ডাকবাংলায় আপনাকে স্বাগত
Deaf as a Nation
Could we, as an entire nation and its people, be in danger of becoming tone deaf? I ask this question both literally and figuratively, because if the din and clamor we, particularly those living in cities and metropolises, are exposed to on a daily basis is anything to go by, we are in danger of becoming hard of hearing, if not entirely deaf.
In India, noise has been identified as a pollutant under The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Scholars and experts have also defined noise and specified which kinds of sounds could be deemed potentially hazardous, leading to short or long-term health issues. But given the poor levels of general awareness about the health implications of being exposed for extended periods of time to noise pollution, and the general indifference of the public to this and similar issues, any expectations of solutions or preventives would be more or less futile.
On this rather disappointing note of resignation, let me begin by sharing my own experience of potentially hazardous noise pollution related situations in which I find myself more or less on a daily basis in both Delhi and Mumbai, both cities that have been home to me for several decades now.
In the small Central Delhi apartment in which I live, these are some of the noises I am exposed to on a daily basis:
∙ Industrial noise from the constant building and construction work that continues unabated for months and even years. Waking up to violent hammering on the walls and ceilings is a common experience for me, thanks to the incessant construction and renovation work in the homes of neighbours. The constant sounds of drilling, grinding, beating, hammering, scraping are regular accompaniments in my soundscape. This does not cease at any time or in any season, lockdown or not, ban on construction work on not. The noise is akhand/never broken, and unstoppable.
∙ Add to this, the hellishly amplified sounds from neighbourhood shrines. Shrines of all religions and faiths, equipped with instruments of amplification blare away, adding to the din. On a daily basis, I hear amplified prayers of at least three religions if not more. From my right come prayers from the Sikh tradition at ear-splitting levels.
Never mind that there could not be more than half a dozen worshippers who could well hear the prayers even without any amplification, but the sound matches the levels required for a concert of rock music in a stadium. The grandchildren of the respected granthi bash away on a little dholak, hollering the names of the gurus in merry but manic glee. These mix effortlessly with the sounds of the azaan from the neighboring idgah and mosques. And the temple in the locality cannot be left far behind, can it? Or else, Hindus will be in danger. On most days, raucous kirtan on the microphone, of course, is played and amplified to awaken the sleeping lot. But on special days and religious festivals decibels are raised higher than high, with more rousing tracks like Har ghar bhagwaa chhayega:
∙ The din does not end here. Weddings, jagarans, or celebrations of any kind pump up the decibel levels even further. Each time India wins a cricket match, deafening fire-crackers are burst to celebrate the victory. Every celebration including, birthdays, engagements, satyanarayan kathas/poojas in the vicinity are complete only when popular songs are blared at deafening levels well into the night and the early hours of the morning, despite the ban on the use of loudspeakers and public address systems between 10 pm and 6 am. Complaints to the authorities should be made only if the complainant is ready to face a possible backlash that could take any form, a verbal abusive argument or worse, fisticuffs and physical violence.
We are in a situation in India where noise pollution has been identified as being hazardous (https://cpcb.nic.in/noise-pollution-rules/), laws have been put into place to prevent and control noise pollution, and yet, the enforcement of these laws is arbitrary and far from satisfactory. While I cannot provide documentary proof of instances of misuse of these laws, one hears of incidents where audio equipment at music festivals is arbitrarily confiscated by the authorities even before the 10 pm deadline simply because an influential person in the neighborhood complains. On the other hand, try and call the authorities to act against noise polluting groups playing loud music in worship related community activities and you are told as I was at 2.30 am one morning – “Meddam ji, Dijjay hota to band kra dette, ye to Bhagwaan ka naam lere hain (Madam ji, if it was a DJ we would have stopped him, but these folks are just taking the name of God).”
All that is possible in such situations is to accept with resignation that a law which is not thoroughly enforced or allows itself to be manipulated by the powerful and wealthy remains ineffective and of little use.
I am certain that these are not just unfortunate individual experiences, but that people across the country would have similar stories. We have looked the other way when it comes to burning issues like climate change, and I imagine we will refuse to accept that noise pollution also needs urgent attention. And look where we are headed. Have we not stopped listening to each other? We lynch and let lynch and are not moved to any action even as we hear the cries of the lynched and disenfranchised. The most powerful and influential of people in the country remain unmoved and silent as the economy groans, crumbles, and is about to collapse. One can only assume that the cries of distress are either drowned in the din around us or then, we are indeed, going deaf.
Illustration by Suvamoy Mitra
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