Raah... Raah... Raahgiri

  • Abhishek Behl and Shilpy Arora/FG
  • India
  • Dec 06, 2013



(See Photo Feature on G-Scape)

 { Shilpy Arora / FG }

After pedalling for over an hour on a 3km long stretch, Sushant Agarwal, 81, gives his bicycle to his grandson, Aditya and heads for a Yoga workshop. While Agarwal’s son is busy watching the Dog Show, his wife is participating in an open-air Gym. Residing in DLF Phase IV, the Agarwal family loves Raahgiri Day, as it has something on offer for everyone. At this time of the year, when automobile companies roll out new models in the market to woo car buyers, it is refreshing to see Gurgaonites participate in an Event that primarily promotes cycling and running (even walking). The huge response received on both Raahgiri Days shows that the City does not only want expressways for their high -end cars, but are as passionate of the need for footpaths and cycling tracks. The Event has provided an excellent platform for the City’s Administration, Police and the Corporate sector to come together to popularize the concept and benefit of motor-free roads.  “Raahgiri Day is undoubtedly a great way to promote non-motorized and eco-friendly modes of transport. Besides footpaths and cycling tracks, there is also a need to construct enough underpasses and over-bridges,” says Vasundhara Parisk, a resident of DLF Phase V. 

Although Raahgiri started with an intention to promote non-motorized transport, it soon turned into a fun event. Many activities and shows are now organized, to spread awareness about various social causes as well as to entertain people - ranging from Citizen Cafes, Dog Shows and Yoga, to dance and music. Recounting her experience, 16-year-old Natasha says, “When my dad told me about Raahgiri Day, it didn’t excite me at all, as I don’t like to pedal. But a Rock performance by my friends brought me here. It was good to see very young children riding and enjoying their cycles. The enthusiasm shown by the people here is amazing. I will surely ride a bicycle next Sunday.” Her friend Gauri appreciates the Citizen Cafe, organized by an NGO, ‘We, the People’. “The concept of Citizen Cafe goes well with Raahgiri Day, as it also encourages people to know about their rights. The aim is to enable a dialogue among the citizens, and inspire people to act on the issues immediately,” says Vinita Singh, Founder, ‘We, the People’. A Spanish participant comments simply, “It’s all about having a beautiful experience with family and friends on a pleasant Sunday morning. It reminds me of cultural activities back home.”


  The Event also provides a good way to demonstrate what the people expect from the authorities. It is a kind of positive protest. The authorities had drawn up an Integrated Mobility Plan in 2010, marking dedicated cycling lanes, but it has remained on paper. “Organizing events like Raahgiri is the easiest way to sensitize people and put pressure on the authorities. We have tried to show the way, by earmarking certain roads and making dedicated cycling strips on each side. This action should now be taken up by HUDA for its inner sector roads, so that people can switch to eco-friendly means of transport - which is good for them as well as for the environment of the City,” says Prabhat Agarwal, one of the organizers of the Event. The Mission is undoubtedly to reclaim the roads.

But the Event has also been criticized by some people. It took Rita (name changed) two hours to find an alternative route to Fortis Hospital on Sunday, when her mother had severe pain in the chest. “Please stop blocking roads. Think about the inconvenience caused to other people. We can’t have such festivals on the roads. Roads are meant for travelling, and not to dance and play around,” says Rita. Some people also criticize the participating cyclists, of ignoring basic safety rules, as some of them don’t wear helmets.

Raahgiri is a bold attempt to reclaim the roads for the cyclists and pedestrians. It also provides a great opportunity for people to mix with citizens, and promotes a healthy lifestyle. Keeping with the theme, maybe there is a need to have some professional instructors who can educate the participants on basic road safety rules. For those who are not participating, or passing by in cars, there is a need to install proper signboards showing the alternative routes that can be taken – apart from ensuring that all residents are made aware of Raahgiri Day and timings, since this has been planned till March 2014.



{ Abhishek Behl / FG }


Apart from reclaiming the roads for people in Gurgaon, the Raahgiri Day is proving to be a great equalizer in a City where the income and status disparities are steep and people prefer to stay put in their gated communities – as also their urbanized villages. The lack of social space, where the ‘high and mighty’ can mingle with the commoner, has been conspicuously absent in this City, which has anyway been divided by the Highway. Raahgiri, which has helped convert a multiple roads’ loop around the Galleria Market into a free space every Sunday morning, is helping Gurgaon shed this insularity. Residents from across the City - including children from villages, the underprivileged and locals – have been especially invited to participate in this Event, which celebrates the freedom of space for the citizens, and is pushing for the creation of cycling tracks and for usage of eco-friendly modes of transport. Even foreigners seem impressed by the enthusiasm of the participants and the zeal of the City Administration, although a few angry voices also question this blocking of roads every Sunday.

