Children playing and studying in the park during open hours
In a tightly packed locality like The Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, clean and safe open spaces are a necessity for the well-being of the community. There are numerous barren, open patches of land but they are used as dumping grounds, make-shift cricket fields for kids, breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other rodents, and common meeting place for drug users.
Aga Khan Foundation started an initiative to transform these open spaces into public parks in 2007-081. On my visit to the Nizamuddin Basti, I came across this park called ‘Parda Park’. It is built specially for women, recently developed by the foundation. This park has restricted timings and prohibits the entry of men. Adjacent to it, is a children’s park so that the women may also bring their kids as they come to the park.
Since I had never seen a park specifically for women, I was intrigued and wanted to find out if it actually serves the intended purpose because I didn’t see any woman using it in my last few visits. While talking to the various local residents such as women living in the basti, children around the park and representatives of Aga Khan Foundation, I not only got to know about the park and its advantages, but also the challenges around its efficient use. Many deep rooted issues, social dynamics and practices are linked to this park and other parks in the area.
People told that these parks have begun to again become an ‘Adda’ for alcoholics, drug users and miscreants. Only in the stated timings when the park opens for women (6 am to 11 am and 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm), it is used for the intended purpose.
Women who generally remain home in their clustered, fairly claustrophobic houses could now manage to be out in the open for some part of their day in a safe environment, without a class and caste divide, with “izzat” (as emphasised by a woman who sells tea and snacks outside the park and also two men standing there with her). But for the rest of the day, trouble-makers jump walls to enter the park and carry out their activities.
I found cigarette butts, matchboxes, lighters, liquor bottles, broken glass pieces and other garbage lying in the park. A couple works with the Foundation to manage the park in terms of its cleanliness, and opening and closing the gates as per its timings. They told that every morning, they see a lot of such trash. Since women visiting the park in fixed hours did not use or throw these items, it is obvious that other people are entering in the evening or at night, and are spoiling the place. They also added that boys and men generally use the park, and also highlighted substance being bought, sold and consumed in the entire basti including the park. The youth is largely getting into this business which is becoming a concern for the present as well as the future of the Basti.
According to my observations and also reiterated by the local residents, children in the basti are exposed to drug use at an early age. They are increasingly getting pulled towards these illegal activities by either becoming an active or a passive participant. I saw two boys around the age of 11-13 smoking cigarettes in the park and also children as young as maybe 6-7 years of age, discussing terms like “paper”, “beedi”, “sutta” and “daaru”. Such conversations were not usual for me. I did not expect to encounter it, in just a matter of three days of visits.
From multiple conversations, I got to know that Police, instead of controlling this seemingly uncontrollable situation, is a part of the entire operation. They are not only involved in these drug chains for their own benefit but they also disclose names of the people who try to register a complaint against the illegal activities. Once the information is given, such people (along with their family) are then harassed by the ones indulged in drug use, and abuse. They fall prey to the unforgiving state of affairs.
My interactions didn’t just point to the issues on the surface but also scratched the deeper layers where unemployment is one of the biggest reasons for propagation of illegal activities in the basti. Young people getting addicted to alcohol, substance use, cigarettes and drugs leave not only their parents but also all the other parents, worrying for their children’s future. People are afraid that their children might get involved in these activities and they cannot keep a regular check. The children and youth generally roam around freely with their friends, and are frequently exposed to such activities and behaviours.
According to a study by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights on Substance Abuse by Children2, 100% of the children in conflict with the law were drug abusers, while 95.5% of them staying in child care institutions were on drugs and 93% of street children consumed narcotics. The study also states that 88 per cent of the children consumed drugs due to “peer pressure”.3
“Police is as involved in the drug racket as the suppliers. The peddlers bribe the police with drugs to get out of any situation.”– Hemant, a child who became a substance addict and went to rehabilitation in Chetna Foundation.
Similarly in a study conducted by a high school student makes similar inferences where she collected data of adolescents (13-18 years) residing in Nizamuddin Basti, indulging in substances4. Along with such studies, various news articles mention high level of drug related activities in the area. One such article read “Police has nabbed ‘drug lord’ Sharafat Sheikh (53) — known in the drug world for three decades — from Nizamuddin, his area of operation. From a street hawker to a scrap dealer, then graduating to a drug lord to finally as the receiver of stolen properties, Sheikh is involved in 37 criminal cases including NSA and MCOCA”.5
Although these facts strengthen the authenticity of my observations but the fact that this is a reality of what is visible as a part in the community parks really left me thinking about the future of the children who just ‘play’ in the parks of Nizamuddin Basti…