Delhi is slowly limping back to normal after a fortnight of festival and festivities. The air is gradually clearing up and the the crackers blasts are now sporadic though as ear shattering as ever. The roads on the morning after Diwali were a silent but shocking witness of the amount of hard earned money that went up in smoke and din.

There are many reasons assigned to the lore of bursting crackers on Diwali night. It is even said that that this was done to kill insects that abound after the rainy season! But today the smoke they create seems to be killing humans and not insects!

The question we are justified to ask is how does one alter or redefine mores and traditions that have gone out of sync with reality? Or rather who is empowered to do this. Religious heads? Civil society? Enlightened individuals?

Festival times is always one that disturbs me as it is one that makes us aware of the terrible and often lethal stranglehold of religious diktats. And nothing is more disquieting as the poor trying to find ways to acquire costly goodies to propitiate the gods even though their children go hungry. The belief that all hell will come loose if one fails to do so is what seems to guide this irrational behaviour.

Mores and traditions are so deeply ingrained into our lives that no matter what how hard one tries, they are difficult to dislodge. R has been working at pwhy for many years now. His daughter J has been our student since and is now in class X. She is a bright 16 year old who was all set to finish school. Last week her fate was sealed as her family found a suitable match and decided to get her married. As is always the case, her opinion was never sought. The deal was clinched and she remained a mute spectator watching helplessly as all her dreams were shattered one by one. J wanted to be a teacher! And I too stood helpless as my words fell on deaf ears: the adversary was too strong: one voice against an eternity of praxis.

My heart went out to this young girl and I silently petitioned all the gods in heaven to protect this child in years to come. More so as just last week we had to deal with another set of broken dreams. P, one of our young teachers recently married sought our help in resolving her sad plight: her husband now working for a software company and having a new set of friends found her unattractive and not up to the mark. What she wanted was to save her marriage. She like most Indian women, would not even think of leaving him though she is a well educated girl.

Traditions are so deeply embedded in our lives that the very thought of changing them is anathema. People are willing to agree with what you say till it touches their own lives. The way out is not easy, and yet it needs to be found.

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