/ 20 November 2012

Dear suburbia: Diwali happens every year – deal with it

Hindus celebrate Diwali in November every year.
Hindus celebrate Diwali in November every year.

After last week's Diwali celebrations – and its subsequent complaints – I feel I need to explain something to some members of suburban South Africa: you are not the rule makers of these areas. Besides you, suburbia is populated by some Guy Fawkes celebrators, some Hindus, and some tolerant non-Hindus, and you don't get to decide what's legal and what isn't in this country. We have the Constitution for that.

Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, is celebrated over two days in November, and the third day is marked as the Indian New Year. Of course, we're not in India, but customarily South African Hindus have celebrated on all three days and continue to do so.

The exciting celebrations for the week include the tiring and overwhelming preparation of food and sweet meats that can go on for at least three days prior to the start of Diwali, the lighting of lamps to bring light into the homes of devotees, and the thrilling fireworks displays.

But it doesn't matter how much fun one has during religious holidays – there are some people who set out to dampen the festive spirits around them. As one tweet said on Wednesday morning following Diwali last week: "There's nothing like a religious festival to bring out the racists on social media."

"Post-Diwali Indians' vs dog owners' Facebook updates – as sure as taxes and death," read a friend's Facebook post.

Another post on Facebook spoke about the animals in a friend's neighbourhood who were struggling with the sound of the fireworks. She had to pick one up from the road because he was too scared to find his way home. 

After reading a range of complaints about Diwali fireworks, and complaints about the complaints, I finally decided to comment on that last status, telling a friend's Facebook connections that Diwali was not a surprise event. It happens every year at around the same time and the dates are freely available – just google "Diwali dates 2012". But some people refuse to take responsibility for their pets by taking adequate measures to care for them during inevitable situations such as these, resorting instead to complaining the following day.

After my comment, one man told me to "move to India" because "fireworks are legal there, not in SA". Besides this comment being wrong, it was incredibly offensive. How dare he tell me where I should live?

Firstly, fireworks are legal on 11 days of the year, which includes Guy Fawkes and Diwali. This means you should know to take care of your pets appropriately. Get them sedatives, keep them inside, keep them safe. It's only a few days a year and they will manage.

I don't recall anyone complaining about the noise of the fireworks and the effect it has on their pets on Guy Fawkes, and New Years posts are always about exciting plans for the year ahead, not the disappointment of hearing fireworks and the night of little sleep some pet owners took into the next year. But following Diwali celebrations, you can rest assured the posts about the levels of discomfort people's animals felt the night before will be on display. A disclaimer thrown in, saying you "actually have no problem with Diwali" and you "feel just as angry on Guy Fawkes and New Years", still makes you intolerant.

Besides being told to move to India, one commenter on my friend's post said she wondered "what the mothers of scared toddlers told their children" when the fire crackers went off. Really guys? What do you tell said scared toddler when there's thunder during Jo'burg's fearful summer storms? Do you launch into a tirade on Twitter and Facebook, declaring how unfair it is that "some people" think it's ok to make a noise and scare your children and pets?

I don't condone the use of fireworks illegally. One can always find some people who feel they are above the law and do things irrespective of the guidelines stipulated for their safety and those around them. But we cannot call for a ban on fireworks because of a handful of irresponsible people. Can we demand a ban on driving because of the few drunk drivers who kill? Of course not, we can only take precautions ourselves to ensure we are safe.

The point is that if you know there's an event that will include the use of fireworks, be tolerant and make plans for your animals and children. It happens on only a few days a year, after all. Our Constitution allows for a beautiful thing called variety, so don't shirk your responsibility to your dependents by hating others' actions. It's just not ayoba.