India’s coronavirus lockdowns have had several iterations. From Lockdown 1.0 to Lockdown 4.0, as cases rise, so have the relaxations. However, as far as children are concerned, two aspects have remained constant. The first aspect is the push, rather the shove for online education/learning. The second is the continued closure of parks – open green spaces to play for children.
When I refer to parks, I neither mean the places with rides nor the places with slides/swings. The park might as well have these things. However, I mean parks as a place where children can chase squirrels, collect twigs, leaves, seedpods etc, roll and slide over the grass, snoop on the centipedes, and more. All these activities happen under the shade of trees accompanied by the light wind to ensure that there is no sweat even in this weather.
I fully respect the lockdown measures imposed by the Government. At the same time, I also feel that the easing of relaxations pertaining to children is not getting the importance it deserves.
A plethora of relaxations, but not one for the parks
The industries have resumed. All sorts of offices have started functioning. Trains, flights, buses, taxis, autos have started. All the shops are open. Resumption of liquor outlets grabbed the national headlines. However, the parks remained shut and continue to remain shut till day.
For reasons beyond my understanding, parks are spoken about by Government in the same breath as malls, theatres, religious places, restaurants, educational institutions (barring conducting of examinations) etc. All these places are closed and congested. Majority of them are air-conditioned. All of them require disinfectants to get rid of the coronavirus and all the other organisms.
In comparison, the park is open to air place. It gets sufficient sun-light as a natural disinfectant. There is enough and more place to maintain social distancing norms. Even then, a park is nowhere getting mentioned as a candidate for immediate re-opening.
A multitude of options for other relaxations, but not one for the parks
The Government has come up with social distancing norms for offices, factories, shops, public and private transport etc. In some states/cities, shops follow odd-even dates for opening. There is a safety SOP/protocol for almost everything. However, none exists for parks.
Similar to other relaxations, the parks could have also had their recommencement protocols. The park could have different time-slots for children of different ages. A time-slot of 6-8 am for children below 8 years, time-slot of 8-10 am for children from 8-10 years and likewise. The parks could have odd-even dates, odd for children with parents, and even for the elderly.
I mean, if there is a will, there could be a way for re-opening of parks. Just that, the Government does not seem to consider a park as an essential service.
The push for online learning, but not one for the parks
The Honourable Minister for Human Resources Development, Ramesh Pokhriyal, has been unequivocally prescribing online learning for children of all ages so that they do miss out on their valuable education. Every private educational institution has logged on to virtual classrooms for their students.
However, not one of them has advocated/spoken up even once for opening up of the parks. Seemingly, for them, the learning for the students happens only in the confines of the classroom, physical or virtual. They would not even consider parks as a recreational option for their students; else even for that the Cabinet Minister/educational institutions would stand up for its re-opening.
To be honest, even in the best of times, hands-on experiential learning in the lap of nature for children below 8 years was never an option in Indian educational context and it is not even now. Similarly, for children above 8 years, reinforcement of their classroom learning never happened in the outdoor context and it continues to remain so.
In nutshell, well-fed online education has many parents, promoters and care-takers. In comparison, a park is a mal-nourished orphan and continues to remain so.
The detractors of opening up of parks can say that children can contact the coronavirus in the park and pass on to their parents/grandparents. Why should they be put at risk? Spot on. For that matter, why should an adult go out for work, contact the coronavirus and put their children/parents at risk? Well, the adult has to work, everybody agrees. Well, the children have to play in open green spaces, nobody agrees.
There is every probability of things to go wrong, which anyways are going wrong, even without opening up the parks. Moreover, it has to be parents who have to decide whether it is safe for their children and them to go to a park. Why a nanny state is needlessly getting into these minute details and deciding on behalf of parents? This has lesser risk vis-a-vis much other stuff that the state has already opened up and put the entire nation at risk.
Coronavirus lockdown could have been an opportunity to resurrect the importance of parks in the growing up years for children.
Just that, there is no entrenched lobby to speak up on behalf of the children or the parks.