Thane may have to do without two of its biggest dahi handi organisers this year. Irked at the decision by the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR) to ban kids below 12 years of age from being a part of dahi handi pyramids, both State Education Minister Jitendra Awhad and Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik have told mid-day that they are in two minds about organising dahi handis.
The two leaders’ popular handis have prize purses of over Rs 1 crore. The conundrum for the leaders has been made worse with the Mumbai police declaring that they will act against dahi handi mandals that allow children below 12 years to be part of the human pyramids.
The police are planning to hold meetings with all the dahi handi mandals and the Dahihandi Utsav Samanvay Samiti (DUSS), the apex body of all such mandals in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai, on the issue soon.
A minor rides on the back of a govinda while practising the formation of a human pyramid in Mazgaon last week. Pics/Bipin Kokate
“We will be calling a meeting with dahi handi mandals and their Samanvay Samiti soon. We will tell them about the new law and request them to follow it to keep the spirit of the game alive,” said Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria.
The police will also be sending letters to the organisers about the rules to be followed like wearing helmets and asking them to take utmost care so that there are no casualties.
The leaders and the mandals, however, are not happy. They claim that that the minor boys are a very important part of the dahi handi festival because of their low weight.
They are the ones who help them form the crucial layers on top and break the handi. Last year, top mandals in the city had arranged human pyramids of up to nine layers. Mandals also claim that the minors face no threat of injury and are safe as their fall, if any, is broken by the men in the layers below them.
“We will follow the law but I am completely against the decision of banning children below the age of 12 from the pyramids. The kids who are on top are the safest and there are hardly any incidents of minors being hurt.
The ones injured are always on the sixth or seventh layers,” said NCP MLA Awhad, whose handi, under the banner of Sangharsh Pratisthan, is one of Thane’s biggest. It has a prize purse of over Rs 1 crore and is a big crowd puller.
Awhad said he is yet to take a decision on organising the dahi handi this year. “I have become demotivated because of this rule and am yet to make any preparations for the handi,” he said. Sena MLA Sarnaik, who organises his dahi handi under the banner Sanskruti Yuva Pratisthan, told mid-day that he is also in two minds.
“The incident of a 14-year-old boy getting killed while practising for dahi handi is very unfortunate, but one should understand that small mandals often do not take the necessary precautions.
Some new mandals practice in building premises on tiles and not on mud resulting in severe injuries. The police should also look into this as it spoils the name of the dahi handi festival,” said Sarnaik.
“As an organiser, if I arrange a handi this year, I will ensure that no minor boys are involved. But, let’s not forget that mandals like ours practise for more than two months and all the members are well trained. Let’s not spoil the spirit of the game,” he added.
The Dahihandi Utsav Samanvay Samiti (DUSS) is of the view that boys below 12 years of age are a very important part of the dahi handi festival and mandals can’t do without them.
“We will organise a meeting of all the mandals soon and decide on the issue. There is no doubt that young boys are very important , but we will look into all aspects of the issue. We look forward to meeting with the police,” said Bala Padelkar
Ganesh Adivadekar of Shree Sai Dham Govinda Pathak from Chinchpokli, however, was a tad more aggressive. “How can somebody watching TV and staying in Malabar Hill ban boys under 12 from participating? Ask them to come with us to see how we practise and how professional are we. We have to answer to the kids’ parents.”