Festival of Lights, at whose expense?26 Nov 2008, by Uncategorized in
October 28, 2008
Today is Diwali, the festival of lights, perhaps the single most celebrated day in India. The mythological origin of Diwali is to celebrate the return of the Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana after a war in which he killed the demon Ravana. It was getting dark, so people along the way lit oil lamps to light their way. So Diwali is a festival symbolising the destruction of evil forces.
But while it may have roots in the triumph of good over evil, today Diwali brings horrendous suffering for thousands of children. Forced to work in illegal factories, children as young as seven spend their days handpacking firecrackers. Dangerous chemicals, such as copper, magnesium, and lead are stuffed with bare hands, causing many of the children to suffer chemical burns and infection. Others, who ingest the chemicals, may develop serious illnesses or even cancer. And if that’s not horrible enough, there is always the risk of industrial accidents. Just days before Diwali this year, an illegal factory in Rajasthan exploded, killing 25 people including 12 child laborers. Last year, this photo was taken in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu, the cracker capital of India. Children as young as seven were found hand stuffing firecrackers for a 10-40 rupees a day. This comes after India’s ban on child labor, which clearly states children under the age of 14 are not to be employed in hotels, restaurants, or private homes. Of course, that leaves open factories, a loophole which has been routinely exploited. The leading child rights’ organization in India, Save Childhood Campaign, says that their is neither political nor adminstrative will to clamp down on child labor.
While some people may assume a boycott of fireworks will stop the problem, that too could be harmful. A recent Times of India reporter interviewed several street children who earn a little money for each stuffed firecracker. One child said, "throughout the year we don’t have enough money to buy two meals a day. These 3-4 months we earn some extra money that helps us buy a square meal." Rather than a boycott, there should be enough resources given to providing education and vocational training to these children, as well as job development for their parents. In the meantime, if we must buy fireworks, we should buy from sources that do not employ children and maintain a high standard of industrial safety (even adults can get chemical burns). In India, the Tamil Nadu Fireworks Manufacturers’ Association recently began issuing a NCLE tag – No Child Labour Employed. Even in the US, many of our fireworks come from Tamil Nadu or China. As consumers, we can and should ensure our five second light show didn’t come at the expense of a small child.