Diwali in Silicon Valley

Brightly colored festival gift displays at major retail stores and poor air quality in Silicon Valley are reminding Indian-Americans this year of Diwali celebrations at home.

Big box retailers like Costco know their customers. Merchandizers working for them are stocking up their local Silicon Valley stores with products most in demand before Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, to cater to a sizable population of Indian-Americans in the Valley.  A variety of Indian mithais (sweets) and spicy snacks are on display at major mainstream retail stores that are competing with the traditional Indian supermarkets for business. Stores like Costco are now also carrying raw or prepared daals, rice, vegetables, flour, naans and chapatis.

Diwali Gift Display at a Silicon Valley Costco

Adding to the ambiance is the particulate matter from multiple major forest fires in the San Francisco Bay Area that are still not under control after several days of fire fighting.  Tragically, the fires have so far claimed 40 precious lives and many are still missing. The air quality in the Bay Area has also suffered. The Bay Area air with PM2.5 of 155 micrograms per cubic meter is now being compared to what Indians in Delhi (153 micrograms per cubic meter) have to breathe in normal times and it gets a lot worse during Diwali fireworks.

Bay Area Air Quality on October 14, 2017 During California Fires

Delhi is not alone; Other cities in India claim 13 spots among the top 20 dirties cities in the world. Not far behind  Delhi's 153 micrograms is another Indian city, Patna with 149 micrograms. Other Indian cities among the world's dirtiest are: Agra (88 ug/m3), Allahabad (88 ug/m3), Ahmedabad (100 ug/m3), Amritsar (92 ug/m3), Firozabad (96 ug/m3), Gwalior (144 ug/m3), Khanna (88 ug/m3), Kanpur (93 ug/m3), Lucknow (96 ug/m3), Ludhiana (91 ug/m3) and Raipur (134 ug/m3).  Pakistani cities of Karachi (117 ug/m3), Peshawar (111 ug/m3) and Rawalpindi (107 ug/m3) also count among the world's most polluted.

India's pollution problems are not entirely due to poorly controlled industry and transport. The early winter problems are significantly exacerbated by the burning of the fields by farmers after harvest.

With a score of just 3.73 out of 100, India ranks as the worst country for the ill effects of toxic air pollution on human health among 132 nations, according to a report presented at the World Economic Forum 2012. India's neighbors also score poorly for toxic air pollution, but still significantly better than India. For example China scores 19.7, followed by Pakistan (18.76), Nepal (18.01) and Bangladesh (13.66).

In the overall rankings based on 22 policy indicators, India finds itself ranked at 125 among the bottom ten environmental laggards such as Yemen, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iraq while Pakistan ranks slightly better at 120. The indicators used for this ranking are in ten major policy categories including air and water pollution, climate change, boidiversity, and forest management.

These rankings are part of a joint Yale-Columbia study to index the nations of the world in terms of their overall environmental performance. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia's Center for International Earth Science Information Network have brought out the Environment Performance Index rankings every two years since 2006.

The Yale-Columbia study confirms that environmental problems in South Asia are growing rapidly. The increasing consumption by rapidly growing population is depleting natural resources, and straining the environment and the infrastructure like never before. Soil erosion, deforestation, rapid industrialization, urbanization, and land and water degradation are all contributing to it.

It's important to remember that Bhopal still remains the worst recorded industrial accident in the history of mankind. As India, Pakistan and other developing nations vie for foreign direct investments by multi-national companies seeking to set up industries to lower their production costs and increase their profits, the lessons of Bhopal must not be forgotten.

It is the responsibility of the governments of the developing countries to legislate carefully and enforce strict environmental and safety standards to protect their people by reversing the rapidly unfolding environmental degradation. Public interest groups, NGOs and environmental and labor activists must press the politicians and the bureaucrats for policies to protect the people against the growing environmental hazards stemming from growing consumption and increasing global footprint of large industrial conglomerates.

