“How much will we be spending on fireworks this Diwali?” my 12 years old son asked me one evening over a decade back. “Last year, we got all that you wanted for about Rs. 1000. I suppose we’ll spend about Rs. 1,500 this year since prices would have increased, plus there will be some new fancy stuff that you guys will want. Anyway, why are you asking this now? Diwali’s over a month away,” I replied.
He explained that there had been a lot of discussion in school about the exploitation of child labour in the fireworks industry, as a result of which many students had decided to boycott fireworks as a mark of protest. He and his 9 years old brother had both decided to join the boycott. No, they did not want to buy anything for themselves instead of fireworks. They felt that would not be a genuine boycott. Instead, they wanted the ‘fireworks money’ to be donated to an orphanage near our house.
Both my spouse and I were delighted! At the same time, we wanted to be sure that our sons were not committing themselves to something that they would regret later when their high spirits had cooled down. After all, they were just 12 and 9 years old! We asked them a few questions to find out if they were fully aware of the implications of their decision.
Both brothers had discussed the matter threadbare before speaking with us. They had decided that, not only would they not buy fireworks, they would not join any Diwali celebrations involving fireworks. They planned to continue this boycott for subsequent years until they were completely convinced that exploitation of children in the fireworks industry had totally and genuinely stopped. They were not sure whether their friends were equally firm in their resolve to boycott fireworks, but for them there was no going back.
That year, we celebrated Diwali without any fireworks. We donated the ‘fireworks money’ to the orphanage. It was clear from the reduced sound levels that many other children had joined the boycott.
The next year, most children withdrew the boycott of fireworks, stating that they were buying fireworks manufactured by companies that did not use child labour. However, our sons continued their boycott because it was reported that, while some manufacturers had stopped employing children directly, their sub-contractors continued to exploit child labour. Our donation to the orphanage was suitably increased to match the expected increase in fireworks prices.
Our sons were aware that their continued boycott of fireworks invited disparaging comments from some of their peers, but they never went back on their decision. We continue to make a donation to the orphanage every Diwali, with the amount suitably increased every year.
Our sons’ compassion (towards the child labourers and the orphans) and integrity (in refusing to use the ‘fireworks money’ for themselves) enhanced the brightness of our Diwali, the ‘festival of lights’!