Just weeks after the skies in the city of Brampton in the Greater Toronto Area lit up in celebration of Diwali last October, city council amended a bylaw to ban the use and sale of personal fireworks. Local bylaws previously stated that fireworks were permitted during four holidays: Victoria Day, Canada Day, Diwali and New Year’s Eve.
Diwali, also known as “the festival of lights,” is one of the most important celebrations in Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. It marks the beginning of the new year in India and typically lasts five days. Naturally, pyrotechnics are a major part of the festivities. Some residents were concerned the ban would rob their children of fun and culture. Others felt the timing of the decision was motivated by racial bias, as more than half of Brampton’s population is South Asian. But according to many residents, that’s not the case.
Baljit Ghuman had been advocating against fireworks in Brampton for a decade because the flashes and noise would trigger his autistic daughter. He believes the ban has nothing to do with a bias against South Asians but is rather an extension of the city’s inclusive mandate.
“It’s about protecting our environment and animals, thinking about veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and autistic individuals suffering from sensory processing disorder,” says Ghuman, who is the founder of Sikhs for Autism. “When we talk about an inclusive community, we need to understand everybody’s needs, which this ban does.”
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According to Brampton councillors Dennis Keenan — who first proposed the city-wide ban — and Gurpartap Singh Toor, 90 percent of the complaints made about fireworks last October were actually from the South Asian community, most of whom celebrate Diwali. Keenan claims he was personally approached by a South Asian seniors association about banning fireworks, while Toor says he was approached by Ghuman.
Many residents have since had a positive response to the ban. Puneet Chadha, a father of two, believes that fireworks cause unnecessary environmental and noise pollution, and have replaced the original way to celebrate Diwali.
“In Delhi, we go to the temple, light diyas [oil lamps] and light up the neighbourhood for Lord Rama to come home,” he says. “That’s the culture.”
Although fireworks are a great way to engage children with the festival, Chadha thinks there are other ways to celebrate that are just as impactful and much safer.
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In response to initial concerns about the ban, Brampton will be hosting a Diwali event on Nov. 12 for the city’s South Asian community — complete with professional pyrotechnics. “It’s a historic first,” says Toor. “No other city has ever recognized South Asian culture the way we have and celebrated a religious holiday the way we plan to.”
As the city of Brampton says goodbye to the old ways of celebrating festivals and holidays, it must embrace the new mandate of inclusivity.
Prarthana Pathak is a writer and journalist in Toronto.
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