Mahesh Vijapurkar

Playgrounds are no more the norm for schools. Children are confined to the four walls of the classrooms. This is so not just in urban areas where land is scarce and expensive – just as education is – but even in the rural areas. There, it is no surprise to see children being taught in the open under trees.

However, everyone who matters knows the need for playgrounds because it aids in the all-round development of the child. Thus, a school without a playground is no school at all. And yet, new schools are registered and opened and run without them. There is always the pretext of costs, even in the private sector which charges the moon.

They have their sports days which is a nominal bowing to a requirement in some open space, sometimes of another luckier school opened in the distant past, or may be not at all. Rarely do parents bother, and children grow up playing on the streets, and if better off, in the building drives. The TV and gaming devises are not proper excuses to keep them indoors at home too.

At least in one place, the children decided to act last week to secure for their right to a playground: Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh but at a traumatizing price.

Some 50 of them tried to meet the Collector for a playground. They ended up for about three hours in jail for their gumption, victims of appalling insensitivity. To top it, their constitutional protector was an inactive witness to it.

Not finding the official in office, they tried to meet him at a public event only to be told to be "taken away". The flatfoots did it in some style: bundled them in a police vehicle handed them over to jail authorities. They were inside the prison walls for around three hours. The state’s child rights commission was there, watching it all, as per a Times of India report.

That worthy had reportedly explained that he had seen them protesting but was keen on wanting to "know who brought the students in such an aggressive mode." Now, how could the issue of violation of child rights be taken to him? He is more concerned about who set them up than what was done to them by the instruments of the state.

But the SP had a different version. The newspaper reported him saying "all the protesting students were minors. They are some well-read students, who have been coming up again and again to protest." Mark the words – "coming up again and again to protest." Which means, their grievance was longstanding and yet not redressed.

Why have we reduced the children to such a plight? It is as if the children’s concerns are not the adults’, and certainly not the authorities’. Some months ago, children of a school in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur, tired of carrying heavy schoolbags on their backs – possibly a donkey’s load – and with no attempt to reduce it, walked into the local press club to air their grievance. The journalists were taken aback at their boldness.

The 12-year- olds had explained how they carry about 16 books for eight subjects daily, sometimes more, weighing between 5 and 7 kg and how it tires them. They apparently did not mention the weight of the water bottle and the lunch box they carry, and that the classrooms were on the third floor.

The kids had petitioned the school authorities to reduce the burden they have to carry but to not avail, despite the Bombay High Court having ordered lightening them bags on the basis of a report by a committee. Even now the matter is only a work in progress. The children across the state suffer the daily torture.