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SPECIAL GUEST COLUMN: Diwali in South Africa by Devi Rajab

SPECIAL GUEST COLUMN: Diwali in South Africa by Devi Rajab
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Our guest writer for the Inaugural issue of this News Letter - Devi Rajab, is internationally known and a high profile woman in South Africa. She is a recipient of numerous Awards, Human Rights Activist, Academic, Journalist, Psychologist, an all round astounding woman. In this article Devi explores important issues pertaining to Diwali…

If it were not for a growing controversy around fireworks and animals, and an increasing tension between parents and the education ministry concerning days of condoned absence, few non Indians would take note of an important event in the Hindu calendar that around 70 percent of South African Indians observe annually.

It would appear however that an interest is beginning to rise particularly among politicians to use the event as a political score board in an attempt to woe would be voters. The ANC provincial leader Sbu Ndebele condescendingly warned Indians to be cognoscente of the spiritual message of enlightenment of Diwali and to leave behind their …“prejudices, racialism and fear”. Wielding a neatly disguised threat against supporters of other political parties, he is reported to have cajoled those “ in cahoots with people and their racial groups who did not lift a finger to liberate the vast masses of our people from their deprivation and dispossession.”

Other warnings to the community came in the form of protests against the abuse of fireworks and cruelty to animals from mainly white South Africans. Minority Front politicians used these warnings as a springboard to cry racism and set themselves up as protectors of the faith and its people. It seems that the festival of lights offers many opportunities for many causes.

In the wake of celebration, oil lamps and matches, fireworks, debris and tinsel, sweetmeats and flowers would surely lie strewn in patterned commemoration of an enjoyable night before. At this time of year we can add exam papers and books and blurry eyed students to the pictorial collage. Containers of still to be eaten delicacies line the shelves of pantries and the jiggered nerves of and unwelcome rodents lie shaken by the sounds of the bright bangs that thrilled the spunky and frightened the faint hearted. Annually the contentious issue of the nature of this celebration causes much anxiety to many animal lovers who complain bitterly of the effect of fireworks on animals. I received a kindly Dear Devi letter from a concerned octogenarian who begged me to take up the cause of fireworks. I know she said that Indians are not cruel people and that Gandhi himself said and I quote “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Many would agree that perhaps more than any other group Indians as a whole ought to be conscious of the rights and place of animals in the scheme of their lives. Cows and goats roam in the streets and highways of India’s cities and even cause havoc to traffic. Peacocks live in temples and monkeys are fed and worshipped. Gods and Goddess take on forms of animals and human beings. Lord Ganesha is the famed elephant god who is the remover of all obstacles. And most of all Hindus do not believe in killing life. Accordingly vegetarianism is a preferred diet for many as a way of life or on the occasion of religious and cultural functions. So to accuse such people of maliciously ill treating animals at Diwali a time when they should aware of their religious injunctions is mind boggling.

What seems nearer to the truth, however, is the effect of fireworks on children and animals. In their euphoria to enjoy the event many families may not be taking the necessary precautions to safeguard the vulnerable. Fireworks are here to stay legitimately or otherwise despite government legislation. Among Hindus it has become a traditional practice. In India and China it is very much a part of celebratory practice. For many they cannot imagine a Diwali without fireworks….sparklers and china crackers. However of late the crackers have become fireworks and they are huge, powerful and very dangerous. From a pop and a crackle here and there they have become like mini bombs with a bright display They need the careful and skilled attention of responsible grown ups. I think that the days of having back yard shoots or front stoepbangs and sparkles are over. What the community needs to do is to organise collective firework displays where everybody meets at a common venue or a stadium in their respective areas. In this way the sky will be ablaze with beauty for all to share and animals should be safely tucked away in the confines of organised shelters for the evening. The SPCA I am sure would willingly assist in setting up animal safety havens.

We can learn a lot from the American celebration of the 4th of July their independence Day. As a national event ‘organised displays’ are presented for all to enjoy in safety. The country is ablaze in rapturous colour. Last year we were privileged to share this event with the locals in the mountains in Colorado. We meandered through open houses all day and shared in the warm hospitality. People set out open tables laden with food and everyone shared alike friends and visitors. We did not even know the people we enjoyed and to all intents and purposes we may never see them again but we were given the message” as you walk through life share this experience with someone else” and so the chain will grow.

It is the beauty of this ‘people to people’ sharing that we lack in South Africa Imagine what a great festival Diwali could be if only we could do a little of what we experienced high up in those beautiful mountains. 

diwali17Our guest writer for the Inaugural issue of this News Letter - Devi Rajab, is internationally known, and a high profile woman in her home Country of South Africa: recipient of numerous Awards, Human Rights Activist, Academic, Journalist, Counselling Psychologist, all round astounding woman, Devi has researched and recently published her seminal book titled “SOUTH AFRICAN WOMEN OF INDIAN ORIGIN” – Presenting panorama of 150 years of Indian women in South Africa From Indenture to Freedom – and Beyond.  Magnificently produced, riveting and deeply moving the book chronicles the lives of women it’s time we all heard about.

SPECIAL GUEST COLUMN: Diwali in South Africa by Devi Rajab
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