It is that time of the year when one of Dubai’s oldest streets, Meena Bazaar, lights up in festive spirit. It's Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. And a visit to this bustling area, located close to Bur Dubai and Karama, makes it seem like every possible Indian living in Dubai has descended here to do his/her last-minute Diwali shopping.
Through the years the bazaar has become a den for everything Indian. However, it is also a grim reminder of the danger that lurks around the narrow lanes - counterfeit products like bags, watches, perfumes are sold openly. And come Diwali there are people trying to lure you into buying fire-crackers – a banned item in the UAE.
This Diwali, this news reporter decided to hit the streets of Meena Bazaar to do a little research on the illegal sale of firecrackers in the area. The result was a shocking revelation of how freely and openly these banned items are sold in broad daylight.
What I found was these ‘salesmen’ herding ‘customers’ to special spots where the banned goods are stocked. This is what went down.
I park my vehicle at the entrance of Meena Bazaar, in the paid parking lot. A man in his 30s walks up to me and asks me straight out if I want some crackers. I am quite shocked, but pretend to be excited to see the offerings.
I could not ask for more.
We strike up a conversation as we head to the building where the crackers are being sold illegally. I forewarn him that I need to take a few pics and videos to share with a friend who wants to buy too.
He leads me to the building – a popular landmark in Meena Bazaar - and to the rooftop.
“No pictures and video please. As you know crackers are banned here in the UAE. Please don’t take any pictures and videos,” he insists.
I convince him it is for a potential customer and he allows me the pictures and clips.
Firecrackers for Dh50 all the way up to Dh500
A variety of packaged firecrackers - all imported from China - are laid out on two tables. “Very powerful. It is the best. Take it,” says another man, from Kerala, who is selling the crackers.
There are sparklers too. A pack of 100 small ones cost Dh50; larger ones in packs of eight cost Dh10 a piece. I bargain a little and he reduces the small ones to Dh40 and the big ones to Dh8 a piece. There are spouting fountains, Zameen Chakri (spinning wheels) and big rockets also for Dh60, Dh100 and more.
As I bargain, a young Indian family with a child walk towards the table of crackers. The child plays around with a few, while the mother is busy making her final purchases.
"These are last few pieces left so buy as much as you want,” the salesman tells me.
I make my purchase and pretend to have run out of cash. One of the salesmen accompanies me to the nearby ATM machine. On the way he tells me they (the salesmen) all work on freelance basis. The crackers are supplied by Chinese sellers. The salesmen have to sell as many as possible so they can pocket as much commission as possible.
“This year, we bought ten boxes from the Chinese suppliers. Each box weights about five kilos. Towards the last day of Diwali, we are under pressure to sell as we don’t want to keep any crackers with us after. It is risky and we can be caught for selling or storing these in our houses and shops,” the man admits.
What is Diwali?
Diwali, Deepavali or Dipavali is the Hindu festival of lights, which is celebrated every autumn in the northern hemisphere. One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
Significance of firecrackers
According to Hindu traditions and mythology - all the rituals of Diwali have a significance and a story to tell. The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. According to one belief, the sound of fire-crackers are an indication of the joy of the people living on earth, making the deities aware of their plentiful state. Still another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes, found in plenty after the rains.
The UAE law
In Dubai, anyone caught selling fireworks can be jailed for up to three months, or slapped with fines of up to Dh5,000. Over the last few years, Dubai Municipality inspectors have been cracking down on the illegal sale of fireworks during Diwali. In the past, there have been cases where violators found stocking firecrackers were arrested and referred to courts.
According to the Dubai Police, the practice has largely been curbed as a result of awareness initiatives held among the community. In 2015, the Dubai police seized 23 tonnes of firecrackers, compared to 28 tonnes in 2014 and 13 tonnes in 2013.