Diwali, the festival of lights and firecrackers that took place at the weekend, seems an unlikely occasion for a lesson in change. But this year, I was fortunate to get a lesson on the importance of changing attitudes.
Much of the credit for this must go to my four-year-old son and his group of playmates. When I was a child, I’d compete with friends to see who could win the noisiest Diwali reveller ‘award’ by lining up with people to burst firecrackers. But a few years back, the Delhi government partnered with schools in the nation’s capital to promote a pollution-free Diwali, with an emphasis on saying no to firecrackers.
Much of India's firecracker industry is centred around Sivakasi, a town in Tamil Nadu. Stories of unsafe practices and the use of a large contingent of child labour abound from these firecracker factories. But each year, even conscientious people find it convenient to forget these truths as we celebrate Diwali the way we’ve always done.
However, over the last few years, it has been heartening to see young school students shun the firecrackers because their teachers have told them they’re unsafe, polluting and noisy.
Children are the custodians of our future and are receptive to the messages we give them. As India grapples with the numerous corruption scams that have emerged over the past few months, maybe one thing we need to start doing is ensuring that we stamp out these practices—not just now, but for the future as well, by helping young people become more aware of what’s going on around them.
Many in India were dismayed that corruption wasn't a talking point at a recently concluded high-powered meeting of the ruling Congress Party that was attended by the likes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and political heir apparent Rahul Gandhi. They stayed tight-lipped on the issue. We’ve anyway seen that grand speeches are ineffective in bringing about big change. So maybe what we need instead is to have some little conversations with our young citizens. It might give long-term change a fighting chance.