In recent years, Dhaka has faced challenges in establishing a culture of celebrating the Gregorian New Year. The reluctance is rooted in the perception of this celebration as an unnecessary Western import, considering the presence of Pahela Baishakh, our traditional New Year.
The public’s attitude toward the global New Year’s Eve celebration has been further strained due to various incidents, such as the assault on a woman at Dhaka University in 1999 and numerous road accidents on December 31 nights in recent years. These events have led to a negative perception, prompting consistent bans by the police on public gatherings, fireworks, and sky lanterns during New Year’s Eve in the past few years.
Despite this, the spirit of rebellion prevails, and people often defy these restrictions. In a city lacking a strong sense of community like Dhaka, rooftops come alive every New Year’s Eve, filling the sky with a myriad of fireworks and the air with the echoes of explosions. Some may romanticize this act of defiance against police directives, seeking to capture the glamour and excitement seen in celebrations across cities like Sydney, New York, or Mumbai.
The individuals participating in these rebellious acts often overlook the impact on vulnerable groups such as the elderly, infants, street animals, and birds. Rooftops used for setting off fireworks are part of buildings that house people, including those who may not be physically resilient, like infants and the elderly, and for whom a night’s sleep is crucial. Igniting sky lanterns in Dhaka, a city reliant on electricity and prone to fires, poses significant risks, as evidenced by incidents in recent years during New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Last year, shortly after the inauguration of the Dhaka MRT Line-6, a stray lantern disrupted service after landing on the tracks. The potential dangers, had it landed on an active power line or collided with a tree filled with dry, fire-prone winter leaves, are evident.
While humans can take measures like using earplugs or thick curtains, animals have no recourse. Pets, in particular, endure a terrifying night during fireworks displays. Cats seek refuge in fear, while dogs, with a heightened audible range, experience anxiety and panic due to the relentless noise. Loud noises and flashing lights, typical of fireworks, mimic natural calamities for animals, leading to confusion and a sense of terror when the sounds persist.
Birds experience disorientation during fireworks, mistaking the bright lights for daylight and flying into open skies, resulting in terror and confusion. The sustained noise from fireworks can induce anxiety in birds, potentially driving them away from their natural habitats or leading to fatal collisions with building walls and hazardous airspace.
Reports worldwide highlight the adverse reactions of zoo animals to fireworks, and those at the Bangladesh National Zoo, situated near densely populated residential areas in Mirpur, may be particularly affected by the noise and lights during New Year’s Eve celebrations. Considering the significant encroachment on natural environments caused by urban ecosystems, it seems needlessly cruel to subject these species, which have adapted to human presence, to further distress.
The reluctance of people to adhere to the Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s ban on fireworks and sky lanterns during New Year’s Eve raises questions. From the perspective of a Dhaka resident with limited recreational options in the city, the ban may be perceived as an additional restriction on activities, leading to a rebellious attitude. The individual may feel compelled to utilize one of the last open spaces available—the rooftop of their building. While the rebellious spirit is strong, it is neither rational nor justified.
Instead of imposing strict bans and threats of action, a more compassionate approach, appealing to the humane side of individuals, may be more effective in discouraging the use of noisy fire hazards. Regardless, if authorities enforce a ban on fireworks and sky lanterns, it is crucial to ensure its effectiveness to protect people, animals, and the environment.
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