Why I Won't Be Celebrating Diwali
Why am I not celebrating Diwali this year?
Well for starters, I'm Sikh, so I would actually be celebrating Bandi Chhor Divas. But the holidays coincide, so all the marketing to buy things get lumped together under the header for Diwali. I'm still going to visit the Gurdwara, as they have safety measures in place in line with CDC guidelines, and I will be calling family and friends, and showing my home some TLC.
But I won't be celebrating in the way many others are. There won't be sweets, or gifts, or décor. In other words, my wallet won't be celebrating.
This might seem odd given how many ads, posts, and sales you've seen for Diwali.
I refuse to celebrate in this way, in solidarity with farmers in Punjab.
In June of 2015, Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Sikh book of holy scriptures, was stolen from a Gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship, in Punjab. The pages were torn and tossed into the streets.
This was devastating. A safe space in the Sikh community had been disrespected and our holy scriptures desecrated.
Protestors gathered to demand justice. Authorities had done nothing to investigate. India was showing Sikhs, once again, that they do not matter. In fact, some peaceful protesters were arrested.
Months later, as Diwali neared, and authorities in Punjab had refused to do much in the way of investigating the crime, I saw a brand new side of my parents.
My mom declared that, along with Sikhs around the world, we would not celebrate Diwali this year. When a family member passes away, the family refrains from celebrating the following holiday. They are still in mourning. That was how it felt when Guru Granth Sahib Ji had been torn up and tossed into the streets.
In 2016, Indians were expected to spend approximately 250 billion rupees, about 3-4 billion in US dollars, in India alone. Diwali is the equivalent of the Christmas holiday season in terms of shopping, for the Indian community.
In 2015, I saw my parents take a stand, with their wallets. I saw them reject capitalism, and choose not to partake in festivities when their community was being treated as second class, as disposable, as unimportant.
This was an awe inspiring moment for me. There are key moments in our lives where we start to see our parents as people instead of just our parents. For me, this was one of them. My parents were always choosing to be the bigger person, were always willing to forgive or let go in order to maintain the peace. Unless it was to protect me or my siblings, my parents usually aimed to be amicable. Or at least I thought, as I never saw them as ones to rock the boat.
But here they were, putting their foot down. Demanding that the crimes against our community be investigated. This was the first time I saw, or registered, my parents as activists.
My parents didn't even bat an eye. They said that was the plan as if there was no question about it. As if it was the most obvious course of action.
As if we were the kind of family that protested anything!
I don't think my parents even realized what an impact that moment had on me. When I brought it up to my mom, as I was explaining why I wouldn't be celebrating this year, she seemed amazed that I even remembered that moment from half a decade ago now.
But I remembered very very clearly. And I'm taking that same action, this year, in solidarity with farmers in Punjab.
For years, suicide rates among farmers has been climbing. Punjab, a largely agricultural economy, is no different. Due to climate change, the certainty of how the crops will fare each year has dwindled, and yet, farmers carry on so that we can all feed our families.
Crop failures, rising debt, anti farmer laws, and the compounding stress of all these different factors, has led to increased suicide rates among farmers in Punjab.
Now with COVID-19, farmers have continued to provide wheat to the rest of India, accounting for 50% of the wheat produced to feed India during lockdowns. This is an incredible feat, considering Punjab accounts for only 1.5% of the land that makes up India.
And yet, Punjab and its farmers are consistently left behind by government policies.
The three new agricultural bills, together, loosen rules around sale, pricing and storage of farm produce. Less regulation might sound like a great idea but in reality, it's unclear the effects these rules will have.
Farmers are concerned that this might provide some higher pricing in the short run, but once the government programs are gone, they will no longer have protection through assured prices and a handful of buyers will then be able to drop the prices over all, forcing farmers into further losses and risk. At which point, the government policies which have been in place thus far will no longer be available as a back up.
Farmers are rightly suspicious of who these laws will ultimately benefit. Part of the opposition is that the laws were passed in a rush. Requests to further discuss the bills and refine them to protect farmers was denied by the BJP.
You can equate this to Mitch McConnell rushing a Supreme Court Justice appointment because he believes he has all the votes, and hearings be damned.
Also keep in mind, that Punjab has a large Sikh population, and is one of only a handful of states that does not have a Hindu majority population. This makes Punjab a target for a country dealing with growing Hindu nationalism. The BJP, has turned a cheek to crimes against religious minorities before. To see anti-farmer laws pass without proper debate or addressing of concerns by farmers, which heavily affects the Punjabi and Sikh populations in India, only further sends the message as to who this government cares about.
So while many of you may be exchanging gifts, buying new clothes or jewelry, and baking tons of sweets, I won't be joining you.
I won't be buying your bedazzled divas. I won't be trying your Diwali recipes. And I won't be posting staged pictures or Diwali content.
Not while India ignores the concerns and livelihoods of farmers. Not while Indians all over the world turn the other cheek, while Punjabi communities are being sabotaged once again.
For more information and updates, you can follow Saving Punjab on Instagram.