Gurgaon went up a few notches in its move from fame to shame when, earlier this week, a young woman was abducted and gang raped in the city while on her way home from work.
While it remains an irony that the city with 300 Fortune 500 companies and the third highest per capita income in the country fails to provide a safe haven for tens of thousands of women employed here, solutions are increasingly getting lost in the shrillness of who's to blame.
Almost a quick response to the heinous incident, the urban population in the city erupted in backlash against the orthodox patriarchal nature of Haryana, leading even former joint commissioner of Delhi Maxwell Pereira to suggest on TV that “culture conflict” has a lot to do with Gurgaon's blemished glory.
However many observers feel that putting the onus on a certain class may not solve the problem. "It may be easy to point out to the clash of cultures in this modern mecca of opportunities but the problem also is that the elite here behave as if they are living in an island off the coast of America. Their relationship with the local people of Gurgaon is that of colonial masters. The difference is apparent even in the language. Hindi is used only while talking to servants," says social activist Madhu Kishwar. She warns that it is also dangerous as it can confuse the issue. " There is a common mentality of treating one's own enclaves as sacred and shifting the blame on what exists outside the gated elite communities," says Kishwar.
Indeed, the Culture of Otherness is not the pattern in crimes against women as much as the Culture of Familiarity — according to the national Crimes Record Bureau report 2010, out of the 22, 172 reported rape cases in the country offenders were known to the victims in as many as 21,566 cases (97.3%).
Additionally, much of the problem indicates that unplanned growth is a big culprit and that the law has not kept up. For example, of the 3500 police personnel in Gurgaon, only 358 are women — dismal, but up at least from three years ago, when there were a mere 59 policewomen. Another 382 women constables are expected to boost the police ranks in April this year.
But social observers do maintain that there is no denying an apparent dichotomy in Gurgaon. It's no coincidence that Sahara Mall, the scene of the latest crime, is housed along with a row of glitzy malls on MG Road, which is in close proximity to urbanised villages like Chakarpur, Sikanderpur and Nathupur in its backyard.
Thanks to industrialisation, the population of Gurgaon has almost doubled in the last decade — from 8,34,693 in 2001 to 15,14,085 in 2011 census. The rural population in the 'millenium city' at more than eight lakhs outnumbers the urban population. Rita Gangwani, image manager and counselor who conducts workshops in Gurgaon daily, says " The locals who owned the lands were handed over handsome wads of cash feel disillusioned today when they feel that their penny has dropped while the urban class continues to mint money from the global offices that have come up."
According to Dr Rachna K Singh, counselor at Artemis Healthcare, " the visual disparity can give rise to suppressed feelings of revenge, hatred and insecurity amongst the uneducated lot living in the fringes of the city," and can manifest itself through sexual violence.
However, some disagree. Sehba Imam, founder of Let's Go Gurgaon, a program that aims to explore Gurgaon beyond the concrete jungle says, " We have groups of young girls going for long walks in the jungles and villages of Gurgaon at the crack of the dawn. Often girls in the group are dressed in shorts but we have never encountered unpleasant incidents. Village folk have welcomed us into their homes, offered us chaach." Iman adds: " Maybe sometimes it's convenient to sit back and assume a culture clash."
Arti Jaiman, station director, Gurgaon ki awaaz, a local community radio service that broadcasts in Hindi and Haryanvi, " The mindset is scary and reminds one of the American white people being at war with the black ghettos and blaming them for everything."
What lies ahead?
Observers say the problem becomes acute because there is no neighbourhood culture. " The city moved so fast that it left its dwellers in a spell of isolation," says sociologist Susan Vishwanathan. " There is a lack of community as the majority of people come here to work and later party. The growth led to people become part of large urban spreads and in the process become more anonymous. While urging the government for stricter laws, the city should take note of its situation on a ground level too."
Sukhmani Lamba (20)
Stage Performer, Kingdom Of Dreams
For Sukhmani Lamba, work starts post 8 at night. The artist who performs in the musical Zangoora in Kingdom of Dreams says, "My show ends at about 10.30 in the night and by the time I am ready to come back home it's past midnight." Lamba, who is also pursuing her graduation from Delhi University adds, "I have always been a Delhi girl but shifted to Gurgaon about a year ago when I started working here. Though Delhi is notorious when it comes to women's safety the story in Gurgaon is worse." Lamba has noticed a distinct difference in the male gaze between the capital and its sattelite. "About a fortnight ago at around 10 in the night I was taking a stroll till the nearby mall in a group of five guys and four girls. While crossing the road I was alone for a few seconds, with the group right behind me. Two rowdy boys on bike whizzed past me, passing lewd comments, as they tried to touch me. Imagine what would have happened if I was alone." Lamba lives with the constant fear that someone might be lurking in the corner, ready to attack her as she enters her flat post midnight every night.
