A significant part of one’s childhood is spent on playing a variety of games and hanging around with one’s friends and neighbours. Perhaps the few years of formation that allows for such liberties are these particular ones that form our unique childhoods. More specifically, the games that we engage in during this time of growth are the ones that get passed on from generation to generation. All in all, it so happens that there are common games that children play around various parts of the world.

There are some unique distinctions in childhood games from around the world. One such difference, that by extension is also a commonality, is the fact that both girls and boys play every game together except for a few. These few exceptions reflect the social biases and gendered privileges of particular cultures. For now, we won’t touch that topic in detail.

The game that we are interested in discussing, and that is played almost everywhere in the world and by Kashmiri children as well, is hopscotch or “Khanne” (as we called it here) that both girls and boys play in unison. “Hopscotch” as a compound word means “to hop” over the “scotch”, as in a line, while “khaane” in Kashmiri means boxes. A standard dictionary definition of “hopscotch” is “a children’s game in which each child by turn hops into and over squares marked on the ground to retrieve a marker thrown into one of these squares”. Interestingly enough, there are no limits to the number of participants, and this game can be played in any 15 square foot space with a little square shaped stone or a piece of rubber or even clay. This game is played in different styles in different regions of the world and also in our valley’s diverse areas and villages. However, there is one ubiquitous style we are all familiar with and might have played as well, and that goes as follows:

In the game, a diagram of a rectangular shape is drawn with chalk or fuel or inscribed on the ground, with usually seven boxes named Awal, Dovum, Sovum, Jannat, Sammander and Jehannum and a fourth one comparatively larger on the top, used also as a resting place during  the game, named Dullij,  a space wherein a player can put both of their feet down.

The player tosses the small piece to be kicked on the diagram drawn on the ground so that it does not land on any line or cross over to another square. If it so happens, the player loses their turn. If the tossed piece falls clearly, then the player starts to hop on one leg to pass through the second and thereon the other boxes in the specified order without touching any line or without dropping the trailing leg.

After taking rest in the Dulij, the player has to repeat the same in the remaining three boxes. The player -after completing his/her turn -has to cross the diagram on both legs keeping his/her head upwards, and often with their eyes closed. If one completes this round without touching any space, they win one area and may then mark any territory in the diagram by stretching a vertical line over it, thus leaving an area less for other players to move through.

Besides, the player can afterwards use this particular space as a second resting place. If they then complete the second round successfully, they may mark the other desired area in the same manner. The second player can only start playing if the current player loses their turn by losing their balance and resting their trailing down on the ground or if the piece lands on any line or goes against the established order.

The second player starts playing following the same rules coupled with additional restrictions (if any) left by the first player. Although the game may end in accordance to the players’ mutual consent, it usually ends when one of the players finish marking all the boxes.

Game and Exercise:-  This game benefits children in many ways. It helps them in strengthening bones, in regulating blood circulation, in enriching breathing mechanisms, and in maintaining a healthy digestive system. In social and practical terms, the game helps its young players in developing mutual understanding, camaraderie and companionship, verbal and non-verbal communication, patience, focus, organisational skills, respect for order and discipline, and like most other games, it provides joy and entertainment.

Decline:- However, like other children’s games, this game has also become the victim of aggressively changing times. It has lost its importance and place now because today’s children don’t have enough time to play such outdoor games or are only immersed in other games brought about by technological ‘development’.

Children playing hopscotch at Anchidora, Anantnag (Photo: Saqib Mir/ZL)

The children in the present generation have a fixed schedule wherein playtime and recreational time is highly regulated and limited. They wake up in the morning, have a bath and a cup of tea to then hurriedly begin preparing for school. After spending the whole day at school, they arrive at home exhausted. Subsequently, and after a brief rest, they start mugging: writing down their homework and rote learning assigned questions till late hours. Their Sundays pass in going for shopping and visiting relatives, mostly. Moreover, during the whole process, any free time they get, many of them are likely to spend it by watching television, playing on a smartphone or any other electronic device.

Even though generally school students play certain games for half an hour, do you think half an hour of games is enough for a child? Besides, at home, the common spaces where children can congregate for such particular games are missing. For various obvious reasons, the public spaces have been encroached in any given area of the Kashmir, for multiple purposes. There is also a particular elitist notion inculcated in parents who live in modern “colonies”—a word coined by multiple “modern” societies—that their children should mingle down to a bare minimum with other children in their respective neighbourhoods. Last but not least, we can’t ignore the need for safety, security and precaution that parents have to fulfil when their families, and particularly their children, live in a conflict zone. Perhaps these are the reasons that our children have resorted to spending their time on a computer and mobile games and other indoor games and recreational activities.

Concrete studies show that students who attend school three days a week perform better than those who spend four or five or even six days a week at school. Contrarily, in our state there is no such provision available and, ironically, we don’t expect it to be in practice anytime soon. Certain countries, particularly the Scandinavian ones, have implemented laws and regulations around the time adults spend at work and children spend at school, having conducted thorough research to multiply efficiency by allotting proper leisurely time in their respective societies.

From a particular historical perspective, the need for labour laws emerged from the exploitative use of children for work during European and North American industrialisation era. The severe and brutal manner in which children far too young for any form of labour was employed, against their will, determined the need for reform to establish age restrictions for employment and more importantly sought to define in legal terms the right for leisure and rest beyond certain work hours. This did not apply to places and societies in the world that were under colonial rule, but that was eventually implemented with the widespread idea of modernisation and the introduction of constitutions and charters that formed the modern nation-states around the world. In the process, the need for such direly required was globally manifest in writing with Article 31 of the “UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.

Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

“That every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

That member governments shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity”.

The International Play Association adds to above UN declaration by stating the following:

“It is essential to position article 31 centrally within the fuller context of the Convention’s overall children’s rights perspective. Article 31 is about all children everywhere and in all situations and is therefore central to the realisation of many other rights.

In addition to the above-noted General Principles, article 31 is closely related to:

Article 13: respect for freedom of expression

Article 15: respect for the right of freedom of association

Article 17: entitlement to information and materials of social and cultural benefit

Article 27: the right to a standard of living adequate for their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

Article 29: education is directed to the child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical to their fullest potential.

Article 30: children’s right to enjoy their own culture

Article 32: the right to protection from work which is potentially harmful to their development

Article 31 is an essential component of children’s mental and physical health and therefore to their well-being. It also has significant therapeutic and rehabilitative benefits”.