Not so long ago, across the country, this used to be a familiar sight: children rushing in and plunging with force into a water body and squealing in sheer delight. It was almost like a summer ritual. They would stay in the water for hours, play and chat with each other and, one would imagine, weave imaginary tales of demons, kings and queens while splashing around. You can still see such beautiful scenes in the rural areas but, sadly, not in the cities of this country. This is not because urban parents have become possessive about their children but because our cities have become ecologically barren with very few water bodies.
A society’s linkage with nature starts with its children — their ‘mud play’, seasonal plunge into a tank or secret voyages into the mango orchards during peak summer days. Such activities help children in bonding with nature. In fact, a society’s ecological state of being can be gauged from the way its children interact with nature. Ask any child development specialist and she will tell you how important these activities are for the all-round growth of a child.
However, it would be wrong to say that urban areas never had facilities like water bodies. In fact, they were endowed with water bodies. Major cities were built around lakes; many small towns also had a large number of tanks. But in our rush to develop and build, we have managed to kill these water bodies. This is so unfair because our children have a right to play and grow up in a healthy environment. By demanding a child’s right to play in a clean environment, we could have flagged off the wider issue of urban areas and their disrespect to traditional water bodies. We could have questioned the urban residents’ complaints about water scarcity and make them aware of their responsibility to search for an answer.
There is an educated middle class in the urban areas. But how come they don’t question the fact that our cities don’t have enough common water bodies for their children? Or why are they so insistent on building swimming pools but not interested in reviving traditional water bodies? Reviving water bodies is not about fun and games only; it is also about recharging groundwater. Without replenishing it regularly, we will continue to face water scarcity.
Ranjan Panda is convenor, Water initiatives, Orissa
(The views expressed by the author are personal)