ON A SUNNY DAY IN LATE 2004, Kavitha Krishnamoorthy took her two-and-a-half-year-old son to a neighbourhood park in north Bangalore. The child, Ananth, was delighted to see greenery and feel a breeze on his face. In a corner of the park was a small playground. Multicoloured slides, swings, merry-go-rounds and seesaws invited kids to play. Ananth, however, couldn’t rush to the playground with abandon, as other children did; he suffers from seizures, and has been diagnosed with certain features of autism. “Special children used to sit on the peripheries of the play areas and hungrily gape at others who played,” Krishnamoorthy said. “That is what we wanted to change.”
Krishnamoorthy got to work that year, alongside her husband and another couple, to partner with the municipal corporation of Bangalore in building playgrounds for children with special needs. In 2006, she registered a non-profit organisation called Kilikili, after a Kannada word for the cheery laugh of a child. That same year, after two years of the group’s efforts in getting disinterested public officials to cooperate, Bangalore got its first disabled-friendly public playground, located within the city’s century-old Coles Park. Similar playgrounds were installed in two other city parks in subsequent years, and now see a steady flow of special-needs, physically-challenged and other kids every day.
Bangalore now has the highest number of such playgrounds of any city in the country. The only others are in Mumbai, Mangalore and Nagpur, which each have one, making for a nationwide total of only six for the 12 million people under the age of 19 with some form of physical or mental disability, according to the 2011 census (activists say the actual number is far higher).