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Dahi handi: Mumbai mandals unsure of dos and don'ts

With Gokulashtami slated for August 18, Dahi Handi mandals in the city are unsure of the dos and don’ts of the human pyramid

As the date draws near for the Gokulashtami celebrations in Mumbai to commence the chaos about the heights of the Dahi Handis and the legality of Under 18s continues.

A pyramid being built as an attempt is made to break a pot during a practice session in Dadar
A pyramid being built as an attempt is made to break a pot during a practice session in Dadar

The Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR), Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria and the Bombay High Court have all made it clear that children should not break handis in the city; but many Dahi Handi mandals continue to resist.

In the name of the law
The MSCPCR in its July 14 order said that it was “dangerous, hazardous and criminally wrong”, and against the UN Convention, National Charter of Children and other laws in the country to make children participate in activities like Dahi Handi. “The law enforcing authorities shall take appropriate steps to stop the use of children below 12 years from being part of the pyramid made for breaking handis,” the order says.

Youngsters form the human tiers to break pots at Borivali. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Youngsters form the human tiers to break pots at Borivali. Pic/Nimesh Dave

“Every year, a couple of people die and several are injured,” a division bench of Justices VM Kanade and PD Kode of the Bombay High Court ruled on Friday. “This needs to be regulated, ultimately it is a festival but now it has become commercial. Unless there are statutory regulations the height will not be controlled.”

On Monday, the High Court went on to say, “If any accident happens during the Dahi Handi celebration, then the organisers will be held responsible and action will be taken against them.” Mumbai Police has also issued a warning to all Govinda mandals about using children in Dahi Handi events.

A young Govinda hangs on for dear life after his team collapsed during their attempt to break a Dahi Handi at Ranade Road, Dadar (West) last year. Pics/Suresh KK
A young Govinda hangs on for dear life after his team collapsed during their attempt to break a Dahi Handi at Ranade Road, Dadar (West) last year. Pics/Suresh KK

The Mumbai Police Commissioner said, “If mandals use children to break handis in the city, we will take legal action against them. The 93 police stations in the city have been instructed to be vigilant and arrest anyone who goes against the order.”

Precautions in place
Ganesh Adivadekar of Shree Sai Dham Govinda Pathak from Chinchpokli who are planning to make an eight tier pyramid says, “The police, High Court and child rights commission should chase the organisers who tie pots at heights that put lives in peril. Our mandal takes special care to ensure that the child who climbs up the pyramid and breaks the pot wears head, elbow and knee guards.”

In addition to special Govinda life insurance for all the 600 plus members who participate in the Dahi Handi celebrations, Adivadekar also says, “When we make the pyramid we take utmost care to ensure that the children at the top levels do not get injured incase we fall. The priority when the pyramid breaks is to see that the children land safely. Some top insurance companies have even provided insurance policies for our members during the festival.”

Agreeing with him, Balashankar Masurkar from the Anand Mitra Mandal in Parel says, “The parents of the five children who we use for the top tiers of our pyramid have no problem. These children who are between 7 to 10 years have been with our mandal for the last two years.

Till today, there has been no calamity and I am confident that our two months training has been of high quality as it has in the past, and so nothing bad will happen. My son will be on the top tier and I am confident nothing will happen to him.” Masurkar adds, “The child rights organisations, police, court and government should turn their attention to the burning child rights issues in the city.

This is our festival which has a rich history of more than 500 years. What is the point of Gokulashtami if little Krishnas are not allowed to emulate the Lord? This is a highly practiced pyramid formation, no amateurs go up, and these children have all worked very hard.”

Grey areas
With the High Court asking the state government on Monday to not allow anyone below the age of 18 to take part in the human pyramids, many mandals are confused. Monica Sharad Kelkar who is part of the Shrimati Utsav Mandal which practices in the Goregaon area says, “We are an all women’s group and have a few state gymnasts from schools in the area who are part of our group.

Now, that the police and court have issued orders we are trying to use all those above 18 to make the pyramid. During practice, the falls have increased as young girls are more flexible compared to older women.” Though Kelkar and her mandal are confused, they say that they are still practicing with the youngsters.

She adds, “Many politicians are trying to allow the participation of children below 18, so we are hoping for the best. If last minute they allow them to take part we do not want to get caught wanting. The girls below 18 also want to participate and will be very sad if they are disallowed. We are just waiting and watching.”

