People often complain how the dearth of open spaces in Mumbai makes it difficult for children to play outdoors, but did you realise this paucity of space could be affecting young girls more than boys?
A recent study by a group of students reveals while boys play from the age of 8 to 20, girls stop playing at 12. There are a number of reasons for this, primarily the lack of open spaces which creates a fear in the minds of parents about the security of the girl child. The study was undertaken by barefoot researchers of Pukar, an NGO from the city from July 2015 to June 2016. The barefoot researchers are a group of students from marginalised sections, who are trained in basic research by Pukar and motivated to study their own surroundings.
The group of 12 researchers decided to take up this topic when they found that some of them never got a chance to play outdoors, while some saw open grounds disappearing rapidly in their surroundings as they grew up. The researchers conducted their study -- by conducting interviews, focussed group discussions and community photography workshops -- in the slums of Indira Nagar near Dharavi and Bangalipura at Wadala. The group conducted a focussed group discussion with 29 children and interviewed 25 sets of parents in the two areas. It also looked at how the lack of open spaces in the city forced children to play in dirty and dangerous surroundings in their neighbourhood.
Humaira Sayyed, one of the researchers and a third-year arts student of Gurunanak Khalsa College, said, “With fewer open spaces, girls have to play at their friend’s houses. Parents fear for their security. In some cases, they say they cannot afford to take their children to far-off playgrounds.”
Sayyed said some of other reasons include menstrual cycle, girls being forced to do household chores and “unsafe” neighbourhoods.
The observations were similar across both the slums.
In Bangalipura, children are forced to play near the railway tracks, as the huge open space was used to build a connecting bridge 20 years ago. In Indira Nagar, children are forced to play on the roads as the area saw rapid construction, with open grounds getting converted into parking areas. The study refers to incidents of children risking their lives by playing near the tracks, where a train passes every 2-3 minutes. It also refers to changing paradigms, when lack of open spaces forces children to play card or board games rather than cricket and football.
Sayyed said she could not play as a kid owing to lack of open spaces and playgrounds. Till the age of 9, she lived in the slums opposite Raheja hospital in Mahim, after which her family shifted to Dharavi, where all she could do was play in her own house. She said, “My parents thought it was not safe for me to go and play outside, which is why I never got to play any outdoor games!”