruling party’s fervent and Islamophobic attack on ‘love jihad’ — a term promoted by far-right organisations to discredit inter-faith relationships and marriages, is another way that they convolute harmony by victimising Hindu women who ‘fall’ for traps set by ‘well-groomed, handsome’ Muslim men.
When the country is rifled with intolerance to an extent where there is institutionalised normalisation of coercive endogamy, Hindus should introspect the tenets of the faith that exists in the mainstream narrative. Legislative measures won’t suffice reforms in Hinduism as long as it is in tandem with the resolute of Hindus to seek reform.
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