Raahgiri is a public movement,a platform for positive change |Opinion
A couple of Sundays back, Haryana observed its first state-level Raahgiri. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar personally came to Hisar to participate in the official Raahgiri Day celebration with full state machinery. This was totally unthinkable when the Raahgiri started almost six years back in Gurugram. On November 14, 2013, four-and-a-half kilometers of roads near Vyapar Kendra in Gurugram wore a different look. Against cars, horns and chaos, there were people, laugher and smiles. This was because the roads were blocked for motor traffic and opened for people, thus marking the birth of a phenomenon called the Raahgiri Day.
Raahgiri Day was created by a handful of Gurugram residents who came together to advocate the need to create streets for all road users, and not only for just for motorists. They wanted to show proof of the concept that the reason why people don’t walk and cycle in our cities (unless they are captive users) is safety and security. It had nothing to do with weather, psychology or any another reason. Therefore, if cities can give safe and vibrant streets and spaces to people then irrespective of income, sex, age, etc. people will come and use these streets and spaces. These residents were inspired by Ciclovia, a weekly open street event in Bogota, Colombia, and the Raahgiri Day was born.
Today, the concept of Raahgiri Day has grown to over 70 locations in India. Some cities are using the Raahgiri name, while others have created their own names. In fact, Raahgiri Day has also inspired many foreign cities. Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is the latest city to join the Raahgiri Day bandwagon. The city learned from Raahgiri Day and started its own car-free day camping which is observed once a month.
Raahgiri Day has changed the face of citizen-led movements in our cities. There are multiple reasons behind it. Let me highlight a few of them.
Owned by all
A lot of times, if not all, citizen-led movement is ‘owned’ by one or a few of the co-founders. The result is the partnerships are never beyond the co-founding organizations. This really impacts the scaling up as the conversation revolves around who will get more credit. Raahgiri Day, on the other hand, is owned by everyone.
Public agencies, police, sponsors, citizens everyone feels that Raahgiri belongs to them and that is the fundamental reason behind such a huge uptake for Raahgiri. Yes, the co-founders have formalized themselves in the form of The Raahgiri Foundation but they never claim their ownership. No one can associate any one organization or an individual to be the face of Raahgiri. This is one of the main reasons behind its success and also a case study for other movements to follow.
A case of partnership
Most of the organizations working in the development space talk about partnership. Yet, no one actual demonstrates how to do it. This is because people fear that if we bring in more partners their relevance will be lost. Raahgiri Day has actually demonstrated that partnerships are possible, they are doable, and it does make an impact. Each Raahgiri Day event has three kind of partners. First, is the organizers. These are public agencies, mostly municipal corporation and the police. The second set of partners are supporters. These are organizations that support the event either financially or technically and include private companies, media houses, NGOs and local volunteers. Last, but definitely not the least, the participants who are residents, schools, RWAs, etc who come and participate in the event. Each Raahigiri even has a different set of these partnerships and yet it happens with the same zeal and enthusiasm.
A lot of times, movements are created to stall or stop what is happing wrong in our cities. Yes, they are needed. However, there is also a need to support cities in doing good. This is where Raahgiri comes in with an approach towards a positive change. It is an apolitical, non-religious platform which is driven by the public, private and community participants for a positive change. Apart from successfully advocating the need for inclusive streets, Raahigiri Day platform has been used for launching and scaling many government initiatives. Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Swachh Bharat and Accessible India are some of the national-level government schemes that have used the Raahgiri platform to amplify their reach. The Raahgiri mornings are always about positivity and smiling faces.
So, Hisar’s state-level Raahgiri reminds us again how public, private and community participation can bring about positive change. It has demonstrated again how a small experiment has the potential to become a national phenomenon.