Posted by Shivani Channan

Why do we celebrate Diwali?

It’s Diwali season. Pamphlets of Diwali Dhamaka offers have been slipped under newspapers and obnoxious pop-up ads on every damn social media platform and are pushing me to purchase washing machines which I don’t really need and iPhone 8s, which I can’t afford.

Growing up in a Hindu family, I was told that we celebrate this festival to mark the return of “Lord Rama from 14 years of exile and his victory over the “Demon” Ravan. Given my caste and gender identity while growing up in a Savarna Hindu dominated locality, Hinduism didn’t seem like a good friend of women or Dalits.

Neighbourhood folks were revering Lord Ram, by installing idols in temples or our homes while downplaying what happened to Sita after she was “rescued”. The ‘devi’ in question had not even recovered from what we call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from her kidnap and captivity, that she was asked to give agnee pareeksha aka a fire loyalty test to get what CBI gives these days – “a clean chit!”. She complies and willingly agrees to patriarchal society because she was a “sanskaari naari” (cultured woman).

Even after qualifying that patriarchal test of “purity”, unable to stand up to the gossip that was generated around Sita’s captivity by Ravan, Ram still exiles her. Alienated by the zalim (cruel) patriarchal society, she is forced to take refuge in Balmiki’s ashram, raising two kids alone as a single mom. She eventually gives up on life by asking mother earth to take her. Soon there is an earthquake and she ends her life by jumping into cracks back to the soil she came from.

In Hindu culture, Sita is the symbol of ideal Indian womanhood. Due to her obedience, her fidelity and willingness to suffer for her husband’s sake and match up to the loyalty standards of agnee pareeksha. People worship this divine couple on Diwali which reminds me of Bindass channel reality show called Emotional Atyachaar, where millennials across the spectrum of gender and sexuality seek loyalty test from their partners unlike the patriarchy depicted in Ramayana TV show on Doordarshan which only sought agnee pareeksha (fire loyalty test) from the woman.

Ram Sita ki jori (Ram Sita’s coupling) is a compliment which rishta aunties give to newly married couples when they succeed in a sin of endogamy which keeps the caste alive. More often than not their, wishes come true. The Ram Sita ki jori exhibits traits of matrimonial oppression and emotional violence of agnee pareeksha, second guessing of partner’s loyalty – if society uncles gossip about spotting their wife with an ex.

What is the wow thing to learn from this divine couple? Savarna Hindu uncles and aunties loose their mind and hurl caste slurs when asked, “What do you find so dhamakedaar in double guessing partner’s loyalty under pressure of Ayodhya’s society?”

Ram Sita ki jori is a compliment which rishta aunties give to newly married couples when they succeed in a sin of endogamy which keeps the caste alive.

The sly hobby of Hindus calling daughters Lakshmi and burden in one breath seriously seeks a savage max beizati (insult). Equating daughters with goddess of wealth and cursing her as dowry baggage go hand in hand. Sex selective abortion stats and skewed gender ratios in elite, well-educated caste Hindus to not so well-off tribals and neo-buddhist Ambedkarite families can clearly give hints to the chutzpah behind the goddess myth.

Also, if by celebration of Lakshmi, we receive wealth, why don’t the poor Brahmins worship her instead of quota shaming Dalit Bahujan Adivasi (DBA) folks? Can Lakshmi help india’s bad economy recover post Arun Jaitley’s demonetization? If there is a data which conflates the rise in stock market with Lakshmi Puja, I urge the business channels to do do a story on them this Diwali.

A bunch of gaumutra (cow urine) apologists of brahminical patriarchy like Devdutt Pattanaik can interpret Sita or Lakshmi as fancy goddesses. Savarna Hindus can make Swarovski studded idols of them. But, don’t these goddesses serve to enforce the sanskaari naari stereotype?

Can we expect Modern India’s famous gaumutra apologists like Amish Tripathi and Devdutt Pattanaik ask that though caste-Hindus believe that Balmiki wrote Ramayana still people from the Balmiki community are trapped into the forced profession of manual scavenging? Why are their temples separated and never live televised on Bhakti channels run by Brahmin Baniyas? Why do Brahmin Baniyas visit them only during election season and not Diwali?

From sweets to fireworks factories, we see underage children working long hours and in dangerous conditions. Our celebration is based on the exploitation of labour of children from the margins. The crackers factories were set up by the Nadars of Sivakasi.

In 1986, the National Child Labour project estimated child labour in Sivakasi match making industries to be 14,121 children. The estimates indicated 80% of the child labour belonged to Scheduled Castes (SC), who were marginalised for centuries, for cheap labour. The employers of cracker factories prefers child labour because of ease in management, discipline and lack of labour unions. 

Sivakasi still remains synonymous with child labour. Kailash Satyarthi, the winner of the Nobel Prize, had recently said that the industry employs at least one lakh child labourers. However, his claims have been contested by the Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association.

The children in these industries suffered from back ache, neck ache, tuberculosis, malnutrition, gastrointestinal disorders, dermatitis, respiratory disorders, over-exhaustion, burn injuries and waterborne diseases due to exposure to harmful chemicals in the work environment while the factory owner, online portals to small town shopkeepers celebrate festival profits.

