Ganderbal (Jammu and Kashmir): It is difficult to believe such an audience would ever be granted. It is even more difficult to believe it would provoke prompt administrative action.
Over a dozen children – none of them above the age of seven – carrying cricket bats, wickets and crooked willow sticks they use for hockey sticks started marching towards the office of the district magistrate (DM), the top official of the area, in this north Kashmir town the other day.
The harsh winter chill had reddened the cheeks of many children in the group, but for anybody seeing them march towards the administrative complex, it was difficult to imagine whether it was the cold, anger or excitement that had produced such blushing cheeks.
When a local, Bashir War, 64, asked them where they were headed to, the children said they had to meet the DC (deputy commissioner/district magistrate), Sarmad Hafeez, for “a big problem we are facing”.
“I laughed and told them jokingly: go quickly because the officer would be waiting for you”, War told.
The children continued their march to the DM’s office. At the outer gate, amused security guards asked them why they wanted to meet the official.
The children, bubbling with confidence, said they had “problems to discuss”, something not essential for the security guards to know about.
The humbled guards asked children to deposit their bats, wickets and hockey sticks at the entrance before entering the DM’s office.
The boys stared at each other, went into a huddle and finally agreed to keep their sports gear at the main gate only after taking a firm assurance from the guards that these would be returned in the same order in which these were deposited so that the children would not be confused about what belongs to whom after their meeting with the DM.
It took the personal security guards (PSOs) and the office attendants outside Sarmad Hafeez’s room some time to yield to the demand for an unscheduled, but immediate interview with the DM.
“I was a little confused when I saw all of them wearing pherans (local tweed over garments) and perhaps none above the age of seven. They entered the room and wished me. I asked them to sit down and tell me what had been the reason for this unusual visit,” Hafeez told.
“I was amazed to see the discipline with which the children sat as one of them narrated the problem. “They said they play in the lawns and house compounds and get beatings every day for either breaking a window glass or hitting an elder with a ball during a match.
“This had become intolerable for them and they wanted my immediate intervention”, Hafeez added.
The DM said the children informed him about a playground in the town that had become a willow forest because locals had illegally planted trees on it.
“There is a playground which has been ‘grabbed’ by people by planting trees on it, the children said. They wanted me to restore the playground to them. I have directed the local tehsildar (executive magistrate) to go to the spot and submit a report immediately about the status of the piece of land the children are talking about”, Sarmad said.
The DM said no time would be lost to restore the playground to children of the town once its official status is established in the revenue records. “Yes, the playground would be restored to children if it is recorded as state land. It is the right of our children to play and have fun,” he said.
Empowered, the children’s delegation left the DM’s office with heightened spirits as guards at the main gate patiently waited to return their sports gear.