Before criticising the Supreme Court for banning minor children from participating in human pyramid formations on Dahi Handi, just ask yourself: Would you allow your child, your relatives’ or friends’ child, to climb up a nine-tier pyramid without any safety harness in place? Would you be willing to put a child’s life in the hands of the others who have formed the pyramid, believing they will be able to adequately cushion the child in case of a fall?

In most cases, the answer would be a firm ‘no’. Yet, the Internet is afire with many criticising the Supreme Court’s order on August 17 banning children below 18 years of age participating in this obviously dangerous activity.

b’Dangers in the celebrations are immense / Reuters’

The critics are against the judicial order for its alleged anti-Hindu undertones. Why has judiciary gone all guns blazing only in Hindu matters like Jallikattu and temple elephants while clearly distancing from matters in Haji Ali case (when the Bombay HC said “the courts prefer not to interfere in religious matters”)? Why is the judiciary poking its nose in dahi handi while taking a softer stand on atrocities against children during Muharram, is another argument.

But two wrongs don’t make a right, and so the court can’t possibly wait for all wrongs to be fixed before doing so for at least the one under its scrutiny.

If you have seen the Dahi Handi celebrations in Mumbai, you must have watched with bated breath the formation, un-formation or collapse of the towering human pyramids at places totally unsuited for such an act – right in the middle of Mumbai’s cramped, narrow streets, flanked by high-rises, electricity wires dangling dangerously low. To add to all this, spectators spray water on the participants, resulting in it pooling on the ground and making it slippery.

To be fair, even as the viewers experience an adrenaline rush, most Govindas execute the act beautifully, with practised ease. But the dangers involved in such an act are immense and so year after year, tens of participants are injured, some of them grievously.

There have also been deaths. Most recently, a 14-year-old boy, Kiran Gopal Talekar, died after falling from the top of the pyramid in 2014.

Critics of the SC judgement argue that the numbers of casualties are too few to call the entire affair dangerous (Mumbai and neighbouring Thane have some 1,200 mandals, with around 100 members each). But if the event is a celebration and not a competitive sport, why should there be any casualties at all?

The Maharashtra government may have hastily legalised the event as an “adventure sport” in the aftermath of the Bombay High Court order to ban minors from it, but that hasn’t changed a thing. It is still without any rules or regulations in place. It’s an adventure, but is no sport.

Some argue that the Supreme Court’s order is a blow to the long-practiced Hindu tradition. But that would be reading too much into it. Why is it that the celebrations have retained the true spirit of the festival in other parts of the country except in Mumbai, where major political parties are deeply invested in the dahi handi contests? 

b’Political parties are deeply invested in the dahi handi contests / Twitter’

It is probably because the celebrations in Mumbai have long departed from the tradition followed during the festival. They have been hijacked by political parties, who have pumped in huge prizes and turned it into an annual competition. Year after year, the money at stake goes higher, prompting the pyramid height to follow suit.

The prize money is given out to the tallest pyramids. Teams participate in around 10-11 events on the same day to make as much money as possible, running from one venue to another and without adequate rest to body or mind. Does all this sound like a festival celebrating Krishna’s birth and childhood or a political extravaganza exploiting faith? 

“We only know of Lord Krishna stealing butter, but not the acrobatics involved,” the Supreme Court’s judges said in their order.

b’Source: Reuters’

It couldn’t have been put better. The judges’ observation, if anything, should come as a reminder to make dahi handi a people’s festival again.