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By Narissa Subramoney

Deputy digital news editor

Diwali has become the perfect platform for racist animal anti-cruelty crusaders

When Hindus are not being lambasted for their use of fireworks during Diwali, they spend the rest of year being mocked and ridiculed for worshipping animals.

After two decades of observing the antics of intolerance on Diwali, I decided to pen my thoughts around the festival and the annual resurrection of what appears to be racially motivated attacks on the Hindu community using the fireworks argument.

But I want to unpack all the elements in a way that deviates from the usual complaints around animal cruelty and get to the heart of this issue.

Diwali dates are determined annually

If your understanding of Diwali transcends the usual complaints around fireworks and animal cruelty (while simultaneously enjoying the delicious sweetmeats and spoils), you would have noticed that Diwali never falls on the same day every year.

Diwali traditionally falls on the first day of the new moon during October/November, which is also a night in which the moon appears invisible from Earth, a perfect day to observe a festival of lights.

Annual onslaught of fireworks complaints

But every year before Diwali, South African-born Indians must brace themselves for the influx of fireworks and animal cruelty complaints, which over the years has marred the celebratory nature of the festival of lights and left a bad taste in the mouths of the people observing the event.

I feel bitterly disappointed because in the past 20 years I have witnessed how this beautiful 5 000-year-old cultural celebration has been routinely hijacked and turned into a platform to lobby for animal rights.

I am particularly resentful of the fact that this unfortunate association with animal cruelty is the result of the power that white privilege wields to date.

This is not an attack on the white community, and it goes without saying, not all whites are racist or complain during Diwali.

That said, I feel that those who do complain are in dire need of perspective.

Here are some perspectives for the animal rights crusaders

What are your options legally?

What do the people that annually mouth off about fireworks (only) during Diwali get out of it?

The answer is nothing, but an outlet to express racially motivated hatred in a form that is more palatable than blatant racism, by attaching it to a crusade for animal rights.

Unlike New Zealand where fireworks are banned, there has been no revising of laws to implement a fireworks ban of any kind, even after two decades of complaints on the effect the bangs have on animals, dogs in particular.

Quite frankly, no political party wants to rewrite the constitution in a way that will effectively alienate a large pool of voters by trampling on their right to practice their culture.

Even if some right- or left-wing party comes into power, I highly doubt this will result in the outright banning of fireworks.

(There wouldn’t be the kind of pomp and ceremonial accolades that characterise celebrations seen in sport matches without a few fireworks.)

So legally, I don’t see any kind of discourse to ban the use of fireworks in the future.

Hindus are ‘cruel to their pets’

Kukur Tihar Festival: The Hindu Tradition of Dog Worship in Nepal. Picture- Discover.hubpages.com

The other thing that grates my nerves is the unspoken assumption that Hindus are either bad or unfeeling pet owners or that we are insensitive to the suffering of animals.

Here, I need to point out that a large portion of practising Hindus are vegetarian, so they are not part of the daily slaughter of animals for sustenance.

The ones like me who are not vegetarian observe several meat-free days and even months as and when the culture requires.

Yet, I’ve noticed there have been little or no complaints from vegetarian and vegan communities about the effects of two nights of fireworks on the overall well-being of domesticated pets.

I marvel at the hypocrisy of people who can gather around braai fires while animal flesh sears over the flames for their dinners, and how they can lazily lament about Diwali fireworks causing stress to their pets, but make no efforts to adjust their diets to be meat-free as a reflection of their so-called love for animals.

According to the World Health Forum, “An estimated 50 billion chickens are slaughtered for food every year – a figure that excludes male chicks and unproductive hens killed in egg production.”

Nearly 1.5 billion pigs are killed to feed the growing appetite for pork, and nearly half a billion sheep are slaughtered at abattoirs every year.

“India, despite rapidly catching up with China in terms of population, still consumes a tiny fraction of the world’s meat,” said the WEF.

When Hindus are not being lambasted for their use of fireworks during Diwali, they are often mocked and ridiculed for worshipping animals.

Hinduism has a rich history of various animal worship spanning thousands of years, with a day dedicated to dog worship in Nepal.

