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Teachers, children, parks and media

There is much media coverage (rightly) of the sexual and physical abuse of children. But, there is very little focus in popular media on the soft abuse children suffer at a hands of adults.

Think about it we always cheer sporting heroes from our couches, but if children in our neighbourhood play, many adults stop them, abuse them, confiscate balls and generally harass them. And kids, who generally do not understand their rights, accept it, because they are taught to ‘obey your elders’.

Obesity, low attention spans, diabetes and even drug addiction are the results of not letting children play. How can the media help? File Pic for representation
Obesity, low attention spans, diabetes and even drug addiction are the results of not letting children play. How can the media help? File Pic for representation

The constant putting down of children and their wishes has become so ingrained in Indian society that we are becoming a nation of slobs with obese children who become unfit adults. Why don’t we, instead, look for ways for these children to play in peace? For a country that produces so many kids, it is amazing how appallingly we treat them outside of our homes.

My phenomenally energetic five-year-old is leaning to swim. After about 40 minutes of strenuous swimming, which would tire most adults, all he needs is a large snack and he is ready to play again. By 4.30 every evening, he starts getting restless and keeps saying, “Central Park jaana hai (I want to go to Central Park).” Central Park is one of the 30 parks in the DDA colony we live in, in Delhi. It is where a large number of the residents in this colony of 600 flats lands up. So, there are older people sitting and chatting, middle-aged women walking, and others (like me) minding our young ones.

In July this year, Central Park saw two groups of women come to blows — one was defending the right of 10-12 year-old-boys to play football in the park and another was abusing them for playing. The specifics of the case are irrelevant, but the good thing was that the defending group (which includes yours truly, though I missed all the physical action) gave the Resident Welfare Association or RWA a list of suggestions. (RWAs are the equivalent of the cooperative societies in Mumbai). These included allocating five play areas (of the 30 parks) with level ground, fencing, lighting and regular maintenance for children of five age groups for free play. The shaken RWA committee agreed to most of the suggestions and work on creating those five free play areas is on.

While making the presentation to the RWA, at a rather stormy meeting, I mentioned everything from childhood obesity, the need to burn energy in a positive activity and just physical and mental health. But, the thing which swung the whole argument in favour of kids’ need for playgrounds was not the fact that kids needed areas to play. It was, funnily enough, a 2011 Delhi High Court judgment. In that case, the court had ticked off another RWA for making one part of a park into a playground. It ruled that: “No differentiation can be made between one who chooses to do yoga and another who chooses to be involved in a ball game.” The court also observed that, “If children are not permitted to play in parks, they will be left with no other place except the busy streets.”

Much of this seems common-sensical; a physically active childhood and youth will ensure a physically healthy society. Maybe it isn’t because India has one of the highest incidences of heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses linked to a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits. Can we, in the media, then document the vicious cycle we are trapped in as a society of kids not playing, becoming adults who don’t allow other kids to play, leading to a nation of fat, sick people? Let us see some film scripts, a TV show or even some shrill news television reportage on this one.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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