• Why is noise pollution and religion such a touchy subject?

    The sound of the azaan has all of India debating why noise pollution and religion make for such a touchy subject. Across social media, questions are being raised on whether one religious community should be allowed to have loud prayers. Is that about tolerance or about noise pollution? What’s noisy – just the morning prayer or even Hindi item numbers masquerading as bhajans? If the azaan on a loud speaker is banned, should the same treatment be meted out to kirtans through the evenings of navratras?

    This debate was triggered after singer Sonu Nigam tweeted angrily about being woken up by azaan on loud speakers. “God bless everyone. I’m not a Muslim and I have to be woken up by the Azaan in the morning. When will this forced religiousness end in India,” he said in his first tweet. His next two tweets were also about how noise pollution is being created by the religious torchbearers.

    “Sure this has sparked an interest in the issue of noise pollution by everyone but his tweet was not framed in the right manner according to me. This is because it has taken the essence of the issue and put the focus somewhere that is totally avoidable and that of religion,” Sumaira Abdulali.

    Are his concerns valid? Do a lot of people in metros resonate with his thoughts? “The Political correctness outburst on Sonu Nigam’s statements – btw made at 5.25 am, when he was possibly woken up – is ridiculous,” says writer Harini Calamur. “We should be fighting to shut down all loudspeakers beyond a certain decibel, and restrict usage before and after certain timings. Not make selective choices – saying only 9 days of Navratri, or 90 seconds of Azaan.”

    Are his arguments really about noise pollution? The communal undertones have people interpreting it differently. Many of us living in metro cities are constantly exposed to noise pollution courtesy of random marriage functions, jagratas, mata ki chowkis and more. Noise pollution increases with the festival season setting in and there are a few activists fighting for it for over a decade now. The singer’s tweet certainly added velocity to the noise pollution debate albeit with some riling up.

    Sumaira Abdulali, convenor of Awaaz Foundation that works to spread awareness against noise pollution talked to SheThePeople.TV. She has been fighting to reduce the noise level in Mumbai since 2002. “Sure this has sparked an interest in the issue of noise pollution by everyone but his tweet was not framed in the right manner according to me. This is because it has taken the essence of the issue and put the focus somewhere that is totally avoidable and that of religion,” she said.

    “It is a health based issue which needs to be strictly discussed in that tone. This communalising of an issue makes people to take sides and that is something I have tried to avoid over the years,” added Abdulali.

    The law against noise pollution for which Abdulali starting fighting in 2003 says that it is a secular, health-based law but she contends that it’s the keepers of the law who do not implement it equally to everyone. She says she is targeted and people falsely criticise her for taking up issues with Hindu festivals. “It is very surprising that you can work year round on noise of various types but just before the festival season begins, suddenly I will start getting a 100 twitter messages, phone calls, emails etc. about noise from Masjid. Whereas the azaan happens throughout the year and I have been recording them also.”

    She talked about various festivals that had added to noise pollution in the city. Ganapati Visarjan is the main one and Dahi Handi has recently become a new entrant along with Eid-e-milap.

    One of the major ill-effects of noise pollution as recorded by World Health Organisation is severe lack of sleep considered as a form of torture. India also has a higher number of people suffering from hearing disability in India compared to other countries. Noise pollution is known to worsen heart diseases too.

    “Our kids are now stopping their parents from honking, they stopped buying fire crackers during festivals that are noisy so as to cut down on noise level”- Kiran Madan of Sanskar India Foundation

    Others NGOs are also taking up the fight against noise pollution. Sanskar India Foundation, an NGO that works with children in Municipal schools, has implemented some campaigns where they teach children to measure decibel level. Director Kiran Madan Of Sanskar Foundation says students can become change agents.

    “In January, we took children outside where traffic signals are and asked them to spread awareness about noise pollution. They talked about it with people stuck in traffic and that worked out well. Our kids are now stopping their parents from honking, they have even stopped buying fire crackers during festivals that are noisy in order to cut down on noise level. These are some changes we have witnessed as the positive effects of our campaigns and initiatives,” said Kiran.

    Sonu’s comment on noise pollution has attracted attention towards an important issue. What’s up for debate and dissection is the focus of his comment. There is plenty on social media to question and debate whether this is about communities and religious rights or simply about a peaceful environment without noise. [Photo Credit: india.com]

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