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On first Raahgiri Day, residents turn up in droves to reclaim city streets

Teenage runners competing on the main road of the inner circle, an orange frisbee flying out of nowhere, children and adults gliding on roller-skates, and youngsters dancing to popular Punjabi and Bollywood tunes.

delhi Updated: May 27, 2019 03:20 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
New Delhi
 Raahgiri Day,Connaught Place
On Sunday, the inner circle of Connaught Place had turned into a mini playground. Cricket, yoga, zumba, roller-skating and cycling were some of the most popular activities on the first Raahgiri Day. (Sanchit Khanna/HT )

Connaught Place, one of the busiest areas of Delhi, looked different on Sunday morning. Teenage runners competing on the main road of the inner circle, an orange frisbee flying out of nowhere, children and adults gliding on roller-skates, and youngsters dancing to popular Punjabi and Bollywood tunes. It all pointed towards only one thing: Raahgiri Day was back.

Considered as one of the most lively events in the capital, Raahgiri Day, as the name suggests, refers to the movement of citizens reclaiming streets from vehicles and allowing public to use them as a safe space to engage in various activities.

The event first took place in Gurugram in 2013 and over the years has spread to over 70 cities across the country — including Delhi.

Though there was a pause of two years, Raahgiri Day was back with a bang in the capital and will now take place on the last Sunday of every month.

The Raahgiri Foundation (TRF) partnered with World Resources Institute India (WRII) to revive the event in collaboration with New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), Delhi Police and Hindustan Times as the media partner of the initiative.

On Sunday, since the inner circle area and all the radial roads had been cordoned off for motorised vehicles between 6am and 9am, the empty NDMC parking — generally checkered with vehicles — had turned into mini playground.

Adults and children engaged in different sports with borrowed badminton rackets, football, frisbees, and skipping ropes provided by the organisers.

Apart from this, yoga, zumba, roller-skating and cycling were the other popular activities on Sunday.

Delhiites could either bring their own cycles or rent the smart bikes offered by NDMC. Taking a break from roller-skating, Akshay Atreja, a research fellow with the Smart Cities Mission and a first-time Raahgiri visitor, said he had been looking for this kind of an event.

“Though I have come to CP before, it is always crowded and chaotic with heavy vehicle rush unlike today where I could pursue my hobby of street skating freely on roads. Events like this should happen when we talk about go green initiatives, citizen’s engagement and making cities more inclusive for elderly, children and women,” said Akshay Atreja, a research fellow with the Smart Cities Mission, MoHUA.

Priyanka Sulkhlan, manager, Sustainable Cities and Transport, WRI, said, “As per the census, maximum people either walk, cycle or use public transport to commute for work. Hence, it is extremely important for people to know that streets should be designed for these users and not merely for private cars.”

Due to lack of motorised activity on Sunday, the space was left free for people to walk, play and socialise.

Enthusiastic pedestrians and cyclists, across ages and genders, could be spotted everywhere inside the inner circle. Some enjoying street play and live performances, others just taking a stroll around the area.

Taj Hassan, special commissioner of police, Delhi, said, “Road safety is a major concern and we want to spread awareness through this initiative.”

“Delhi is not a very safe space to just roam around. But this is a welcome change,” said Akanksha Sethi, an automotive designer based in National Cational Region — who has attended several Raahgiris in Gurugram.

“The music here is very loud, though. Some people may not prefer dancing so early on in the morning. I was more inclined towards yoga and I think there should be more such sessions,” she said.

Sethi said apart from accessing the public space freely, an added benefit of the event was its social aspect. “I spoke to new people here which we usually don’t in our everyday lives. There is an openness in the environment and it helps you open up and approach people and just talk,” she said.

Since the first Raahgiri of this year coincided with World Cancer Day, several medical professionals came together to celebrate cancer survivors and their families. As a part of the “Nidarr Hamesha” campaign launched by Max Healthcare, the event also raised awareness on preventive wellness measures against cancer. While cancer patients and survivors shared their stories at the event, doctors also spoke about common myths surrounding cancer patients and their quality of life after treatment.

“Earlier parents did not bother whether we were going to park or playground because the streets were safe. But now we can’t leave children outside alone. We automatically hold their hands. In events like this, it is possible to give the children the space to be free,” said Dr Harit Chaturvedi, chairman of Max Institute of Cancer Care.

Sadhna, a cancer survivor who finished her radiation therapy just a couple of months ago, said, “It is encouraging to see cancer patients dancing, enjoying and forgetting about their sickness here at Raahgiri. You feel like a normal person while dancing with youngsters. You forget your depression, stress and all negativity goes away. It is nice to begin your day like this.”

First Published: May 27, 2019 03:20 IST