Chandigarh’s Geri Route is now Azaadi Route on Google maps: ‘It is but a small victory’
‘Geri’ is a colloquial word referring to the practice of roaming or stalking, and was used for this route for decades.
Nearly six months after the stalking of DJ Varnika Kundu by two men led to a movement for “reclaiming the streets” under the banner of a ‘Bekhauf Azaadi’ (fearless freedom) march in Chandigarh, the much-debated term Geri Route for a road passing through the northern sectors has finally been changed to Azaadi Route on Google Maps. ‘Geri’ is a colloquial word referring to the practice of roaming or stalking, and was used for this route for decades.
Storyteller Deeptha Vivekanand was the one who started the movement to “review” the name on Google through user feedback and had also started a petition on change.org. “It is but a small victory,” she said on Wednesday after sharing the “success” on her Facebook profile: “I know that it will take time to change the real mindset behind normalisation of stalking.”
Having lived earlier in cities in the southern parts of the country, she shifted to Chandigarh two years ago with her husband and son. “And it struck me as horrific that in a city like this, cat-calling and ogling at women is glorified in such a way. I know that ogling and stalking happen in other cities too, but such glorification is shocking.”
“Geri Route was christened thus sometime in the 1990s. It was the time when people had just started buying Maruti cars, and young men would go around flashing their cars on this route that passes through the inner winding road connecting Sectors 8, 9, 10 and 11,” said Diwakar Sahoonja, owner of a gift shop in Sector 11 since 1976. He recalled Valentine’s Day “celebrations” on the route in early ’90s. “Boys would stand along the roads with roses in their hands.”
He argued, “I don’t know why the name has been changed; it was a place where a lover would meet his beloved.”
But novelist Amandeep Sandhu, who had underlined the feudal aspect of the word ‘geri’ in a viral Facebook post in August, says, “The world is what it is; but the way it makes sense to us is through language. When names start reflecting exclusivity and denoting patriarchy, we need to change them and reclaim the language.”
Technically, this is how the name is changed: “Changes in Google Maps are based on inputs from various sources of feedback -- user-submitted, from civic authorities and third-party providers -- which go through a process of evaluation by the team before being reflected,” said Google spokesperson Marco D’Souza over phone. Some still show the old name, but the new name now is shown as the user-backed, designated name of the route.
What’s the big deal?
Soumya Joshi, a student at Panjab University who recited a fiery poem at the march on August 11 last, said, “The name Azaadi Route will give freedom to anyone to walk or drive safely there, and it denotes that there is no place for the ‘geri’ culture now.”
Deeptha added further, “Places being renamed is not everything — for instance, Mullanpur has been renamed New Chandigarh and Mohali has long been renamed SAS Nagar, but not many people use the new names. But every small step that causes a crack in patriarchy is a sign that we are indeed marching towards a larger victory. Slowly, surely!”
(Story has been updated)