Krishna mandal from Kurla are going ahead and say that they will use under 18s as they want to win the prize money at the top govindas in the city. Harish Sawant, a member says, “A number of top politicians in the city are supporting us.

So far, there is no circular from either the government or the police, we have made it clear that we are taking care and the parents of the children want them to break Dahi Handis. Accidents happen even when we walk on the road, why are people branding the festival as something so fatal, is difficult for me to understand.”

“Too many orders have been passed and all the rules are negative. I see nothing positive in them. A sport forming a human pyramid which has entered the Guinness Record Books is now being treated like a huge crime, this is sad to see. We will go ahead with our eight tier pyramid and children will form the top level and break the pots, the authorities can do whatever they want,” adds Sawant.

Following the rules
Mangalwadi, Walkeshwar’s Dahi Handi Mandal which is ranked fourth in the city will follow the rulings of the police and government. Rahul Patange, a member of the mandal says, “When the above 12 years resolution was announced, we started practicing with our 14 and above children.

But now that they have said only those above 18 years can form the pyramid we have been caught in a tight spot. Most adults above 18 are not as agile and flexible as those who are younger. Also, weight has become an issue to tactically plan.”

Even though the mandal is in a spot of bother, Patange says they will follow the orders of the government and police. He says, “This is a peaceful festival and so we will follow the rules and celebrate. We are trying our best to work it out.

Maybe we won’t succeed in the eight tier pyramid formation now that those below 18 years aren’t allowed, but we will definitely try our best. Like always, we will give our all and try using light people to replace the children. The chances of accidents and injuries have gone up now as our previous calculations have been thrown out the window by the new developments.”

Vakola’s Shri Krishna Sai Mandal which breaks handis in the Western suburbs is opting to go for a five tier pyramid instead of their usual seven. Harshal Lahane, a member of the organisation says, “Now that the rules have been laid we have some limitations.

Jitendra Awhad who is backing us has filed a litigation in the Supreme Court against the High Court order, we are hoping the order is reversed. But if that doesn’t happen, we will stick by the rules. We will not use children and try to manage with lighter people but the task at hand is tough.”

Lahane admits that organisers also are slowly pulling out, and the rates of the handis are also reducing. The Santacruz resident says, “Many Dahi Handis which have been there for the last 20 plus years have been cancelled as organisers say they don’t want to have a below par celebration.

As a mandal we will do our best to put our months of practice to good use and break maximum Dahi Handis in minimum tries. But the ban on minors will surely hurt our chances.”

Pulling out
Shrikant Lokhande, a buisnessman who organises a Dahi Handi in Andheri East says, “I am in two minds whether to carry out the festival celebration or not. Rakesh Maria sent me a letter saying that the pot should not be tied above 20 feet. What is the fun in that? Many other investors also are unwilling to give money. I am confused and may end up cancelling the celebrations this year.”

Agreeing with Lokhande, Motilal Chunnawala, a trader who organises a Dahi Handi in Vidyavihar says, “There is a lot of confusion and the mandals themselves are confused with so many authorities saying different things. Putting up a banner and giving prize money for the festival, greatly helps my business.

Plus, I also earn blessings from Lord Krishna by lavishly celebrating the festival. I will go ahead with the celebration as I am doing it to please God and these hurdles should not be allowed to spoil a festival as rich as Gokulashtami.” Chunnawala’s associate who help organise the Rs 15 lakh Dahi Handi, on the other hand, has chosen to back out. Maganlal Chaurasia, who runs a textile company says, “Motilalbhai always goes with his heart.

But I am a businessman and a Gokulashtami celebration with only four levels and people above 18 means more attempts and injuries. If anyone gets injured, as the organisers, the police will arrest us. I do not want all these hassles and so I am not organising any Dahi Handi this year.”

More about Dahi Handi
>> Celebrated every August, the festival involves making a human pyramid and breaking an earthen pot filled with buttermilk, which is tied at a convenient height.

>> Based on the legend of the child-god Krishna stealing butter.

>> A participant in this festival is called a Govinda or Govinda Pathak.

>> Mostly popular in Maharashtra; it is part of the main festival Gokulashtami know as Krishna Janmashtami in the rest of the country, and is celebrated as the birth of Krishna.

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