"It's mostly the uneducated, unemployed youth living in old Gurgaon who feel rebellious towards the city's contemporary culture and tend to react. The fact that I am a stage performer also tends to make people curious." Lamba points out that the other problem the megalopolis faces is that of being like an unapproachable glass house. "Suppose I am harassed on the roads, there is no one I can cry to for help as everyone is sitting inside their glass towers. Even in a place like Chandni Chowk, owing to the fact that there are so many small shops you know someone may just help. So yes Gurgaon is swanky but very unsafe."
Lipika Pokhriyal (20)
Salesperson, retail store, Ambience Mall
Najafgarh resident Lipika Pokhriyal faces a long commute to her job in Gurgaon, which is problematic when she works the late shift. With no company cab to drop her home, she has to take public transport at times. "Many locals from the rural pockets of Gurgaon aren’t educated. They aren’t used to seeing women who work at night. So they often harass us in public," says the Delhi University student.
Although she hasn’t been the victim of an assault, Pokhriyal has faced terrifying situations in the past. "Once when a colleague and I were walking down the road, some guys offered us a lift but we refused. Then they tried to force us to come with them but we quickly left the spot. There was even a cop standing a hundred feet away but he didn’t do anything."
According to Pokhriyal, the growing number of incidents is because of the huge cultural gap between rural dwellers and modern urbanised Gurgaon. But she concedes that women need to be smart to be safe. "Girls shouldn’t take things for granted. They have to realise that some people might not understand how they dress. They should be careful."
Pokhriyal also mentions that she hasn’t only faced problems from the locals. "The police at times don’t lift a finger to help Delhi residents who come to Gurgaon for work. Even the locals know this. Once when I threatened to call the cops on a guy who was troubling me, he shrugged it off and dared me to do it. They aren’t scared." She even says that the police share a mindset with the very people who cause the problem and often blame the victim for enticing harassment.
The solution, says Pokhriyal, is simple. "We shouldn’t only focus on educating children. We need to educate adults too — culturally, morally and sensibly."
Ipshita Roy (24)
Lead Vocalist, Big Bang Blues
Ipshita Roy feels that audiences in Delhi and Gurgaon are very different. "Not only does the typical Gurgaon crowd tend to drink more, they also have less respect for artistes." Take this one gig Roy recalls from a few months ago, at a new open air venue with cheap booze. Eight to 10 guys climbed on stage in the middle of the band's set and started singing and dancing raunchily, asking the band to play something ‘more exciting' like ‘ek ghoont mujhe bhi peela de sharaabi'. "I backed off at that instant, and my band members instinctively shielded me while the bar owner intervened to calm the crowd," Roy recalls.
Being in a blues band, Roy and her band mostly stick to tried and tested venues in Gurgaon, like Turquoise Cottage and Bahi. "People who frequent such places have great respect for artistes and music in general, as do the owners of these places. Other venues, like the pubs in Sahara Mall, are more about people coming to get drunk and pick up women," Roy points out.
Rachel Lhingboi (24)
Receptionist, Thai spa parlour
Rachel Lhingboi came to Delhi three years ago from Meghalaya, and has been working as a receptionist at a traditional Thai spa in Ambience Mall, Gurgaon for the last three months, where she has to work the second shift ending at 10.30pm. The work gives her time to study as Lhingboi prepares to take the civil service entrance exams.
"We get hooted at by rowdy men who yell abuses at us almost daily" she says.
The problem, she adds, is that Gurgaon is near the highway with few residential areas and many small hotels. "A group of men can easily grab a woman without being noticed." For that reason, Lhingboi is glad that her company provides its employees with private cabs. "I won’t take a radio cab. If the official cab driver has the day off, I group up with friends to take a cab," she adds. Lhingboi hasn't seen the same scale of crimes against women back home in Meghalaya. "Women can’t feel safe until the cops do something about it. Don't solve crimes. Stop them from happening in the first place," she says.