The blast at a firecracker unit in Sivakasi last week has shaken the state. Will this Diwali be associated with death? Are crackers really a necessary part of celebrations?

“We celebrate the death of one Narakasura at the cost of so many deaths. Will this Diwali be the same?” reads a blog by Dravida Puratchi on Facebook. The thread has attracted numerous likes and comments dittoing the feeling of the writer. Till last Wednesday, when 38 lives were shattered in a blast at a firecracker unit in Mudalipatti in Sivakasi, Diwali meant joy and was looked forward to as always. But now many have a different take on the festival.

Fourteen-year-old Manoj is aghast at the disturbing images of the blast on TV and in newspapers. “I couldn’t fight back tears seeing the people crying and howling. If someone like me sitting in Madurai and watching on TV is disturbed so much, I wonder what the families of the deceased are going through. I have vowed not to burst crackers for Diwali,” says Manoj.

It was also a sleepless night for Rajkumar, a Madurai Medical College student. “From my hostel room, I kept hearing ambulance sirens all night on Wednesday and also the following day as many victims were brought to GRH. Images of burnt bodies kept knocking my head,” says Rajkumar. “I have never been much interested in crackers. This has even intensified my aversion to bursting crackers.”

Ramesh Aloysius, a student hailing from Sivakasi, says, “I had always been proud of my hometown being one of the largest firecrackers-producing cities in the world. But it is also painful to note that Sivakasi is now being referred to as a death bed. Though there have been many blasts, this recent one was of huge magnitude. The right way to pay homage for the dead is to avoid crackers for this Diwali.”

It is the culture of indiscriminately bursting crackers that has tainted the concept of Diwali. “Diwali is essentially a festival of lights and not a festival of sound,” says Dr. Dheep, Senior Psychiatrist and Chairman of TOPKIDS. “Parents should advise children not to burst crackers. Kids should be made to understand the difficulties faced by labourers in cracker manufacturing units. Every year around Diwali, our volunteers go to schools and colleges to sensitize students. The Sivakasi event is surely a wake-up call for all of us. We must rethink whether crackers are necessary for celebrations and for expressing joy.”

Francis Xavier, environmentalist from iGreen, says that the Sivakasi blast has given a new dimension to the campaign against crackers. “Apart from the noise pollution and the thick smog on Diwali night that we highlight as ill effects of crackers, we will also include the tragedy in our campaign,” says Francis. “Volunteers from iGreen have already covered 16 schools appealing not to burst crackers and we found that many students came forward themselves in support of the cause.”

On the other hand, Mathalai, distributor of a popular fireworks brand, laments the impact of the accident on sales. “The blast seriously means a drop in demand and of course my earning. Crackers are not to be avoided, it’s just the system to be held responsible and rectified,” says Mathalai. “If people don’t buy crackers, how will we survive?” Though Mathalai may sound insensitive, there are in fact many in Tamil Nadu who earn their livelihood directly or indirectly from the firecracker industry.

Many wonder if restricting or banning crackers will help. “Restrictions can be exercised on bursting crackers,” says Dr. S. Rajamohan, Chairman of Enviro Care India Private Limited.

“Decibel levels and the time limit to burst crackers can be fixed. But complete ban is quite impossible as crackers have seeped into our culture. In places like Madurai, even for ceremonies like death or marriage, people burst crackers.”

Vijay Bhaskar, an official from Pollution Control Board in Virudhunagar District, says that a maximum of 125 decibels has been fixed for bombs. “We calibrate the noise level and the smoke for three days including Diwali day every year and we find a positive trend that the decibel levels are gradually dropping over the years. People these days are going for light-emitting crackers rather than sound-emitting ones.” Dravida Puratchi points out that two months from now, when the whole country celebrates Diwali, the villagers of Mudalipatti and the families of the victims will still be mourning. “To burst and not burst crackers is purely a personal choice. But if the tragedy has shaken consciences of people, at least the coming Diwali should be crackers-free. Only then, it’s a befitting respect paid to the lost lives.”