Don’t let fireworks over firecracker issue dampen your Deepavali

At the stroke of midnight, the sounds and colours of firecrackers and fireworks would light up the skies across the nation.

That’s the typical Malaysian way of ushering in a festival, as evident last Thursday when Malaysians celebrated Deepavali. The same scenes will pretty much play out on Dec 25, and Jan 1.

In Malaysia, the state of the economy is often judged by the lighting of firecrackers. The bigger and louder they are show that the economy is pretty much all right for people to burn money, literally.

Some received forwarded videos of the rather happening sights and sounds, accompanied by Deepavali greetings.

Also buzzing were the many residents’ association WhatsApp groups, with pleas for neighbours to stop burning the crackers.

Firecrackers are generally illegal in Malaysia. Police often provide a list of fireworks that can be lit during a festival. Some of them include the all-time favourite Pop-Pop, and the Happy Boom Thunder Clap rockets.

None of the mega fireworks, such as those seen annually at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre or Dataran Merdeka when ushering in the New Year, are allowed. But that hasn’t stopped anyone from lighting those explosive devices in neighbourhoods, anyway.

In a residents’ association chat group in Kuala Lumpur, some complained that the fireworks and firecrackers woke their babies up. Others said it scared their pets.

I’m lucky that my son slept through all the fireworks that accompanied festivals, throughout his five years.

As for pets, my late Golden Retriever knew the drill. In fact, I could sense that he loved festivals because it was a good excuse for him to spend more time in the house, rather than sleeping at his comfortable corner in our shaded porch.

No, he didn’t die of a fireworks-induced heart attack, but sadly, due to cancer.

There were others who said festivities only happened occasionally, and that people should be allowed to have a little fun. In fact, the fireworks in Malaysia is restricted to the major events, namely Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Hari Gawai, Deepavali, Christmas and the New Year.

Others, sadly, view it in a racial context. Some argue, why is it an issue now, and not during other festivals? Then, the justifications to lighting the fireworks, would follow.

For the Chinese community, firecrackers are used to scare away evil spirits and monsters who are afraid of loud sounds, fire, and the colour red. There is no custom or tradition for firecrackers to be lit during Hari Raya, while the debate on lighting fireworks during Deepavali, continues.

In a text often quoted by many, the late historian P.K. Gode, in his book History of Fireworks in India between 1400 and 1900, published in 1950, wrote: “The use of fireworks in the celebration of Diwali, which is so common in India now, must have come into existence after about 1400 AD, when gunpowder came to be used in Indian warfare.”

Mohana Basu, in her article in India’s The Print published last year, wrote: “Hinduism is believed to be the oldest religion in this world, with its origins dating back to more than 4,000 years ago. Deepavali, which is interpreted as the Festival of Lights, dates back to at least 2,500 years ago. That is much before the Chinese invented gunpowder in the 9th Century. According to historians, it was not until the 13th Century that firecrackers made their way into India through the Mongols.

“The use of firecrackers during Diwali did not likely start before the 18th Century, when Maratha rulers would organise fireworks displays for the general public.

“It was not until after Independence – when Indian industries started manufacturing firecrackers, and Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu emerged as a hub – that the general population began the widespread use of firecrackers during Diwali,” Basu added.

As such, many Indian states have banned the lighting of firecrackers and fireworks during Deepavali, citing pollution as the main issue. The matter has even gone to the courts.

On Nov 1, the Supreme Court of India set aside a blanket ban on firecrackers imposed by the Calcutta High Court in West Bengal. The bench ruled that certified ‘green’ crackers could be sold and burst in areas where air quality is “good” or “moderate”.

Back to our Malaysian neighbourhoods, the lighting of fireworks and firecrackers is an issue that goes beyond communities or culture. It has become the norm for people, regardless of colour or creed, to join in and light a cracker or two.

It boils down to enforcement and respect. There are adequate laws in place. If people respected the law, and if there was strict enforcement, such a debate wouldn’t be seen here.

If there is going to be a total ban, like in Singapore, then it should apply across all festivals. Period.

And to those who light fireworks, just be considerate to others, the environment, and yes, even the animals. Lighting firecrackers or fireworks from midnight till 3am, is certainly not cricket.

Hopefully, the fireworks/firecrackers debate did not ruin your Deepavali (or friendships). And hopefully, it’s not too late to wish all of you a blessed Deepavali.

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