Team of legal experts to tackle Diwali conflict
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Durban - A body that represents the interests of the Hindu community has put together a team of legal experts to tackle racial attacks and conflicts that occur over the use of fireworks during Diwali, celebrated by Hindus on November 14.
Ashwin Trikamjee, head of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, said in anticipation of racial incidents it has a team of lawyers, headed by Simi Sharma, on standby to help anyone who has a problem where unlawful behaviour takes place.
“We are very concerned about this conflict that happens every year. Whilst we all have rights to burst fireworks and enjoy, we got to be mindful of other people who don’t burst fireworks and who equally have the right to be protected by the Constitution.
“The important issue is tolerance during this time. We expect people of other religious beliefs to be tolerant of Hindus during the celebration of Diwali. We encourage people that if they do burst fireworks it is done during the designated hours and no big bangs,” he said.
Professor Karthy Govender, former human rights commissioner, said it is an important initiative the Maha Sabha has engaged in.
He said the vast majority of Hindus believe fireworks on Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an integral part of their culture.
“We’ve got people having a right to celebrate Diwali by bursting fireworks. If you prevent people from engaging in their culture then that’s discrimination,” he said, adding you cannot prevent a person from exercising their cultural right.
“The only way you can do that is if you can show that it would pose an undue burden on the rest of the residents. The right to engage in cultural, religious or linguistic activities is subject to not infringing other rights in the bill of rights.
“When fireworks are discharged it causes anguish and trauma to animals. The owners see the distress and get emotional”.
He said big bangs should not be sold and the window period for lighting fireworks should be enforced.
“The problem we have is that law enforcement agencies don’t address that and that’s the key problem.
“People then believe it doesn’t matter. They think they can act with impunity and it causes people to take the law into their own hands and this degenerates into racial tension.
“If people are aggrieved by those bursting fireworks they should contact the police,” he said.
In 2012, a Bluff family and their guests were traumatised and humiliated by aggressive neighbours who allegedly smashed clay lamps and threatened to shoot the homeowner .
Last year, Pradeep Ramlall lodged a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission and opened criminal charges against a resident who allegedly hurled racist insults at him, his family and guests – including diplomats from India – for lighting fireworks on Diwali.
Sharma said they want to protect the Hindu culture and religious belief.