Also Read: Indian Hindu Festivals: No-Win Situation For Women

Clever use of Hindu myths can be noted in politics around firecrackers. Euro-centric depictions of Hindu gods (fair skin, light eyes) on cracker packaging. Groups of manufacturers from sivakasi appealing to the Supreme Court, opposing the cracker ban saying it will affect the Hindu tradition and hurt religious sentiments.

Union minister Harsha Vardhan says, “We have told our scientist to work on zero pollution crackers. So, we can find solution and everyone can enjoy Diwali”. Does his “everyone” includes the families of sewer cleaners who have died because the govt doesn’t fund gas gear masks? Whose Diwali is it? Who is he trying to make happy?

The only time I saw someone opposing crackers was bollywood actress Anushka Sharma , she came up with “pawsitive” campaign saying, When people burst firecrackers during Diwali, they don’t think of how it affects animals or birds. So creating awareness for those people is important”.

This only reaffirms performative wokeness of millennials who only oppose problems which affects them and their pets.The contamination of milk-sweets affects us. So let’s switch to Cadbury. The likes of Zee News and Aaj Tak are doing hour long reporting in fake khoya sweetshops such as “the mithai expose”, “milawati mithai ka pardafassh”, but not even half an hour was dedicated to the factory workers who lost their lives in fire accidents in pre-Diwali weeks.

The firecrackers bursting chokes our lungs and troubles our pets is sad news. But, the financially well off can still afford the healthcare for post-cracker choking, than kids mixing sulphur, gunpowder and aluminium powder with their bare hands. Our looking the other way has essentialised oppression. The world sucks when a rich celebrity’s dog is worth more than a poor woman’s child.

Recently, 14th of October passed by – it was the day when the architect of the Indian Constitution, B. R. Ambedkar, converted to Buddhism with approximately 600,000 followers on Ashok Vijaya Dashami – also the traditional date of conversion of King Ashoka Maurya, the great Indian Buddhist Monarch.

It’s a very significant movement in history of anti-caste movement against orthodox Hinduism which thrives on caste inequalities. It isn’t celebrated or covered in Indian pop culture as much as Diwali is. Why does it not gather the same attention as Diwali?

It’s a day many regard as day of second birth for the Dalit folks. A day of breaking out of enforced identities. It ticks all the boxes of progressiveness. Still it only makes into last pages of Marathi newspapers? What do woke people find so progressive about Diwali that you celebrate in your offices? And what do anti-caste saints like Kabir or Ravidas lack that their jayantis (birth anniversaries) are not worthy of celebrations? Why there were Doordarshan TV shows funded by public’s money on Ramayana and none of the lives of anti-caste saints?

If there is a data which conflates the rise in stock market with Lakshmi Puja, I urge the business channels to do do a story on them this Diwali.

Gaumutra apologists who write sassy tweets critiquing MTV Splitzvilla or Bindass Emotional Atyachaar, when they have silly games such as loyalty tests going so easy on gods who seek agnee pariskha. At least in reality shows, all genders are put through loyalty tests unlike Hindu scriptures.

Is it Goddess Lakshmi’s worship or caste capital that enriches Savarna owned businesses during Diwali? Do Lakshmi’s blessings come with nagging pop-ups or pamphlets?

A radical critique of the exclusionary sanskritized society live in is essential to know how ripples of our actions affect folks who don’t share the same social identity as we come from.

On this day Great Gana king (tribal) Bali was murdered by Waman – a Brahman. Neo Buddhist Ambedkarites don’t celebrate because of the murder of thousands Buddhists in the rule of Pushyamitra Shung. This day was celebrated as “Eekadashi”. Pushyamitra killed many Buddhists monks, destroyed Buddha Vihars, burnt Buddhist literature in 200 BC. During his times many Buddhist places were converted to Hindu temples.

Some Jains who haven’t fallen prey to the Brahminical trap don’t celebrate it because this day Mahavira attained moksha. Do these beliefs count? Do Hindus care about hurting religious sentiments of minorities and tribals? Do only Hindus have sentiments? How fragile is the entitlement which gets hurt on cracker ban? Isn’t Hinduism just soft-core Hindutva?

Will caste Hindus ever look at Diwali from an anti-caste perspective if done debating on love jihad, Bakrid or Aurangzeb’s diktats on festivals from all faiths?

The prevailing attitudes behind a festival which celebrates war crimes in Lanka, dude bro machismo, agnee pariksha seeking patriarchs, exploitation in cracker factories, sanskaari nari stereotype and zero solidarity with subaltern folks, I identify myself as a lapsed Hindu unlike few farrago liberals who say “I am a Hindu, and a nationalist. But, not a Hindu nationalist” – as if they never conflate.

Also Read: The Paradox Of Hindu Goddess Worship And Feminism

Shivani channan is a Dalit meme maker who tweets @DardEdiscourse and raps good Insta poetry @shivani_channan. If you are also a pro-caste and anti-LGBTQ germ, you might be featuring in her next meme. Her Tumblr blog is full of memes and GIFs.

Featured Image Credit: Sify

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