There will be severe health consequences for all Indians unless the Modi government acts to legislate and regulate various sources of pollution in the country. Pakistan government, too, needs to act to prevent severe harm to public health by rising pollution.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Diwali in Delhi

Minorities Are Majority in Silicon Valley

Eid Celebration in Silicon Valley

India's Air Most Toxic

Pak Entrepreneur Recycles Trash into Energy and Fertilizer

Bhopal Disaster

Environmental Pollution in India

Rising Population, Depleting Resources

India Leads the World in Open Defecation

Heavy Disease Burdens in South Asia


Riaz Haq said…
‘I’ve never had a year so bad’: How #Modi’s big economic changes have hit #India’s small businesses. #Diwali #BJP


NEW DELHI — The sweets usually fly off the shelves during the Hindu festival of Diwali, but this year, only a handful of passersby stopped by. Idle employees waited around to take down orders while the neatly piled towers of shimmering confections waited for a customer.

Famed in Delhi's Chandni Chowk market, Kanwarji Bhagirathmal is one of many small businesses in Delhi where sales have slowed. “This time last year, there was a rush of people standing in front of the shop,” said Rachit Gupta, who runs the sweet shop. “People who were spending 1,000 rupees ($15) last year are spending 600-700 now ($9-$11).”

In the past year, India’s economic performance has fallen short of expectations. The shock of major economic changes has caused panic and confusion, leaving some small businesses like Gupta’s with slower sales than in past years.

“If food is something people are willing to forgo, then I’m not sure what’s happening to others,” he said.

The downturn is especially bitter because of the promises Prime Minister Narendra Modi made when he came to power in 2014. Chiding his predecessor Manmohan Singh, an Oxford-educated economist who oversaw the economic liberalization of India in the 1990s, Modi presented himself as a financial genius who presided over the state of Gujarat throughout years of boom. He spoke of his own rise from a streetside tea seller as a personal economic miracle, promising jobs for the young and a new focus on manufacturing to take on neighboring China.

But Modi’s promises have gone unfulfilled. Growth slumped to a three-year low from April to June, just 5.7 percent. Job creation has stagnated, leaving millions without work.

In November 2016, Modi made a surprise announcement declaring 86 percent of India’s cash defunct, saying the process of replacing the country’s paper money, also known as demonetization, would do away with untaxed stacks of “black money.” Just afterward, the queues outside Gupta’s shop vanished entirely. “I didn’t see people coming for days,” he said.

In July, a new goods and services tax was introduced, but there has been confusion over its implementation. The tax replaced varied state taxes and consolidates India’s economy into a single market for the first time, and it resulted in a price hike for items and services. Gupta, like many traders in Chandni Chowk, still doesn’tknow how much tax to charge. He said even his accountant didn’t know. “If the people at the top don't know what’s happening,” he said, “then how will people lower down the ladder know what to do?”
Riaz Haq said…
The Ancient Origins of Diwali, India’s Biggest Holiday


Like many Hindu festivals, there isn’t just one reason to celebrate the five-day holiday. Pankaj Jain, a professor of anthropology, philosophy, and religion at the University of North Texas, says that the ancient celebration is linked to multiple stories in religious texts, and it’s impossible to say which came first, or how long ago Diwali started.

Many of these stories are about the triumph of good over evil. In northern India, a common tale associated with Diwali is about King Rama, one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu. When an evil Sri Lankan king captures Rama’s wife Sita, he “builds up an army of monkeys” to rescue her, Jain says.

The monkeys “build a bridge over from India to Sri Lanka, and they invade Sri Lanka and free Sita and kill that evil king,” he says. As Rama and Sita return to the north, “millions of lights are spread out across the city Ayodhya just to help them come back home, just to welcome them.” Lighting lamps has long been one of the ways that Hindus celebrate Diwali.

In the south, Diwali is popularly linked to a story about the Hindu god Krishna, a different incarnation of Vishnu, in which he frees some 16,000 women from another evil king. In the western state of Gujarati, the New Year coincides with Diwali (there are multiple New Years throughout India), and Diwali is associated with asking the goddess Lakshmi for prosperity in the coming year. During the festival, many celebrants exchange gifts and coins.

Other religions like Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism use Diwali to mark important events in their histories, too. Professor Jain, who is petitioning one of Texas’ school districts to recognize Diwali, says that while Diwali is a religious holiday, it’s also somewhat of a national holiday in India. Comparing it to Christmas in the U.S., he points out that many non-Christians in America still buy a Christmas tree and give each other gifts.

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