We sedated our pets when fireworks go off and during thunderstorms

Every Diwali our dogs were sedated and locked in my bedroom with loud music to mask the bangs.

My mother would also give them large bones to distract them if the sedatives were not effective.

My brother, father, and I took turns sitting with our dogs while fireworks went off in the neighbourhood.

We also did this every New Year, Guy Fawkes, and especially during thunderstorms.

So the prevailing attitude towards Diwali also leads me to believe that the ones complaining either don’t want or don’t like having to fork out cash for calming pet medications designed for stressful situations, like a night of fireworks or thunderstorms.

To be blatant about it, pet ownership is a costly affair and you shouldn’t be a pet owner if you cannot afford to get them the necessities required to relieve their stress during these periods.

Is your daily level of pet care up to scratch?

The maliciousness of the complaints directed at the Hindu community has also made me wonder over the years about the general level of care these precious fur-babies are accustomed to on a daily basis.

When I see some of the hate speech on social media, I find myself wondering about how often the squealing owners pick up their pet’s faeces from the garden or if they leave their animals to navigate a minefield of mess before they can relieve themselves from weeks on end.

Or how often do they wash and clean their pet’s bedding? When last did they bathe their animals? Are these precious pets up to date with basic animal care like vaccines and pest control?

Do they make efforts to entertain their pets regularly like taking them out for walks, or are these animals confined behind the property gates with little or no room to run freely?

Are they as rigorous with their daily pet care as they appear to be on Diwali?

Even as an eternal optimist and as a person that generally affords people the benefit of the doubt, I cannot bring myself to believe that the animals are receiving anywhere close to this kind of pet care.

Credit to those who do because pets are like children, except they walk on all fours.

Highveld thunderstorms and pet care

Twelve years ago I made the move from Durban to Johannesburg. The annual summer season brings with it the most terrifying thunderstorms I have ever experienced.

Deafening bangs that cause me to curl up in fear, eyes shut and pillow jammed over my head as a futile attempt to block out the frightful bangs these storms bring over the Highveld.

Yet the complaints after thunderstorms are limited to infrastructure damage rather than animal turmoil. I also have to point out that I have seen social media posts pleading with pet owners to keep their animals inside the house during bitterly cold winters and frightening storms.

I read heartbreaking accounts of neighbours hearing pets frantically scratching on house doors to be let inside when mother nature is doing her thing.

You don’t complain after thunderstorms

I’ve also come to understand that people don’t complain about animal cruelty after thunderstorms because this is an event beyond human control and therefore transcends the politics of division which has become our reality.

It may not be the politics of apartheid fostering divisions, but the system of hate that apartheid built has such a solid foundation that it has lasted for generations.

Post-apartheid South Africa forced everyone to accept that racial segregation is over and it will never rear its head in the future.

But that energy of hatred and intolerance never actually left us as a nation, it was merely buried within us, with no outlet now that the political platform became rooted in inclusivity rather than segregation.

This intolerance however does find an outlet during Diwali, because the ones complaining get to trash an entire faith all in the name of anti-animal cruelty, (while asking their Hindu neighbours and colleagues to send Diwali parcels).

In recent years, the fireworks backlash has extended to include Guy Fawkes and New Year. But this only came about because of the klapback from the Hindu community who would like to observe this festival without the outrageous association with animal cruelty.

One day we will do better, but not in my lifetime

I believe that one day, we will reclaim this glorious festival that ultimately signifies a triumph of good over evil and a new beginning without having to deal with racist attitudes.

But this will not be in our time and I may never live to see it for generational prejudice still runs deep.

I have such faith that our future generations are better than us. They will not be tolerant of different faiths, but wholeheartedly accepting.

Although this generation must continue to unlearn our racialised view of everything, we have to challenge the status quo and stand up to injustices of the past that seek to come out and undo the work we are putting in to live in a more inclusive manner.

To those who are guilty of perpetuating racially motivated attacks on the Hindu faith and the people celebrating, perhaps you’ve never paused to consider all the elements of your argument.

But, if you took the time to read this, for me it is a testament that you are willing to at least acknowledge that your anti-cruelty sentiments may have been misguided in this argument.

This is a step in the right direction, but more work is needed if we want to correct past attitudes that have no place in the future.

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