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A day after HC ban on minor Govindas, schools use special kids in pyramids

19 Thane schools defy order, say kids must know the festival

Special children of different schools during a practice session at Shivaji Maidan in Thane on Tuesday. (Express photo by Deepak Joshi) Special children of different schools during a practice session at Shivaji Maidan in Thane on Tuesday. (Express photo by Deepak Joshi)

The Bombay High Court’s Monday ruling, restricting under 18-year-olds from participating in human pyramids during the Dahi Handi festival and putting a cap on the height of pyramids at 20 feet, has failed to deter the 450-odd differently abled students from practising for the festival that is round the corner.

A total of 19 schools in Thane, Vikhroli, Kalyan, Mulund, Bhandup, Dombivali and Ambernath are not only defying the HC’s order that prohibits minor Govindas, but are also training differently abled children, aged 10 years and above, for the August 18 festival.

Bhagyashree Velankar, principal of Thane-based Jhaveri Thanawala Karnabadhir school for hearing-impaired children, admitted to have read the HC’s order in the newspapers. She, however, said, “Our basic ideology is to teach the students about Lord Krishna’s escapades and our cultural history. The pyramid formation does not exceed three tiers. Parents and teachers surround the children to protect them.”

The hearing-impaired students in the school are trained weeks before the dahi-handi festival through step-by-step drawings.

Organiser Vilas Dhamale of Balgopal Mitra Mandal, which has been organising dahi handi events for specially challenged children for the past 23 years, said the event was a means to make these children happy. “There is no competition. We award all the students. The height of the pyramid may be as low as 12 feet,” said Dhamale, adding that last year visually impaired students formed a four-tier pyramid with relative ease by simply following sounds created by fellow students in the pyramid.

The mandal began with two schools and gained popularity gradually. Now, schools put in a month’s practice to train their children for the event.

When asked about the recent HC decision, Dhamale said all precautions are taken to monitor the children. While he claimed that mentally challenged children were asked to break the handi while standing on the ground, St John Mati Mand School said they formed a three-tier pyramid of mentally challenged students in the mandal’s event.

“We carefully choose children for the activity. Usually stronger ones are taken to form the base and lighter ones aged between 13-14 years climb atop,” said principal Mary An Scott.

Social activist Swati Patil, who filed a PIL in the HC 10 days ago, said, “We should learn from the recent deaths. Two children died this year and one died last year during dahi handi. Here mentally challenged children are encouraged to risk their lives. At least parents should take a stand and stop allowing their children from participating in the formation of human pyramids.”

She added that 65 children had been injured over the last few years during the festival. “Despite the high court ruling, several mandals are fixated to include minors and exceed the height cap. Lord Krishna did not climb nine storeys to get dahi. The customs have changed now and they are becoming increasingly life threatening,” she added.

Govinda mandals push for ordinance to work around the court order  
A day after the Bombay High Court (HC) capped the height of human pyramids during Dahi Handi celebrations at 20 feet and barred Govindas under 18 years from participating in the pyramids, members of the Dahi Handi Samanvay Samiti, an umbrella body for all Govinda mandals in the city, has asked the state government to bring in an ordinance to allow them to celebrate the festival as they have traditionally done over the years.

“ There is no doubt that we have to respect the court’s order, but we will appeal to the state government to consider the sentiments of all the people associated with festivities and intervene in the matter at the earliest by bringing an ordinance,” said Yashwant Jadhav, member of the  Samiti and head of the Mazgaon-Tadwadi govinda team.

The  Samiti members now want the ceremony to be considered a sport, and have demanded it be included in the state sports policy. “Though it is a one-day ceremony, Govindas have to train for months together. The mandals also appoint a tutor for training and correcting mistakes. We have been demanding the inclusion for years, but haven’t received a positive response yet,” said Bala Padelkar, Samiti chief.

The Samiti also condemned politicians who decided to discontinue the mega celebrations held by their respective outfits.

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