By John Di Leonardo
Last week, Mayor Eric Adams announced alongside Schools Chancellor David Banks and State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar that New York City public schools will begin observing Diwali, the festival of lights, starting in 2023. “It is long overdue to say to our Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist students and communities that we see you, we acknowledge you,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said, “When we acknowledge Diwali, we are going to encourage children to learn about what is Diwali.” How better to teach our children about the spirit of Diwali, light conquering darkness, good conquering evil, and the spirit of new beginnings, then by evaluating how we can celebrate it just a little bit kinder?
Whether for Diwali, 4th of July, or any other raucous celebration, for animals, fireworks are terrifying—and could be fatal. Many dogs and cats flee in fear from their deafening blasts, sometimes hopping fences or breaking through windows. Deer run into roads and mother birds suffer heart attacks, leaving their babies to fend for themselves. As a result, animal shelters, as well as wildlife rehabilitation hospitals, see a spike in the number of admissions after fireworks displays.
As Amarabati Bhattacharyya wrote in the National Herald India last week: It is a well-known fact that animals suffer tremendously during Diwali when people indulge in bursting crackers. They are averse to loud noises and extreme levels of polluted air. What humans think of as fun, despite the firecrackers’ long-term effects on the environment, leave animals traumatised.
Animal suffering is not always collateral damage either, but without proper enlightenment, these celebrations may also devolve into all sorts of animal cruelty, with animal shelters in India rescuing dogs with firecrackers tied to their tails after Diwali and myself rescuing a goose with a firework duct-taped to his chest after the 4th of July on Long Island last year.
Delhi recently banned firecrackers and, in some places, silent and beautiful drone light shows have replaced loud and dangerous fireworks. Let us support these efforts by teaching our children to fly drones, light candles, or light lanterns, and to steer clear of harmful fireworks when we introduce new youth to the celebration next year.
For this week’s Anuvrat, I challenge you to reexamine a cultural, family, or religious tradition that may do some degree of himsa and consider how you may evolve this tradition in a way that will not only continue to honor the tradition but also honor the virtue of Ahimsa.
Images courtesy of John carefully removes fireworks duct-taped to a goose at Silver Lake in Baldwin in 2021 and Provided