Don’t bring Ganpati out on to the streets, Justice MG Ranade had told Lokmanya Tilak when the latter decided to start the public celebration of the Ganesh festival in 1893 to get around the British ban on assembly. The warning went unheeded, and Tilak is fortunately not around to see what the festival has been reduced to.
But the Maharashtra government has, in violation of the culture of social reform in the state, not only failed to separate State and religion but is encouraging the worst manifestations of what goes by the name of religious activity.
This year’s Ganeshotsav was perhaps the noisiest ever – though there is no mistaking the decibel levels on the 11th day, I have never seen the fifth-day immersions so cacophonous – because the state government allowed the use of traditional instruments till midnight, thinking that it was cleverly getting around the Supreme Court ruling that says no loudspeakers should be allowed after 10 pm.
The state has now extended the same rule to Navratri, but in doing so, it is flouting not merely the spirit but, equally, the letter of the SC ruling which says that “no one shall beat a drum or tom-tom or blow a trumpet or beat or sound any instrument or use any sound amplifier at night -- between 10 pm and 6 am -- except in public emergencies.”
The ‘traditional instrument’ argument doesn’t work, because the issue is not whether you use loudspeakers or dhols/cymbals/dandiyas but what the decibel levels are. They cannot exceed reasonable limits, because just as people have the right to follow religion, they have a right not to be exposed to nuisance which can be a serious health hazard.
It is not surprising that the political class has been at the forefront of making demands for relaxation of noise norms (it was a delegation led of Navratri mandals led by Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam that made a representation to the CM in this regard). This class has sorely disappointed us with its performance in government and in public life and is reaching new lows in corruption and thoughtless populism, with little regard for the genuine popular interest.
Sadly, this is happening in that part of western India which took the lead in India in the late 19th century in ending regressive social practices, fought superstition and ritual and looked at humanity and enlightenment as its highest goals while at the same time encouraging a resurgent nationalism which helped us free ourselves from colonial rule. That nationalism was different from the sham nationalism on display today, and in that invoking of culture and India’s spiritual traditions, there was none of the assumption that the Gods and Goddesses must be so deaf they can’t hear you unless you make a racket.