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Living on the edge

A decade ago Gurgaon, with its glitzy malls & highrises, was held up as a shining symbol of India’s growth story. The sequel, however, is a less pretty story of unplanned growth and a clash of cultures between jats and jetsetters. Deevakar Anand writes.

india Updated: Jan 07, 2012 22:38 IST
Deevakar Anand
Deevakar Anand
Hindustan Times

Saturday night on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon road was rocking to two different beats last weekend. Inside Mojo, a popular pub, Gurgaon’s young techies and professionals were downing their drinks and dancing their blues away. Outside, Balram, the burly bouncer, was arguing with two youth wearing identical white trousers and blingy gold chains. “We need to ensure only the eligible get in. Some people look down upon women dancing at a pub,” explained manager Shamsher Singh.

Dharmendra, a rich villager, doesn’t buy the logic behind such profiling. “Where this bar stands today used to be our land. Why can’t we get in if we can pay as much as anybody?” he asked.

During the heady early 2000s, Gurgaon made headlines with Time magazine hailing it as the Millennium City, home to nearly 300 Fortune 500 companies. It was perceived as the melting pot where the Haryanvi and the high-rise cohabited and the buffalo and Benz shared road space.

A decade hence, the city is making headlines for the wrong reasons with cultural clashes and social tensions rearing their head with alarming frequency. What’s gone wrong?

Last week, a group of New Year revellers turned molesters and brought another wave of infamy for Gurgaon. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Outside Gurgaon’s watering holes women often complain of being molested or even accosted by youth who have deep pockets but are perceived as too uncouth to understand the nuances of pub culture.

There have been instances where drunken folks have flashed checkbooks and threatened to buy a club or restaurant at the hint of a fight, just to prove the point that they are now mighty rich.

Nowhere is the cultural clash more evident than in clusters where urbanised villages are in close proximity, such as MG road that has Chakarpur, Sikanderpur and Nathupur in its backyard. In August 2011, the Sahara mall was forced shut by villagers from Chakarpur after nine village youth were roughed up by bouncers following an argument over entry into a club.

Gurgaon wears two contrasting looks on either side of NH 8. While MG road and areas near the Galleria market in DLF city are trouble spots owing to their proximity to villages, areas of old Gurgaon — on the other side of the highway — are not as dazzled or affected by the glitter.

Communications director Ayesha Dahra (38) living in Gurgaon since 1995, has seen its landscape change from a pocket of dusty villages to a cluster of high-rises that can give world capitals a complex. Two years ago, Dhara realised visiting Gurgaon’s pubs wasn’t safe for women any longer, she says. “Villagers who’ve shot to wealth in the last few years want to belong to the party circuit but their eyes pop out when they see a girl dancing or drinking.”

While the city is the new home for white-collar professionals who live in condominiums and work in glass and concrete high rises, the original dwellers, who’ve recently acquired wealth owing to sale of land, also have their own set of social aspirations.

Anand Kumar, Professor of Sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, blames the new morality that says money can buy everything for the social tensions that have gripped Gurgaon of late. “Gurgaon is at a wrong socio-cultural conjunction. It isn’t a case of classical urbanity unlike Kolkata or Mumbai where cultural transitions happened years ago. Cultural confrontations between the city’s urban and rural but rich population are bound to happen unless civility is cultivated through institutions.”

Many Gurgaon residents share the view that the city isn’t sensitive towards women. Advocate Ayesha Matharu, (24) a resident of the upscale DLF City neighbourhood, says this lack of sensitivity forced her to go all the way and practise in a Delhi court. As against 1,200 practising male lawyers, there are only 60-70 women in the district bar.

“I began my career from a local court in Gurgaon but moved to Delhi within a few days. There are very few women lawyers and people stared at me. I didn’t feel comfortable.”

Native sensibilities
Landed farmers who’ve landed crores overnight after their plots were acquired or sold, aspire to be part of the city’s elite. Leaving his 1500 sq-yard home behind in his native village Chakarpur, off the commercial hub MG Road, Rao Neeraj Singh (36), for instance, chose to move into a much smaller apartment in the upmarket DLF City. “My children go to one of the costliest public schools in Gurgaon. While I could have sent them to any school with the money that I got by selling my land, I wanted to give them a modern upbringing in a good neighbourhood,” he says.

For many conservative residents, it is not easy coming to terms with the openness that has accompanied Gurgaon’s frenetic growth. Anil Yadav (39), former Sarpanch of Chakarpur Village off the MG Road and his wife Sunita (38), a municipal councillor, have often played mediators during clashes between villagers and bar owners. Sunita isn’t happy with the way many residents react to women drinking in bars or wearing skimpy dresses. “One’s modesty has to be respected,” she says but also strikes a note of caution, “People, too, should take stock of the atmosphere before going to such places which are unsafe.”

The growth story of this industrial hub has been cramped by almost zero efforts to cultivate a culturally wholesome society. While the rich villagers are spending on imported cars and leading the high life, most of them are not investing in the education of their children.

Unbalanced growth
Haryana gets close to 47% of its revenue from Gurgaon, but not even 5% of this comes back to its kitty. Even as its real estate developers have amassed fortunes from the city, they haven’t ploughed back anything to educate the local workforce or create new jobs. Those with no land to sell end up on the margins and take up jobs as bouncers, security guards or drivers. “Apart from paying the price of land, the developers could have opened affordable avenues for technical education so that local talent pool could have been tapped by industry,” says Colonel Rattan Singh, president of the Joint Action Forum of Resident Associations, who has seen the city grow at close quarters.

The cultural backlash can be seen through the prism of the Khap culture prevalent among Haryana’s dominant castes. Perhaps, suggests Professor Kumar, Gurgaon needs to emulate a model of development and institution building on the lines of Chandigarh, another city that had to bear the pressures of the Khap.

Some residents believe part of the blame for cultural confrontations that go out of hand should also go to a lax administration. “While the society can take its own sweet time to evolve, why can’t the police help do away with the image that committing a crime against women is easy here?” asks Renu Singh, (51) professor of sociology at a city college.

Gurgaon’s rampant industrialisation and urbanisation have seen its population rise from 8, 34,693 in 2001(including 2,57,418 of Mewat which is now a separate district) to 15,14,085 according to the 2011 Census. Still, at more than eight lakh, the rural population outnumbers the urban population. Unfortunately, the recent FDI storm missed the Millennium City since it didn’t have the mandatory one million urban population unlike 53 other Indian cities listed for investment in the first leg.

Gurgaon’s growth has been more of an accidental phenomenon. The disadvantages of yesteryear — when the city was nothing but patches of poor villages and unexploited barren land — came to its advantage as the rapid urbanisation plan of the National Capital Region failed to take off in the early years of introduction of liberalisation in 1990s. Neighbouring Faridabad collapsed owing to labour unrest and political corruption. Companies and people looking to buy homes flocked to the city as it offered respite from the property prices that had gone over the roof in Delhi.

For close to a decade, the young professional, the techie and the farmer managed to co-exist without disturbing its social fabric. The lesson to be learnt from the recent clashes is clear: Gurgaon will have to accommodate everybody’s aspirations. Till then, the Millennium City’s much vaunted high-life will continue to be a battlefield for a clash of cultures.

First Published: Jan 07, 2012 22:35 IST

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