As is the norm in this country where administrative and judicial restrictions are applied only on Hindu practices in the name of public good, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on 23 August urged organisers of the upcoming Dahi Handi festival to prioritise health amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic and set aside festivities for a while.
The Shiv Sena-NCP-INC government had put no restrictions in place when Eid had arrived amid the devastating second wave caused by the Chinese virus that mutated into the Delta Plus variant, the state is restraining Hindus at a time when the pandemic is fading away.
Thackeray, who spoke to members of coordination committees that organise the famed Dahi Handi festival across the state to mark the birth of Lord Krishna, said the coronavirus pandemic has forced various restrictions on the daily life of people.
The chief minister’s office later said the organisers had responded positively to Thackeray’s request to take welfare initiatives instead of observing the festivities and becoming vulnerable to the virus.
During the meeting, state Covid-19 task force chief Sanjay Oak said physical distancing cannot be maintained during Dahi Handi celebrations as people come in close contact with one another while forming human pyramids. “Face masks are of no use if they get wet in water. The Delta plus variant is spreading fast. Even if one person is infected, the entire group runs the risk of catching the Covid-19 infection,” he said. He asked organisers to keep the festive spirit up by organising camps to donate blood and Covid-19 treatment equipment.
Thackeray said the second wave of the pandemic was receding in some districts of Maharashtra but peaking in some other places. “This is a window period that we have to utilise to ensure that the livelihood of people is not impacted and the economic cycle continues,” he said.
Speaking about protests over the restrictions, Thackeray said, “These curbs are meant for the welfare of people. Only a few people speak of protesting against these restrictions. They should rather protest against coronavirus and not against the government,” he said.
The BJP has demanded Dahi Handi festival be allowed to be organised under certain conditions traditionally.”Those who have taken both doses of Covid-19 vaccines must be allowed to organise the traditional Dahi Handi at low heights without crowding. The festival should not be banned,” BJP MLA Ashish Shelar said. Thackeray reiterated that a lockdown will have to be imposed again if the daily demand for medical oxygen crosses 750 metric tonnes in Maharashtra
The chief minister said the entire world is reeling under the pandemic which has destroyed many families and orphaned children. “Countries which have vaccinated most of their citizens are feeling the heat of a third wave of the pandemic and are locked down again,” he said.
The Dahi Handi festival involves communities hanging an earthen pot filled with dahi (yogurt) or other milk-based delicacies, at a convenient or difficult to reach height. Young men, boys and girls form teams, make a human pyramid and attempt to reach or break the pot. The festival enjoys a political patronisation in Maharashtra with various parties organising Dahi Handis and announcing a reward for Govindas, who break the pots.