Arshad and Mohsin are two teenagers who have come from their scraggly confines in UP to earn a living wage as hairstylists. They work for 10 hours a day and send the money back to their home, a hamlet near Chandpur in UP. But the thing they miss the most is the vast expanse of open fields and hours of playing cricket and football with their mates.
They pine for that gay abandon that their early childhood was adorned with and wonderful times they had to frolic with their pals. Succinctly put, Delhi has been a rude awakening in a lot of ways. In particular, robbing them and numerous kids like them of the pure and unfettered joy of play, out in the open under the vastness of the limitless azure.
The 2011 census says 32.44% of Delhi’s population comprises of children in the age group of 0-14 years— the highest compared to any city in India. Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly stipulates that every child has a right to play. The International Play Association (IPA) Declaration of the Child’s Right to Play, produced in November 1977, works to preserve and promote children’s right to play as a fundamental human right.
“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul,” said Friedrich Froebel, who created the concept of the kindergarten. He was a nineteenth-century German educator and adds, “A child who plays thoroughly and perseveringly, until physical fatigue forbids, will be a determined adult, capable of self-sacrifice both for his own welfare and that of others.”
Various researchers from a range of disciplines including education, psychology, philosophy and anthropology have shown that children who play outdoors regularly are happier, healthier, and stronger Playing outside offers children the chance to explore the natural environment and makes them feel more comfortable with the world around them.
It tests their physical limits, makes them express themselves and builds their self-confidence. Spending time outdoors might also lower a child’s chances of being short-sighted. And fun in the sun can be good for the bones too – as sunlight exposure boosts vitamin D levels. Playing together adds another invaluable dynamic to the overall personality.
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Playing together adds another invaluable dynamic to the overall personality development of kids which is an erosion of boundaries of caste, religion, colour and gender. Interestingly, according to an analysis by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 2013, Delhi has over 20% green cover — more than any other capital city. The provision of demarcated areas for children’s play in DDA parks was included in the Delhi Master Plan. So greens are not really the core problem.
Rita Panicker, director of NGO Butterflies points to the fact that since children are not voting banks no one wants to focus on providing proper play facilities. She said they are not fighting against lack of resources but lack of will by authorities.
Founded in 1989, NGO Butterflies launched its flagship campaign, ‘Children’s Right to Play’ in 2010 with an objective to reclaim children’s right to play and integrate it in the national discourse on child rights.”As a father of a 5-year-old son who is always bubbling with energy and excitement, I look around for places where he could release all his
“As a father of a 5-year-old son who is always bubbling with energy and excitement, I look around for places where he could release all his pent-up energy,” says Suhail Qureshi, a resident of Old Delhi. “Growing up in Delhi is tough for these kids today.
Their rightful places to play have been encroached upon, by illegal parking lots, roadside vendors, makeshift jhuggi clusters, and sometimes even vagabonds and drug addicts. Add to it fear of stray dogs and the ever-growing pollution levels So we just don’t want our kids to play outdoors,” he adds
Zeeshan Qureshi, his nephew, is an impassioned cricketer. He laments that he and his friends scamper to Raj Ghat or nearby Bela ground in order to play. The area is prone with reckless motorcyclists or overzealous rickshaw-pullers often leading to dangerous outcomes.
Last year he won his fight against Cancer. But seems like this city has failed him. The situation doesn’t improve much in South Delhi. The paucity of adequate security was highlighted when a man’s body was discovered near the 200-acre Astha Kunj Park, East Kailash last year.
This abject reality of the playgrounds in the capital dissuades parents from sending girls out to play even if they sometimes allow the boys. Unlike small towns, urbanization has consumed Delhi’s open spaces. Resultantly, children spend progressively less time playing outdoors.
They play stick-cricket and FIFA soccer on mobile phones than out in the dwindling open land, polluted air or contaminated water. The rising epidemic of obesity among urban children is an off-shoot of this problem.
Perhaps this also explains why the next generation of India’s sports stars might come from smaller places like Ranchi (Dhoni), Tripura (Deepa Karmakar) or Rohtak (Sakshi Malik) where you can still find children playing outdoors rather than on X-Boxes. Even the schools have scarce sports facilities and lack teachers for physical education. Their playgrounds are becoming the biggest casualty of the shortage of land.
However, many schools and RWAs are taking it on themselves to improve the situation. “There is a primary school few blocks away from our colony where slum children go to play in the evening. It is a nice initiative that they have taken,” said Mr Dhingra, a Patel Nagar resident. An initiative called the ‘jamuna Wala Park’ has been jointly undertaken by South Delhi
An initiative called the ‘Jamuna Wala Park’ has been jointly undertaken by South Delhi Municipal Corporation and Select Citywalk. Previously, festered with mountains of garbage, urban village of Khirki Extension stood in stark contrast to the glamorous malls across the road. Now it offers all the basic facilities for children and residents like walking tracks, installations and outdoor ‘open gym’.
Dinesh Awasthi, president Khirki Extension RWA, welcomes the development and asserts that this park means children of Khirki can play again. Inspired by the likes of Hyde Park in London, New York’s Central Park and Garden by the Bay in Singapore, DDA is envisaging recreating such ‘large green’ spaces or ‘úrban parks’. The Delhi government has also decided to rent out playgrounds of its 77 schools for the purpose of playing games.
In May 2015, the Delhi High Court passed an order upholding children’s right to play in parks. The court authorized the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) to suggest measures to maintain parks in the Capital. However, five out of six posts in the commission, other than Chairman Mr Arun Mathur, are still lying vacant.
The delay in appointing the members has rendered the commission ceremonial. Unsurprisingly, several schemes for children have been announced in the past, including special provisions for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. But little has been achieved. Unfortunately, all words and no play are turning Delhi into a dull city.