Concerned over the safety of the young Govindas who risk their lives to re-enact the myth of Lord Krishna stealing butter during the Dahi Handi celebrations, the Supreme Court on Wednesday banned those below 18 from participating in the dangerous sport and limited the height of human pyramids to 20 feet.
Despite the ban, a Bench of Justices Anil R. Dave and L. Nageswara Rao continued to voice skpeticism at the near-impossible task of verifying the age of the Dahi Hani participants and heights of pyramids in the frenzied celebrations due to begin shortly in Maharashtra.
At one point, the Bench asked why the Maharashtra government had not stepped in to legislate for the safety of the participants.
“We only know of Lord Krishna stealing butter, but the not acrobatics involved,” Justice Rao remarked.
At one point, Justice Dave recalled how he had seen the Govindas climb on human pyramids up to nine stories tall without even a rope to arrest their fall.
“Why did you not carry out any amendments or change the law?” Justice Rao asked Mahrashtra government.
“This cannot be classified as a dangerous performance for the purpose of earning money. They are not performances. It is finally for the State to take a call on that aspect,” Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta reasoned.
The Bench restored the issue of safety precautions in Dahi Handi celebrations and agreed to comprehensively hear the issue.
The bone of contention is an order passed by the Supreme Court on October 27, 2014, dismissing a batch of petitions challenging an order of the Bombay High Court on August 11, 2014, directing the State government to declare Dahi Handi a “dangerous performance” under the Maharashtra Police Act and imposing other safety restrictions.
However the Supreme Court had stayed the implementation of the High Court order days later. The apex court had subsequently on October 27, 2014 finally disposed of the case, observing that it was now “infructuous”. It had at that point of time not bothered to go into merits.
Trouble started when Swati Patil, secretary of Utkarsh Mahila Samajik Sanstha, moved a contempt petition in the Bombay High Court against the conduct of the Dahi Handi festival in 2015. She said it had not complied with the High Court's restrictions imposed in its August 11, 2014 order.
In a recent hearing, the Bombay High Court asked the Maharashtra government to approach the Supreme Court for clarity on whether the High Court's August 11 order was still valid.
The Dahi Handi ceremony is annually held on Janmasthami, the birthday of Lord Krishna. It involves forming a human pyramid and breaking an earthen pot filled with buttermilk tied on a string at the top.
The festival sees neck-to-neck competition and heavy wagers. Young children without safety harness are often employed to climb the human pyramid, which can go up to 40 feet. Accidents, often fatal, had led to the Child Rights Commission frame safety guidelines in February 2014.