Diwali do-goodersAtul Sethi| TNN | Nov 11, 2012, 06.51 AM IST
Sumaira Abdulali's friends know what she would be doing this Diwali. Like every year, the founder of the NGO Awaaz Foundation would be hitting the streets of Mumbai along with her faithful companion — a decibel meter that measures noise levels. The rocket shaped instrument, she's aware, would invite curious stares from those bursting firecrackers. But that doesn't deter her. "Children, especially, have been very receptive of our efforts to raise awareness about noise and air pollution," says the soft-spoken lady. "They are interested in knowing about noise measurements and show concern about the harmful effects of firecrackers."
The festival of lights is a big occasion for people like Abdulali — relentless campaigners who have made a difference in making the celebrations safer, cleaner and quieter. In the run-up to Diwali this year for instance, Abdulali filed an RTI application which resulted in the Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organization displaying test results of numerous firecrackers on their website for the first time. "This information has greatly helped the arms and ammunition department of the police to track the shops selling illegal crackers,"says the 50-year-old whose persistent campaigning also led to Mumbai police setting up a dedicated phone line to register noise-related complaints.
While Abdulali's efforts have been hailed by most people, there has been stiff resistance too. The most significant opposition has come from politicians out to appease their votebank during festivals. Then there are those who accuse her, a Muslim, of having a bias against Hindu festivities. But she is not perturbed by these allegations." I have equally taken up issue against noise pollution during all religious practices and secular events as well," she says with the smile of one who is used to dealing with such talk even as she prepares for a demonstration on cutting down the cacophony of noise and pollutants this Diwali.
Opposition, incidentally, is routine for most crusaders who choose to highlight the hazards that automatically come with Diwali. In Delhi, Ravi Kalra, founder of the NGO Earth Saviours, recalls facing hostile crowds when members of his organization were distributing pamphlets and photographs of children with severe burn injuries in a bid to dissuade people from using firecrackers. "People often get angry. They say 'Festival hai, enjoy karne ka time hai, ismein yeh lecturebaazi mat karo' ." He says this is especially true in affluent areas where people have even threatened to beat up the volunteers, sometimes deliberately bursting more crackers to spite them, without caring for the discomfort caused to children, old people and animals.
The effect of loud crackers on animals is something that Mumbai-based Shirley Advani, founder of Save Our Strays, also feels strongly about. The animal-lover , who quit her full-time job to focus on caring for strays, runs a Facebook campaign every Diwali using innovative posters that highlight how crackers can psyche up animals . "Dogs can hear seven times louder than humans. Because of loud noises on Diwali, they get terrified and end up getting hit by cars. Some of them run into new localities and get bitten by other strays," she says. "All this can be prevented if only we say no to firecrackers."
In Sivakasi, the hotbed of the firecracker manufacturing industry, Agni Subramaniam, who runs the NGO Manitham, has taken up cudgels on behalf of children employed in firecracker units. Official figures put the number of such children at around 2500-5000 . But Subramaniam says the actual number would not be less than 50,000. "Big factories now don't employ children directly as a result of sustained campaigns against the practice. Instead, they contract work to cottage outfits where again child labour is involved." Recently, the NGO brought out a documentary called 'Happiness behind tragedy' that has shocking shots of children — many of them grotesquely deformed after being exposed to explosives. "Only when people see this horrible reality can they realize the darkness behind the festival of lights," says a grim Subramaniam.
On a positive note, though, many organizations are taking up innovative ways to highlight pollution and child labour. Students' organization AIESEC recently hosted a tweetathon that discussed alternate ways of celebrating Diwali which attracted 20,881 followers. Since Diwali is also a festival of gifts, Milaap, an online microlending platform, has come up with a thoughtful idea for villages that don't have electricity.The Bangalore-based outfit, run by young technocrats , is driving a project that will provide solar lighting to around 1500 village homes in West Bengal and Orissa this Diwali.
Lenders — the term the organization uses for people who provide the money — can use the online platform to provide loans to villagers who will utilize it to light up their houses and then return the amount in small monthly installments. The project has seen an enthusiastic response. "In the first phase, we helped bring solar lighting to about 250 families," says Shubhashree Sangameswaran, communications manager of Milaap. "We're on our second phase now and hope to electrify at least 500 homes, and bring clean drinking water and smokeless chulhas to another 500 more."
If Diwali is all about spreading cheer and goodwill around, these men and women seem to be doing a damn good job.
Latest CommentGuys dont bring religion here.BBBehera
True festive spirit
Milaap, a Bangalore-based online microlending platform, driven by young technocrats, is raising loans for villagers in West Bengal and Orissa so that they can light up their homes with solar lanterns this Diwali Sumaira Abdulali's persistent efforts has led to a dedicated phone line being set up by Mumbai police for noise-pollution related complaints.
Student organization AIESEC is raising awareness about child labour through 'LighttheNite' being organized in 20 cities across India in which thousands of sky lanterns will be released at the same time with every lantern symbolic of a child being free from bonded labour.
Awaaz Foundation's anti- noise pollution campaign has been covered extensively in the Press and media since 2003.