Since 2014, social worker Swati Patil, 50, has been campaigning for “safe dahi handi”. With the festival round the corner (September 7), she has once again raised the issue. The FPJ spoke to her about her campaign. Excerpts from an interview:
Q. You had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court on the issue. It was disposed of with certain orders. So why are you raking up the matter again?
A. I had filed the PIL in 2014 and it's true that the HC had disposed it of with a slew of orders, including safety belts for govindas, use of cushions, organising dahi handis in grounds and not on roads with hard surface and a 20-feet height restriction. In 2015, some persons appealed against the order in the Supreme Court, which substantially endorsed the HC verdict. In 2017, a petitioner again moved the apex court, which referred the matter to the high court. This time, the HC retained most of the restrictions mentioned in the earlier order, but left the issue of height of the dahi handi pyramids to the state, but the government is yet to take a decision.
Q. But why have you not filed a contempt petition against the state government?
A. I have done that already and it is still pending. I have also written to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and culture minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, asking them to finalise the height (of human pyramids). In fact, I have been writing to the government for the past three years. However, I have not received any response so far. Incidentally, the HC's order also requires all the police stations to be informed of the ruling details and also calls for the formation of ward-wise committees to oversee dahi handis.
Q. Many accuse you of being a spoilsport. How are you concerned about the height of human pyramids?
A. Being a social worker, I am very much concerned about people's safety. In the past 10 years, at least 22 people have died by falling from the pyramids and many have been seriously injured. Doctors have stated that a fall from 35 feet will definitely result in paralysis. I was moved to tears by the case of a Bhiwandi youth, Nagesh Bhoir, who has been paralysed after falling from a pyramid. His mother had to sell their house to pay for the treatment. Today, he cannot even eat on his own. The family has been reduced to penury. More than govindas, I am deeply concerned about the plight of their families who continue to suffer well after the festival is over.
Q. Are you demanding a ban on dahi handi?
A. Most certainly not. In fact, I myself celebrate the festival, but is it necessary that our youths die and break their bones while celebrating it? Janmashtami is a beautiful festival devoted to Lord Krishna. See how it is being celebrated in Mathura, the deity's birthplace. Why can't we celebrate it with joy and avoid sadness? At present 90% of dahi handi festivals are being organised by politicians with an eye on votebanks. What we are witnessing these days is not the celebration of a festival, but a politics-driven competition.
Q. There are allegations that every time a Hindu festival comes, there are some people who raise objections. If it is Deepavali then the question of noise pollution is raised and if it is Janmasthami then then the height issue of human pyramids is raised. Please comment.
A. I am not targeting Hindus or any other community. Like what I said before, my concern is solely the safety of govindas.
Q. Why are you not raising the issue of noise pollution caused by loudspeakers in mosques?
A. I am not doing that because then the issue will assume communal overtones. Muslims may ask why a Hindu is objecting to loudspeakers in their mosques. I want to avoid that. In any case, a Muslim woman has already raised this issue.