Halloween also known as all Saints Day is a religious festival celebrated every year on 31st October to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints and all faithful departed Christians. Although many people in India, especially the educated urban rich and aspirational middle-class, treat it as a secular festival, it is in fact purely religious with the faithful attending church services and following various religious rites.
Children dress as ghosts or monsters and go from house to house asking for treats such as chocolates or money, with the question, “Trick or treat?” Halloween parties are quite popular among Indian children as well as adults, both in India and abroad – as per media reports they are apparently the “new rage.” For example, recently Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan’s daughter Suhana Khan celebrated Halloween with friends in New York after her brother Aryan Khan got bail in a drug case. Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli and wife erstwhile Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma dressed their daughter as a fairy for Halloween – an NDTV headline read “Vamika Is Halloween-Ready With This ‘Cute Bunch.’”
Till a few years back Halloween was a novelty of sorts in India, little known (that too on account of Hollywood movies and NRI’s) and rarely celebrated. But in the last decade or so it has become somewhat popular, especially among the English speaking urban groups. Many influential people as well as social media influencers are batting for Halloween as another fun festival. Why? Because it is apparently “that time of the year when vanity takes a backseat and creativity rushes to the forefront.” The English media across India is of abuzz with headlines like:
- Halloween 2021: Why is this spooky holiday celebrated?
- Halloween 2021 With The Webers: Sunny Leone Shares Pics With Family
- Did you see the spooky-Halloween look of Megastar Chiranjeevi?
The media spares no effort to popularize this Christian festival and perhaps offer it as an alternative to the “polluting” Hindu festival Diwali. Unlike Diwali articles which focus mainly on pollution, fire cracker ban activism, and indigestion on account of eating rich Indian food, Halloween articles are usually positive and fluffy pieces intended to make ones day happy and cheerful. In all this upbeat social media buzz around Halloween, and positive media coverage, there is hardly any discussion on the immense resource wastage and polluting aspect of this festival. In the rest of this article I will explore this issue in depth and show based on data how harmful Halloween is to the environment and why we must either ban outright or strictly monitor this festival in India. I will also briefly touch upon another important aspect – the detrimental impact of Halloween on the mental health of children.
Pollution, Food Wastage and Mental Health
During Halloween, people typical buy use and throw costumes like superheroes or vampires or villains and monsters. Once worn, these costumes are usually thrown away – they cannot be reused or repurposed for any other occasion. 83% of the material used to create these fancy one use costumes are made up of polluting oil-based plastic which end up in landfill. In UK, disposal of Halloween clothing sold by leading retailers generate a staggering 2000 tonnes of plastic waste – equivalent to 8.3 crore plastic bottles. This is a massive number which no one seems to talk about.
Given the increasing popularity of Halloween in India, and the sustained effort of the media to promote Halloween as a secular alternative to Diwali, what will happen to India if we were to follow the same wasteful consumption pattern as the UK? India’s population is 20 times that of the UK, therefore India alone will generate a stupendous 40,000 tonnes of plastic waste if it were to adopt Halloween the way the English media and urbanites want rest of India to. This is equivalent to 5% of daily global plastic wastage! Such wastage is unthinkable – yet there are no debates or discussions around the potential ramifications of adopting Halloween. Candy wrappers end up in land-fills and rivers, clogging waterways and choking marine life. According to a US report, National River Cleanup, a volunteer driven river cleanup initiative, removed 19 lakh kilos of trash from nearly 3,166 cleanup sites in 2018, enough trash to “make the ghastliest ghoul shudder”.
Let us now look at the food wastage on account of Halloween. Every year in the UK, 95% of carved pumpkins are thrown away without being eaten, contributing to a massive 18,000 tonne of food wastage. This is apparently the “equivalent of enough pumpkin pie to feed the entire nation.” If we were to extrapolate that data for India, this implies a staggering 3.6 lakh tonnes of single day food wastage! In a developing country like India, still mired in poverty and where a large number of people still do not get two proper meals in a day, such wastage is unthinkable. Yet this is what the English mainstream media houses like NDTV and The Hindu, and social media influencers are indirectly encouraging. Moreover as US studies have shown, pumpkins which end up in landfill contribute to global warming and climate change – as they decompose they produce methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more polluting than carbon dioxide. Yet the silence on all these issues is absolutely deafening.
