When did commenting on the spike in pollution levels and on the visible layer of smog in Delhi post a night of copious bursting of firecrackers, become an anti-Hindu move? Or far worse than that, a “secular” one? Yesterday, was Diwali in India. A celebration which every year results in a haze of smoke over Delhi which lasts from Diwali night till the next day, coupled with pollution levels spiking to unbreathable levels.

To get all our facts in place, an Air Quality Index of 50 is considered good. At 8 am this morning, Chanakyapuri which houses embassies and is surrounded by vast stretches of greenery, had an AQI of 999. Across the National Capital Region, AQIs ranged from 200 to almost 700. We were effectively gassing ourselves. The pollution levels were so high because crackers were burst with gay abandon in the city. Because along with burning money, we want to burn our lungs.

Source: PTI

But god forbid (and the pun is intended), if you commented on how pollution reaches unprecedented heights post-Diwali. Or that this cannot be good for us, and we must at least cut down if not stop bursting crackers. This was taken as a slight on Hinduism as a whole and Diwali as a part. Which is what strikes me as bizarre.

Of course, bursting crackers could be a tradition. So what if the United Nations Children's Fund has stated that air pollution is linked to one in 10 deaths of children under 5? Tradition is important, even if that means some children must die for it. It's what we call collateral damage.

As reported by ScoopWhoop, “according to real time ambient air quality data of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, PM10 readings went up by over 42 times on Sunday from the national ambiance air quality standard at RK Puram.

Source: Reuters

At 10.55pm, PM10 was recorded at 4,273 µg/m³. PM2.5 also touched an alarming high of 748µg/m³ at 2.30am here. According to SAFAR’s special Diwali forecast, pollution during this year’s Diwali was worse than 2014 and 2015.”

In what world, can we be happy with this pollution hike and justify it?

Let’s get something clear first, Delhi’s air is worse than Beijing’s. At least we’ve beaten China in something.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s friend, US President Barack Obama visited Delhi in 2015, the US Embassy bought 1,800 air purifiers. Because while Obama can visit the capital city, he can’t breathe the air. Understandable, because it would have been especially tragic if we’d gassed him as he stepped out into the open.

Source: Reuters

But jokes aside, we all know that Delhi’s pollution levels are going through the roof. Which is why it is only logical that we must do whatever we can to ensure that we don’t worsen and exacerbate the situation – or so one would think. And in case, the firecracker-lovers on Twitter think I’m being an alarmist and anti-Hindu to boot, the experts say so.

“The guideline level established by the World Health Organisation on PM2.5 is that a 24 hour average of 25 microns per cubic metre (μg/m3) is considered safe. In India the guideline level is 60 μg/m3. In Delhi, over the last month there were a number of days when the levels were in the most severe category maintained by SAFAR, of 251-350 μg/m3 over a 24 hour period, and so the government had advised people to stay indoors and to refrain from outdoor exercises.The setting off of firecrackers would have been on top of the list of activities to avoid, as burning material add most to PM2.5 levels.”

Source: PTI

Yet, not just do we keep bursting crackers every year, we now have our politicians and great minds on Twitter justifying burning a bigger hole in our lungs. Every criticism of rising pollution is taken as an attack on Hinduism, thereby missing the woods for the paranoia, with the most absurd logic being given for adding to the pollution – even if it is for only 24 hours.

The prime minister of the country, has appeared on National Geographic’s Years Of Living Dangerously and professed great commitment to protecting the environment to David Letterman and Nat Geo’s international audiences. And leaving a better world for our children - the ones we haven't already gassed that is.

Yet, Modi did not mention even once in his Mann Ki Baat on Sunday that people should cut down on the number of firecrackers they burst. That this will add to our horrendous pollution levels. That Diwali traditionally was never about bursting firecrackers. It was about spending time with family, doing a puja, lighting diyas, wearing new clothes and eating sweets and good food. And we should focus on that aspect. And if we must burst a cracker or two, we should keep it to just that. But why say something so boring or which could offend the Hindus. Let’s instead breathe in a little bit of pollution.

Neither has Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, tweeted and said we should exercise some restraint while bursting crackers. He is buying us some large air purifiers though, which we’ll have to stand within 20 metres of to breathe in some fresh air. Maybe we could borrow some of the 1800 purifiers the US embassy has on standby.

At the end of the day, nothing can justify bursting crackers. That educated and seemingly well-informed people are doing so, and then claiming that caring for decreasing pollution is equivalent to hating Hindu festivals is frankly depressing. And displays a strange persecution complex.

Of course, we can all take a deep breath and hope that better sense will prevail next year, but we may all asphyxiate if we do so.

(Feature image source: Reuters)