Diwali is a festival of fear for animals

Loud firecrackers, blinding lights, and the sudden rise in pollution during Diwali creates distress for animals across the spectrum

Diwali is a festival of fear for animals

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

It is a well-known fact that animals suffer tremendously during Diwali when people indulge in bursting crackers. They are averse to loud noises and extreme levels of polluted air. What humans think of as fun, despite the firecrackers’ long-term effects on the environment, leave animals traumatised.

According to People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals (PETA), firecrackers can even be fatal for animals.

“Many dogs and cats flee in fear from the deafening blasts. Animals become confused and panic, and (animal) shelters see a spike in the number of admissions after fireworks,” says PETA.

PETA’s research suggests that not only does loud noises cause emotional and psychological distress for animals, but can also permanently impacts their hearing-abilities.

“Animals can suffer nervous breakdowns as well as undergo severe hearing disability due to firecrackers,” reads a report. 

In India, where firecrackers have historically formed an essential part of the grand festival of lights, conversations around the negative effects of these crackers have moved from the public discourse to lawmaking and certain bans have been placed since 2020 on the usage of noise-making crackers.

However, last week, the Supreme Court dismissed a plea for a nationwide ban on crackers, stating that “investments have already been made”. This left environmental activists and animal rights activists unhappy.

“Animals are abused during Diwali. Some people deliberately throw harmful crackers such as kali-photka or chocolate bomb at stray dogs and cats. We have even rescued stray dogs with crackers tied to their tails. Every year during Diwali, we treat burnt stray dogs who are found wailing in pain,” says Bijon Majumder of the Garia Niramoy Foundation, an animal-rescue and shelter non-profit organisation located in Garia, Kolkata.

“The past two years have seen a dip in animal-cruelty during Diwali due to the ban, but it hasn’t stopped entirely. Animals will continue to suffer the most as long as firecrackers of any form exist. Our NGO is committed to fighting against them and we had also submitted a petition with Calcutta High Court to prevent sale of firecrackers in Garia market,” says Majumder whose NGO is located close to one of the biggest firecracker markets in Kolkata.

While stray animals are worst-hit by firecrackers, even pets which live in homes get adversely affected. “What a lot of people don’t know is that firecrackers release harmful gases into the air that affect animals much more than humans, besides of course the loud noise which makes them anxious and run around the house shivering with distress. It is not a festival of celebration for them, it’s a festival of fear,” says Pamela Ghosh, a Kolkata-based owner of a five-year old Golden Retriever named Begum. 

Pune-based Rubina Shaik dreads Diwali every year and says that it’s the worst time for her cat, Oscar, who can’t hear for days after incessant cracker-bursting on Diwali. “Oscar is a one-year-old Persian cat and cannot stand Diwali. She is terrified of the deafening crackers and the smog that manages to find its way into our apartment. It traumatises her immensely and she can’t hear properly afterward. We have often taken her to the vet post Diwali and found out that her hearing-deficiency is due to trauma and fear,” says Shaik.

As per vets, apart from dogs and cats, loud firecrackers also affect cattle, including the cow. Akin to humans, in large cattle animals, fear stunts the flow of oxytocin which therefore limits the flow of milk. “Loud noises and blinding lights coupled with a sudden rise in pollution affects cattle, birds, cats, dogs, and various other animals. It agitates their nervous system which affects their overall functioning. This can only be prevented if humans stop celebrating with firecrackers – no firecracker is good for animals. Firecrackers are designed to affect those with sensitive hearing and cognitive abilities, which is why some of us humans, particularly children and adults who suffer from sensory overload, are greatly affected by firecrackers than others,” says a Kolkata-based senior veterinarian at Sai Multispeciality Vet Clinic.

“In our bid to go the extra mile for that little enjoyment, while bursting firecrackers, we tend to forget what damage it can cause to the natural environment. We already know that dogs are very sensitive to sound. Besides, scientific studies have also shown how the sudden and loud fireworks tend to disorient various bird species. Many birds help in pollination, without which there would be no trees, and eventually no oxygen to breathe. It’s an interconnected cycle,” says Neellohit Banerjee, a Kolkata-based nature and wildlife conservationist.

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