A 14-year-old boy from Sanpada in Navi Mumbai died recently after suffering injuries during Dahi-Handi practice sessions. In light of this incident, the Bombay High Court in an order banned participation of children below 18 years in forming human pyramids during the popular Dahi Handi festival.
This is yet another example of intervention from a Constitutional authority rather than the society itself coming forward to take steps to prevent practices which endanger human life.
Dahi handi has been an old tradition of breaking an earthern pot tied by a rope at a great height. Traditionally young boys used to get together to form human pyramids to climb up to the height and break it. Over the period of time, it ceased to remain a small community event. Now, live telecasts, invitations to movie stars have been added to make it glamourous. Because of the galmour and hype the competition has become tougher and the height of the pot keeps getting raised, so much that at times even cranes are used. This is an integral part of the celebration of Janmashtami across Maharashtra, Goa and parts of Gujarat.
Given the risk of injury, the High Court has asked the Maharashtra Government to restrict the height of human pyramids to 20 ft. No doubt the court’s verdict is a welcome step but the organisers are not happy with it. Actually the contention of the Govinda Mandals (the groups which compete to crack the prize money which runs in lakhs) is that only minors, being light in weight, are able to reach the top of the human pyramid to reach to the earthen pot.
According to a First Post report, two different Mandals led by Jitendra Avhad of NCP – now a Minister – and Shiv Sena’s Pratap Sarnaik have made the event a spicy reality show.
Though, after court’s order, the Shiv Sena leader has given up but the NCP leader Avhad is planning to challenge the ruling or else, move the entire event to Goa where he can run it like the Indian premier league, the report says.
A Times of India report says that prior to the court verdict, Maharashtra Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR) had banned children below 12 years from joining the human pyramids during the Dahi Handi celebrations. The present ban from the court was a result of the unfortunate incident of death of a 14-year-old boy from Sanpada in Navi Mumbai.
Govinda mandals prefer the “lightest package” at the top of the pyramid. The taller the pyramid, the greater the prize money is. This is the reason for making small children climb to the top in Dahi Handi event. Some of these kids even start training at the age of three and four.
Quoting Sangeeta Ahir, the report says that 99 per cent of children who climb to the top are girls. Ahir says mandals prefer girls because they are lighter than boys, and somehow, parents push them to participate in marathon rounds where each child participates at 10-11 venues, thus multiplying the risk factor.
The report however adds that this is the first incident of a Govinda aspirant (one who reaches to the earthen pot of prize) losing his life during the ‘professional training sessions’, and has raised issues of safety and minors being used for the celebrations where prize money runs into crores of rupees. Even few days before the death, another Govinda, Rajendra Baikar, 35, fell during a practise session and was seriously injured in Currey Road. Baikar suffered a broken spine and has undergone a major operation at KEM Hospital, where his condition is reported to be critical.
However it is appalling that such events which puts the life of a child in jeopardy is not shunned by the society and the Government or the courts have to step in for regulatory measures. While administrative initiatives can be perceived as impingement of religious rights, social awareness and initiatives can help create a healthier culture of ensuring people start valuing life.
There are many such cases happening in various communities and at times because of communal sensitivity, the authorities refuse to even step in. However people’s initiative is the best way to bring about healthy change in traditions that can risk human life.
For the moment, it is hoped that the High Court’s intervention, it is hoped all the stake holders — Mandals, State authorities and the society — would take measures so that such unfortunate incidents are avoided.