By Srinath Rao and Meghna Yelluru
The Supreme Court’s order last week directing Dahi Handi mandals to not include children below the age of 12 in human pyramids did not see full compliance in the city on Monday.
While organisers and the police checked birth certificates of all “minor looking” participants, underage participants were still seen climbing atop pyramids in several parts of the city.
In Thane, seven-year-old Prapti Desai climbed over 40-feet nine-tier human pyramid to break the handi of Jai Jawan Mitra Mandal.
At MNS MLA Ram Kadam’s Dahi Handi programme on LBS Marg in Ghatkopar West, a prominent sign in Marathi said that teams fielding children below the age of the won’t receive prize money.
Elsewhere in Ghatkopar West, at the M G Road Market Dahi Handi, the organiser, Congress corporator Pravin Chheda, claimed to have members of all participating mandals insured. He said helmets were also provided to all children climbing atop the highest tiers of the pyramids. But when a seven-tier pyramid rose into the sky with the child on top helmet-less, Chheda simply said, “He must be very brave.”
At the Worli Dahi Handi, organiser Sangita Ahir said they had merely announced the rules and checked children atop pyramids for birth certificates if they found something suspicious. “It has been just a few days of the the SC judgment, but mandals are co-operative and would not let children below the age of 12 to participate.” she said.
The event, organised by NGO Sankalp Prathisthan at Jamboree Maidan in Worli, saw around 200 mandals, with a minimum of 100 participants in each, taking part in the event until 3:30 pm. Six amongst them were “Mahila Mandals”.
“There is a team of policemen at the entrance to check for minor participants, while we provide for headgear,” Ahir added.
At Worli, Rohan Mane was invited on stage to receive a trophy and prize money after his group built a six-tier human pyramid to break the Dahi Handi. When enquired about age, his father Santosh Mane merely pointed towards Rohan’s ID card, which mentioned his birth date. Santosh claimed the organisers checked the ID after Rohan was invited on stage to collect his prize.
However, Sunil Jain, senior inspector at the Worli police station, said he had not received any orders to check for birth certificates of child participants. Jain added that no complaints were registered about mandals flouting age norms.
While children making up the highest tier of the pyramid of some mandals were spotted wearing helmets and protective vests, those below were not.
Venkatesh Kajalu (22), who was a part of the mandal named “Eagle Boyz”, sustained a head injury in Agripada after he broke the Handi with his forehead. “We had formed a four-tier pyramid and I had no instrument to break the Handi with. So I used my head,” said Kajalu. He received stitches on his forehead at Nair hospital on Monday afternoon.
Kajalu conceded that his friends drove him to the hospital on a two-wheeler as they did not have an ambulance stationed nearby as a safety measure.
Another injured, Rashmin Shirke (23), was rushed to Nair hospital with his head bleeding. “He fell off while climbing down. He was on the third level and his head must have hit a stone on the ground. During the practice, we stand on soft soil but on Monday, we performed on a cemented stretch,” said Sagar Pawale, a fellow Govinda. “Only the top most Govinda wears a helmet. The ones on the lower tiers don’t wear one,” Pawale added.
Worli’s Sangita Ahir, however, said the ground where the mandals made their pyramids was covered with gunny bags, which prevented major injuries during a fall, and that the entire ground was insured for Rs 1 crore.
“There were many reports about Govindas being injured across the city. We will check CCTV footage of the locations where the injuries occurred to ascertain whether any violations of the Supreme Court’s order took place,” said Dhananjay Kulkarni, Deputy Commissioner of Police (detection).
Later, in the evening, police sources said the chairman of Om Sai Ram mandal in Jogeshwari had been booked for using a 10-year-old boy in human pyramid.