With Janmashtami tomorrow, the city is festooned with banners announcing dahi handis running into lakhs of rupees. Mandals are in overdrive as the clock is ticking on, and dahi handi practice sessions are on in full swing in all corners of the city. Climbing pyramids and breaking handis is a Mumbai tradition but all too often, we see young men and women — now that all-girl groups have also forayed into arena — are grievously injured in practice sessions or on Janmashthami when their pyramid collapses. A couple of years ago, two participants died.
Mandals in their zeal to set new records and outdo each other keep adding layers to pyramids and see how high they can go. Unfortunately, they are not equally zealous in ensuring safety measures. It should be made mandatory that mandals have a minimum safety code for dahi handi practice and on the day itself. Political outfits pouring money into dahi handi celebrations need to crack the whip there — no safety, no money, so that all the pyramids get their house in order.
We need to have foam (or other hi-tech material) mats cushioning the ground where the pyramid practices, so that the participants are cushioned if and when they fall. Even safety gear like helmets for all participants and knee, elbow guards should be made available and the climbers must avail of them. Falling from a height of 5 to 10 metres can be devastating and in extreme cases, deadly, as we have already seen. It is shocking that we have not learnt from past mistakes and stipulated that that dahi handi take place with caution and minimum margin for injury.
Posters that boast of the biggest or the richest dahi handi ever, should also talk about all the precautions taken during practice and what a premium they put on careful climbing. Dahi handi is tradition, fun and a part of the fabric of the city. Let us mark Janmashtami with joy and responsibility.