Gurgaon shops, brace for 'girlcott' onslaught!

Gurgaon, April 11 (IANS) Enough of slogans and silent candlelight marches. Tired of crimes against women and the administration's attitude, a bunch of women in Gurgaon is about to launch a unique protest this weekend - a 'girlcott' of shopping in a place known for its swanky malls and stores.

Gurgaon Girlcott, as it is called, was born as an idea on the popular social networking platform Facebook before snowballing into a full-fledged movement and becoming the talk of the town.

The movement targets a favourite weekend activity - shopping and splurging. It urges women to hold their purse strings tight during April 13-15,and stay away from shopping malls, stores, salons, restaurants, cabs - basically anywhere that requires them to spend money in Gurgaon.

The aim, as is evident, is to hit the private sector hard. This, hopes Richa Dubey, the brain behind the movement, will pressure private companies to turn the heat on the local administration to ensure better safety for women in Gurgaon.

The city of over 1.5 million people that borders the national capital has been in the news for crimes against women.

Last month, a 25-year-old woman was abducted and then gangraped in the city when she was returning from work at night. Following this, the Gurgaon administration remarked that women should not work after 8 p.m. - a statement they later retracted due to strong criticism.

This, Dubey said, planted the idea.

A communications specialist, she floated a plan last month on Facebook, saying: "Not work after 8 p.m.? Fine. Let's also not hit the malls, pubs, shopping centres, hire cabs or autos, go to gyms or salons what have you...in short let's boycott Gurgaon for a few days after 8 p.m. If enough women in Gurgaon are 'safe in their homes' after 8, I would like to see how the economy takes it, especially over a weekend. Make them take responsibility".

Now, with over 300 women and various other groups like the Asmita Theatre Group and 'Let's Walk Gurgaon' supporting it, Dubey said: "The onus of safety of women is not on the women alone. How does it matter what she wears, what time she goes out? It's time the blame game stopped".

According to police records, there were 21 cases of molestation in 2010 and the figure rose to 24 in 2011. Police say 40 cases of rape were recorded last year and so far this year there have been 10 such cases.

Much of the sexual violence in Gurgaon is blamed on the social dichotomy of the city. Five of the seven accused who were arrested for the gangrape are all unemployed and hail from Madina village in Rohtak district.

"The social and economic dichotomy in Gurgaon is there for anyone to see. Glitzy malls, plush offices and pubs are mushrooming everywhere and in close proximity to urban villages. The disparity is obvious and it leads to feelings of suppressed resentment among unemployed youth, which may lead to sexual violence on women," Mandira Singh, a psychologist, told IANS.

Social activist Pragya Sircar said: "The patriarchal mindset is another contributing factor for such incidents. It just jars people's senses that a woman could be independent, work and venture out at odd hours."

Stressing that while the outrage may die down after some time, the boycott of commerce - the "backbone" of the satellite city - may hurt, Dubey's latest post on Facebook read: "Whether it's groceries, a visit to the hairstylist or a new phone, spend out of Gurgaon, or out of that weekend".

The protest will also see a theatre performance, "Dastak", by Asmita Theatre Group, highlighting atrocities on women Friday evening, at the Galleria market. There will also be music.

Mall owners are already worried by the 'girlcott' plan. B.R. Wassan of the MGF Metropolitan Mall Occupants Association told IANS that weekend is the time when footfalls are high and this movement might cause a drop in sales.

"It's for police to curb crime and manage law and order problems. How can we interfere in the administration's work?" he asked.

(Azera Parveen Rahman can be contacted at azera.rahman@gmail.com)