With State legislature election just months away, political parties made their presence felt during the high-energy, high-decibel Dahi Handi festival on Gokulashtami in Mumbai and Thane on Monday. T-shirts with names of the politicians and party symbols, other political paraphernalia were distributed widely among the Govindas and Gopikas (male and female participants of human tiers).
The festival was celebrated with much cheer and enthusiasm throughout the city. Some mandals raised eight and nine-layered human pyramids. Many celebrities like Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherji, Govinda, Gracy Singh marked their presence at some highly glamorous dahi-handis organised by politicians.
Many foreigners had come down to witness the festival. A team of Spanish castellers participated in the dahi-handi celebration at Thane.
But the festival was also marred by grief after a 45-year old participant died in Thane while dancing in the dahi-handi celebration. Total 59 persons were injured throughout the day. 12 of the 59 have been admitted to various government hospitals in the city. Of them, 24-year old Praveenkumar Yadav is serious and admitted to the ICU of Lokmanya Tilak Hospital due to head injury. He fell down from the second-last layer while attempting to break a dahi-handi.
Safety too was seen taking a backseat during the events. The organisers had claimed they would take utmost safety precautions for the event. But the reporter observed that at many places, there were no safety gears, ropes for the Govindas and Gopikas climbing the upper layers, except a helmet. Only a few prominent dahi-handis organised by major political leaders had pulleys and ropes for the Govindas. These events were being broadcasted live on the local news channels.
The Bombay High Court had recently given a detailed judgement mentioning safety precautions from keeping cushions to restricting the heights of the human pyramids. It had also put restrictions on the participation of children below 18 years. The decision was challenged at the Supreme Court which allowed children above 12 years to participate in the event. The other restrictions put by the Bombay High Court were stayed too.
Rules were seen being flouted blatantly. The reporter spotted many children below 12 years being part of the performing troupes. Despite decibel restrictions, walls of loudspeakers kept blaring item songs and other music throughout the day. The performing Govinda pathaks were drenched by water cannons which synchronised with the music at a few places.
But the local residents didn’t seem to mind. “If we don’t celebrate our festivals, who else will? Everyone adjusts to this loud noise. Afterall, it happens only once a year,” said 34-year old Shilpa Ollatt, a resident of Dadar.
Every nook and corner of the city seemed to have come up with its own small dahi-handi, with children and elders participating with gusto. The local fishing community took out musical processions to mark the occasion.
The participants of feted troupes too echoed the enthusiasm. “We do this to preserve the Indian culture. Because of dahi-handi, everyone comes together once a year. We forget our differences and fights and involve ourselves in this sport with the sole purpose of attaining greater heights,” said Mandar Rane of Varadvinayak Govinda Pathak from Vakola.
But the politicians who spent crores on organising the huge events and drawing celebrity attendance, did not seem to spare a thought or some money for the Govinda and Gopika troupes. There was no arrangement for drinking water, mobile washrooms or refreshment for the performers. No places were earmarked for them to rest or eat, leading them to occupy footpaths of major streets.
By the time the dahi-handi celebrations were over, streets lay littered after the troupes ate and littered on the footpaths. No untoward incidents were reported to the police. But some women this reporter spoke to, said they were eve-teased by the Govindas moving around in trucks and tempos. Many Govindas were also seen drunk. The police registered 84 cases of drunken driving and booked.