From Delhi’s urban villages have emerged exceptional sporting talents, even in the international arena, despite shrinking open spaces. Gautam Dagar, Deepak Dagar and represented India in the Delhi Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2010 in the relatively alien sport of Rugby.
Their village Maidan Garhi in south Delhi had no playgrounds when they were growing up. “The parks in the village are not maintained properly. Children are forced to practise the game at the nearby Vasant Kunj Sports Complex…Children like me picked up the game due to the nearby Thyagraj Stadium. But not everybody could afford this,” said Indian rugby team captain Gautam Dagar. The DDA developed a playground in the village sometime back. Bereft of maintenance, it is covered with dust and pebbles.
Lado Sarai in south Delhi was once a boxing hub. “Most of the urban villages have Jat or Gujjar population who are well built and have a flair for sports,” said Karanjeet Sejwal, a resident. But unplanned concretisation killed open spaces, he said. Similarly, Munirka village produced over 20 international-level swimmers, including 1988 Seoul Olympian Khazan Singh Tokas. More than 50 swimmers at the national level are from this village.
The lake next to Baba Gangnath Temple in Munirka Vihar once stood 25 feet deep and it was at this site that Tokas mastered swimming. “We swam for fun at Tokas lake, not to win competitions,” said Tokas.
Ever since the pond dried up in 1990, the village hasn’t produced an international-level swimmer. Experts said a DDA building in Munirka Vihar colony stopped the flow of water into lake. To compensate, the DDA built a swimming pool 40-metre in length, instead of a 50-metre Olympic sized one.
Villages Asola and Nizampur, known for wrestlers and kabaddi players, managed to retain play areas so far as they are on the outskirts. Though they haven’t seen urbanisation to the extent that Delhi villages have, hope for future is bleak.
“We are losing out on open spaces. Every day, I see a construction happening on some vacant plots. I doubt we will be able to retain our play spaces,” said Vishal Tanwar from Asola.
Case 1 ‘Living in Delhi with the memories was getting difficult’
In December 2014, five-year-old Reena died when a swing bout fell and hit her head in a corporation park in New Moti Nagar.
Residents earlier complained about the park’s condition but no action was taken. Reena’s family didn’t file a police complaint. Three MCD officials were suspended.
Status report: The girl’s family moved to their native in Uttar Pradesh.
“Reena was our fifth child. Before her we had already lost four other children. We do not blame any authority for what happened. It was an accident and could have happened to anyone. Living in Delhi, with so many memories, was becoming difficult for me and my wife. So we came here,” said Reena’s father Rajbir Kumar.
After the incident, all the swings in the park were removed and none installed since. The park lies abandoned and residents are trying to revive it.
Case 2 ‘We didn’t expect a major safety hazard in a public park’
12-year-old Lavansh fell into an uncovered rainwater harvesting tank near Indraprastha Park in December and died. A student of a Laxmi Nagar government school, he had been there on a picnic.
Status report: The open tank is covered and barricaded for visitors’ safety. PWD officials said it was covered right after the incident and that a committee was set up to inquire into it.
The school authorities also formed their own committee to ascertain negligence on the part of school staff. The school, however, did not share the inquiry findings citing ‘confidentiality’.
“The family alleged negligence on the part of our teachers and the school administration, but when a handful teachers are managing so many children how can we keep check? In a public park we did not expect such a major safety hazard,” said a staff member of the school.
--case studies: Soumya Pillai