Latika Thukral, who is associated with the Event, says, “We want every section of society to participate in the Event and reclaim the roads as their own. The main objective is to democratize the use of roads and give more space to cyclists and walkers, and make it safer for the common man”, says Thukral. Sarika Bhatt, who is co-ordinating the Raahgiri Day, says that there is increasing participation of people from across the spectrum, in different activities. People are enjoying the riot of colour, drama and energy every Sunday morning on these Gurgaon streets. Rekha, a resident of nearby Chakarpur Village, who has never seen a Zumba Dance, which is the latest fitness fad across the world, sways to the wild tunes along with smartly-clad ladies dressed in Nike tracksuits and Reebok shoes - and matches them step for step. Her fitness mantra is, ‘working 10 hours every day as a domestic help and eating less fat’. “I would love to own a sports dress, but it is expensive. I was given sports shoes by my employers, but I forgot to wear them”, she says, while trying to keep pace with the music. A number of children from her Village, who hail from UP and Bihar, watch from the sidelines - too shy to join but enjoying the colourful spectacle.

A little ahead on the road, traditional Yoga is being practiced - with people performing Shavasana on colourful mats. Here the corporate crowd forms the major group of participants, perhaps trying to breathe away the stress caused by the economic slowdown and work pressure. Vinay Sharma, a participant who has just performed a couple of asanas, says that he always wanted to practise Yoga but never found a teacher – or the time for it. A number of events are also organized on the sidelines - such as the Citizen Cafe, a Dog Show by a squad of the Crime Branch of Haryana Police based in Madhuban, a Race for young kids, and a Painting competition as well. Oliver, a German national who comes regularly to Gurgaon, is surprised to know that this is a regular event. “We have such an event in Frankfurt, but it is once in an year. This is a good way to promote eco-friendly modes of transport and also cut down on pollution”, says Oliver. Florence, from Kenya, who has been in Gurgaon for a pretty long time, also loves this time on Sundays, when she can roam on the roads without any fear of the traffic – or even boors. “This is a nice City, but too much traffic makes life difficult. The local government has done a very good job in ensuring there is discipline and these roads are free of cars”, she adds. The Dog Show by the Haryana Police attracts a large number of kids, who enjoy the different acts being performed by sniffer dogs under the watchful eyes of their trainers. Sub-Inspector Om Prakash, Incharge of the Dog Squad, says that the presence of a crowd disturbs the dogs but it is their rigorous training that ensures that they do not panic. These dogs are trained to look for contraband and explosives, and to track criminals, he adds.

Bhawani Shankar Tripathy, an activist and a senior member of Mission Gurgaon Development, opines, “We must create a City that has a focus on pedestrians, improves walkability and cycling, and involves the citizens in creating a space that is equalizing”, says Tripathy. He also appreciates the Administration for supporting the concept of Raahgiri Day, and hopes that this Event is made a permanent schedule on the City’s weekly calendar. While the people are happy with the concept, they also want that the venue should be changed every month, and that this novelty be especially introduced in ‘old’ Gurgaon (across the Highway) - particularly in a colony like Palam Vihar. Madhu Gera, a senior citizen from Palam Vihar, says, “It is nice to walk on open roads, watch the kids playing and cycling, and interact with citizens - with no fear of being mowed down by a fast moving car”. Lavanya, who lives in a nearby condominium, says that it has been a liberating experience for her young daughter, as she has never seen so much freedom on the roads. “We have so much traffic in this part of the City, that it becomes difficult to cross the roads. Every Sunday now we come and walk, watch kids play and have fun”, she says. A number of participants can be seen riding fancy cycles, wearing interesting gear and challenging each other’s fitness. Bharti Arora, Joint Commissioner of Police, says, “People are participating enthusiastically; we are also happy to work in close coordination with the civil society”. Commissioner of Police Alok Mittal also interacts with people, after giving prizes to students who have won the race organized by Bhagta Bharat, an NGO. Not surprisingly, underprivileged students from Happy School come out tops in the race, as they steal the show with their sterling performances. A teacher from Happy School says that the children are overjoyed to participate in such an Event, as it is rare that all of civil society in the City comes together. Manas Fuloria, Director at IT major Nagarro, says, “Initially the Event was more about ‘show’ and ‘fun’, but now it seems to have matured from a novelty to something that is serious - and sends out a message to the community at large. This also shows that ‘together we can make difficult things happen”. Vidya, who has come as part of an NGO team, says, “I never imagined I would see the Police Commissioner one day, as I live in a village and it is difficult to find time out of work”. The Raahgiri Day has been an eye opener for many like her, as it is helping bring Gurgaon residents out of their villages as well as closeted communities, and giving them space where they can understand each other better - to find ways to co-exist in a City that is still trying to forge an identity for itself. 


While the Event has been successful, organizers also admit that the lack of volunteers makes it difficult to conduct such events regularly. “Most of the people here have come to enjoy, pass time and have fun. There is also a need to imbibe the message of driving safe, helping cyclists and walkers and giving space to fellow citizens”, says an organizer.


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