Noise and Us 

September 27, 2015

In India, public religiosity does not recognize the rights of the individual. Those who practice public religiosity, no matter what their religion or caste, are always greater in number and have larger constituencies than the dissenting individual. He/she is the real minority. No matter what finer nuances about democracy they taught you about in school and college, this is the reality that is brought home to you every festival season. The government has, under pressure from populist netas who rely on mob support, extended the deadline for loudspeaker abuse from 10pm to 12pm for 15 days a year. So what message does this send out?

Firstly, this proves that if you have enough numbers (comprising of potential rioters and arsonists of whatever persuasion) you can toss out all those nice pretty things written in the Constitution out of the window. The government will always give in.

Secondly, the 10pm deadline was just a sop handed out because a bunch of English speaking “pseudo-secular” activists with nothing better to do had to be appeased, because apparently, they still mattered. All that’s thankfully changing now with small town India calling the shots. The fact that noise pollution is more than just a mere inconvenience that one has to “kindly adjust’ to, has been ignored.

These are some of the things that happen to all of us – yes, not just us poofy types, but also the sturdy sons of the soil – when noise goes beyond certain limits: Exposure to noise tells upon the health. Very loud noise of 150 decibels can cause a rash under the collar, in between the fingers and the thighs. Eardrums may get ruptured. It can cause giddiness and nausea. The international limit set for noise is 60 decibels, while in India, people burn crackers producing over 125 decibels, which is tantamount to a jet flying at 300 feet.

Exposure to over 100 decibels for a few hours, lessens efficiency and makes one more prone to accidents. It makes one aggressive and quarrelsome. Even in those who are sleeping, exposure to loud noise causes a disturbance in their brain waves as recorded by the electroencephalogram.

Prolonged exposure to loud noise can lead to irregular or faster pulse, beats, enlarged hearts and increase in blood cholesterol. It causes mental fatigue, irritability, and precipitates or aggravates mental tension and neurosis.

Loud noise increases heart rate of the foetus inside the abdomen of a pregnant mother. This may cause irreparable damage to the unborn baby. Noise-induced hearing loss can indeed impair the quality of life, through a reduction in the ability to hear important sounds and to communicate with family and friends. Some of the other effects of noise, such as sleep disruption, the masking of speech and television, and the inability to enjoy one’s property or leisure time also impair the quality of life. In addition, noise can interfere with the teaching and learning process, disrupt the performance of certain tasks, and increase the incidence of antisocial behavior.

Sound level in decibels is a logarithmic rather than a linear measure of the change in pressure with respect to a reference pressure level. A small increase in decibels can represent a large increase in sound energy. Technically, an increase of 3 dB represents a doubling of sound energy, and an increase of 10 dB represents a tenfold increase. The ear, however, perceives a 10-dB increase as doubling of loudness.

Noise can also produce disruptive after-effects, commonly manifested as a reduced tolerance for frustration, and it appears that the presence and timing of control over the noise are critical to the prediction of after-effects. Even moderate noise levels can increase anxiety, decrease the incidence of helping behavior, and increase the risk of hostile behavior. These effects may, to some extent, help explain the “dehumanization” of today’s urban environment.

According to WHO, the average noise level in Mumbai is steadily increasing by 1.5 decibels a year. The decibel level in Mumbai during the daytime is way above the 55 db recommended by the WHO, touching 85 to 90 db in traffic-nodal areas like Saki Naka, Byculla, Kalabadevi and Ghatkopar, and airport-noise-affected suburbs like Vile Parle and Santa Cruz.

The ‘threshold of pain’ is pegged at 140 db (the sound of an aeroplane). Much of the festival noise in Mumbai comes periliously close to this. For those of us who wish to do more than just bellyache about the horrible singing of the aunty next door over the loudspeaker during Navratri, or the maddening banjo, here’s a simple do-it-yourself kit.

Write a protest letter to your building secretary – send it by registered post with A/D so you have proof. Write a letter to your local Zone DCP and get a signed receipt. Send copies of these letters to Sumeira Abdulali of the Awaaz Foundation or Karmayoga (www.karmayoga.com ). Petition the government to remove the 15 – day noise extension.

Hopefully we’ll also become a majority some day.

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