Not only does Halloween physically harm the environment, there is also a serious impact on mental health, especially of children. This is a sensitive issue which needs immediate attention of social scientists, but is unfortunately hardly every discussed in pubic fora. Frightening stories and scary costumes which are common during Halloween have the potential to increase anxiety and fear especially among those with mental illness. Moreover there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of how compulsory celebration of Halloween in schools of India create trauma and fear psychosis among young children. Below I present an excerpt of a private discussion on Halloween celebration in Delhi schools:
In the school where my nephew used to study, the school authorities would ask little kids to come “dressed up” on the Halloween day. I once went to his school on that day and could see the little kids feeling tortured with the stupid costumes that their parents had forced them to wear.
India is a secular country and we welcome all religions and their associated festivals. Halloween being a bona fide Christian religious festival, is to be tolerated on the principles of religious tolerance. However in the current environmentally harmful form, Halloween cannot be accepted with mutual respect – religion cannot take precedence over either environment or mental health of children. I would urge policy makers, leaders, public intellectuals, judiciary and environmentalists to take a keen look at the harmful impact of Halloween, current as well as future – given the increasing acceptance among Indians.
What are a few things we can do to reduce the negative impact of Halloween? I present below a few of my ideas:
- Ban: The best option in my view is to outright ban Halloween festivities. Those who go to churches are of course free to continue their religious practices without any hindrance.
- Mental Halloween celebration: I recommend mental trick-and-treating and festivities. Carve the pumpkin but do so mentally. Use Instagram filters to add various spooky costumes to share with friends, but do not buy use and throw Dracula or mermaid costumes.
- Go Khadi: If total ban is not possible, at least wear normal non-plastic clothes or Khadi costumes.
- Stop “trick and treat” aspect, since it is not an essentially religious aspect – this will reduce land and water pollution on account of candy and chocolate plastic wrappers. Instead people can offer Indian sweets in traditional paper packaging – this will not only improve the local economy but also have a less harmful effect on health
This is just an initial concept paper to start the discussion rolling. What we need is strict judicial intervention, social activism and targeted environmental activism to prevent this from blowing up and becoming an environmental and social disaster. As the anti-Halloween movement gains traction, we can come up with myriad new ideas and ways to contain and control this silent killer – because that is what Halloween is.
 This step-motherly treatment is not restricted to Diwali alone. See: “HYPOCRISY! When environmentalists complained against @ArtofLiving activity on Jamuna, the media attacked @SriSri. But when environmentalists reported against Church for far greater destruction leading to #KeralaFloods the #MediaMafia won’t dare touch it.” Tweet by Rajiv Malhotra (https://twitter.com/rajivmessage/status/1034076530127843329?lang=en)
 Annual global plastic waste produced in 275 million tonne – or 7.5 lakh tonnes daily globally. 40,000 tonne produced in a single day in India, would therefore be 5% of that.
 Excerpt from a private WhatsApp discussion. More studies are needed to validate this hypothesis.
 Rajiv Malhotra, 2010. Tolerance Isn’t Good Enough: The Need For Mutual Respect In Interfaith Relations (https://rajivmalhotra.com/library/articles/tolerance-isnt-good-enough-need-mutual-respect-interfaith-relations)
 On the other hand, a Dharmic approach to environment is inherently sustainable and better for global good. As Rajiv Malhotra explains, “I think it would be very difficult for someone to reject Dharma, no matter who they are, because basic ethics, basic responsibility, basic life-style of respecting yourself, your family, your community, animals, nature, society, the world, the environment are all part of Dharma.” See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI2tRm7cf8U