Vanishing Playgrounds A looming crisis in Jammu

Prof Parveen Singh
Jammu, the city of temples, is a place that is steeped in rich culture and history. Known for its stunning landscapes and religious landmarks, it is also home to some of the finest sportsmen and women in the country. However, over the years, the city has lost a critical aspect that is integral to the growth and development of children – playgrounds. The lack of play areas in the city has become a cause for concern, with parents and children alike struggling to find suitable places to engage in outdoor activities. Jammu and Kashmir has produced numerous international and national level players including Gul Dev, the first Kashmiri Olympian, numerous Indian cricketers such as Abdul Samad, Shubham Khajuria, Parvez Rasool, Umran Malik , Mithun Manhas, sharp shooter like Chain Singh and footballer like Mehrajuddin Wadoo among others. The city has always been known for its sporting culture, with many open spaces available for children to play. These spaces included the ground of G.G.M. Science College, Parade Ground, M.A.M. College Ground, and many others. But it is a sad reality that many of the open spaces that were once available are not accessible or have been partially converted to parking, while others have been either grabbed or converted into youth and sports offices, leaving little space for children to play. The situation has become so grave as the city lacks even basic playing areas for children, with most of the available open areas/grounds being converted into parks, with senior citizens ensuring that they are not disturbed by the future generation by either digging up the open spaces in these parks, placing benches or planting trees, so as to stop them from playing. What an irony. While the government has failed to take any action to address this issue, citizens have been equally insensitive towards the need for playgrounds.
Compared to Jammu where residents ensure that no children come to the parks, the people living in Kashmir have a better sense of the importance of playgrounds for children. In every neighborhood, there are playgrounds and parents ensure that their children come out to play. Even the government is not doing much about this issue, which is a significant concern. The Modi government is encouraging sports and physical activities through its KHELO India program, but the question is, where are the children supposed to play? On mobile phones or other digital devices?
Jammuites have failed to understand that the lack of playgrounds has far-reaching consequences, especially in today’s digital age, where children spend most of their time on smart phones and computers. We need to understand that the overuse of these devices has negative effects on physical and mental health, contribute to a sedentary lifestyle, leading to obesity, heart disease, and other health problems and lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Moreover from psychological perspective, overuse of digital gadgets is negatively impacting attention span and cognitive functions of oneself, with constant notifications and distractions making it difficult to focus on a single task for an extended period of time leading to decrease in patience and impulse control. All of these factors highlight the importance of outdoor activities for children’s development, which can only be achieved through playgrounds.
Moreover, drug addiction among young people has become a major concern in Jammu. Without proper guidance and supervision, children may become involved in drug use, which can have devastating effects on their physical and mental health, as well as their future prospects. One solution to address this problem is to invest more in playgrounds and recreational spaces in the U.T. These playgrounds can be designed to cater to the needs of children of all ages, with a variety of activities that promote physical fitness, socialization, and healthy habits. This will provide an outlet for children to release their energy, engage in healthy activities and develop positive social skills.
Despite knowing all these facts, we are still discouraging children from being in the ground. It’s high time that we realize the importance of playgrounds for children’s physical and mental health. An incidence that shook my conscience was when in college,-where I am working as an Associate Professor and Head of the Department-I decided to conduct a cricket match among college students but could not find a ground for a good three months. This experience came as a shock as well as a disappointment, because it highlighted the seriousness of the issue. We need to understand that children need a proper place to play and interact with their peers, which is essential for their social, emotional, along with their physical development. Despite knowing these facts, the city lacks playgrounds and parents are left with no option but to hold back their children to go outdoors.
The Government departments responsible for allotting land for public use, such as the Jammu Development Authority, Revenue Department, and Nazool department, are not fulfilling their duty to provide playgrounds. The land mafia has taken over all available lands, further exacerbating the situation. While politicians and leaders pay lip service to the issue, no concrete action has been taken to address it. The insensitivity of the government towards the future generations is evident in the lack of attention given to the issue of playgrounds. The city is becoming increasingly urbanized, with more buildings and roads taking up the available land, leaving little space for playgrounds.
It is high time that we raise awareness about the importance of playgrounds and equip our children with this basic necessity. We must urge the government to take action and allocate lands for playgrounds. Parents and the government, both need to work together to ensure that Jammu City has sufficient playgrounds for its children. The insensitivity of the government towards this issue is alarming, and we must demand action before it is too late. It is time to prioritize the future generation’s needs and provide them with the opportunities they deserve.
(The author is Associate Professor HOD Department of Computer Sciences Govt. SPMR College of Commerce Jammu.)