Tatiana Sevyan: Darkness Behind the Light: Child Exploitation During Diwali

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How special would the Diwali season be if all of us had the opportunity to celebrate this day with the same amount of joy! How truly magical would the festivities be if everyone could share this happiness. Unfortunately, very few people are aware of the sacrifices that are being made to manufacture such happiness and joy.

Diwali is the festival of light which infuses the atmosphere of the night, bringing happiness to millions. For the longest time, Diwali has been central to Indian culture and its rich heritage. But at what cost does the commemoration of light over darkness come?

Behind the scenes of the celebration of light, the reality is much darker. Most workers have to put up with inhumane conditions, working around hazardous chemicals and dangerous equipment. What is even more alarming, is that the majority of these workers are children. Indeed, due to the size of the firecracker industry, it is impossible to give a precise number of children involved. Nonetheless, it has been estimated that as many as 35% of all employees are children. Consequently, forced to work in dangerous conditions without appropriate protection, there are many accounts of children dying due to exposure to toxic substances.

Every year, as the demand for firecrackers booms, thousands of children are forced by their parents to help in the family business of manufacturing dangerous fireworks. Such scenes can be easily found outside if stepped out of the busy city life in Delhi. Villages like Keruan, Putinga, Garapur and Sujanagar have become central to the industry of locally made palm-leaf firecrackers. Working on such family factories, children often engage in activities that involve processing, cutting, and painting palm leaves. Those more experienced in the craft, are typically allocated more dangerous tasks which require working on the crackers by themselves. Shaping the gunpowder into the firecrackers, children are left to work without proper training, safety equipment or special machinery. Instead, they have to fill the chemicals into the tubes with their hands, exposing themselves to the potential of developing chronic illnesses from contact with sulphur, aluminium powder, and gunpowder.

Unfortunately, despite the undisputed evidence, Indian officials continue to deny claims of child exploitation, suggesting that they are unaware of any children being used in firecracker manufacturing. Indeed, the current Principal Secretary to the Indian Prime Minister, P. K. Mishra, held that: “There is no official information of children being engaged in it”. Interestingly, India already has laws concerning the handling and distribution of crackers which are outlined in the Explosive Act 1884. In reality, however, the safeguarding measures outlined in the Act are nowhere near to being enforced on the national level. Nonetheless, recently there have been some positive developments in the cracker restrictions. For instance, in 2017, the National Green Tribunal of India launched a petition to ban crackers amid child labour claims.

For now, as the fight for children’s and worker’s rights continues, firecrackers, as a symbol of festivity, will remain a silent reminder of thousands of child workers whose lives were affected by the toxic exposure. It is the power of every person to make a decision in favour of buying firecrackers that have been ethically sourced.

Works Cited

The National Green Tribunal Principal Bench, Application No: 249/2020, New Delhi, October 2022.

The Economic Times India, Diwali Report, Children forced into hazardous firecrackers making, November 2012.

The Explosive Act, act No. 6 of 1908, June 1908.

Interview with The Business Standard, Children Forced into Hazardous Firecracker Making, January 2013.

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Tatiana Sevyan is an Assistant Manager for the Queen Mary Pro Bono Society’s Human Rights Department

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