Since at least July 4, many pubs and bars along the Mall Mile – a glitzy stretch of Gurugram’s Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road – have been turning away single women after 9 pm. Women are only permitted entry if they are accompanied by their husbands and in at least one establishment are being asked to produce wedding photos or a marrage licence to prove that they are married. This follows police raids in the area on July 3, ostensibly to check alleged solicitation by sex workers.

“We have stopped the entry of single women [after 9 pm] since the last 10 to 12 days,” said an employee of a pub in Sahara Mall who asked to remain unidentified. “The police came some time back and just started checking us. Even some constables come before midnight and tell us to shut down.”

A report in the Hindustan Times said that the Gurugram police commissioner, who had supervised the July 3 raids, later held a meeting with the owners of about 15 pubs in the area and warned them “against indulging in any illegal activity”.

Sahara Mall on MG Road is home to several pubs, each of which were thumping with loud music on Wednesday night. But not a single woman could be seen entering them. A female reporter was denied entry into all the pubs in the mall at around 9.30 pm. At 10.15 pm, the mall also barred her from reentering its premises.

While bouncers and other employees at the entry gates claimed that they were following police orders, the Gurugram Police have denied that it had issued any sort of advisory asking pubs in the area to restrict the entry of single women.

“We have no idea why the pub owners are blaming the police for rules concerning women that they have themselves amended,” said Subhash Bokan, the Gurugram Police’s Public Relations Officer. He said that the raids on pubs on MG Road earlier this month came after the police received a tip-off about a sex racket operating from the area.

Official or unofficial, the restrictions have infuriated women in Gurugram. They say the local administration has been unable to ensure the safety of women in the satellite city that adjoins Delhi so has now come up with a “completely illogical” plan to tackle crime in the area.

While several women admit that they have felt unsafe on certain stretches of MG Road for years – with one saying that she had once been propositioned by strangers while waiting in the area for a cab – they ask why the curbs were not imposed on men instead. “It would help much more and in fact make it safer for women if they could control the kind of men who visit these places,” said Neha Puri, a make-up artist who has lived in Gurugram all her life.

‘Harassment by police’

The July 3 raids resulted in the arrest of seven people, according to reports. A bar at the MGF Metropolitan Mall was among those raided. One of the people arrested was a man who said he was the friend of the owner of this bar. Speaking to on the condition of anonymity, the man denied that any illegal activity was going on in the bar. He alleged police harassment instead. “There were some policemen dressed as civilians,” he said, referring to the run-up to the raid. “They were asking one woman for her number and offering her money. She had come with a relative, who raised this issue with the club manager. The manager warned those men.”

The police subsequently raided the bar, he said. “It was around 11 pm and there were about 60 to 70 policemen,” he said. “They came and switched on all the lights and made our customers sit on the floor. They arrested the woman and me. We were produced in the court the next day after which we were let go.”

The man said that the bar then stopped the entry of single women after 9 pm. “We have been informed verbally [by the police] not to allow single women in,” he said. “We are checking proof of couples like wedding photos or even marriage certificates. We do not want our guests to be subjected to insults by the police if they raid our pub.”

Another bar in MGF Metropolitan Mall has also enforced similar rules, but its owner denied that this was due to any sort of directive from the police. “We have not received any physical or verbal orders from the police,” he said. “Since this is in the news, it has created a fear among people.”

The owner of this bar claimed that the mall itself was denying entry to single women after 9 pm. He said his business has suffered losses because of this. “We’re not even able to do business of Rs 5,000 a day,” he said. He also alleged that the clampdown on bars on MG Road could be because the city got a new police commissioner last month. KK Rao took charge on June 20. “The new commissioner wants to tackle illegal activities but he can do [it] without targeting businesses,” he said. “We are following the laws and we hope things will be sorted out soon.”

(Photo credit: HT).

‘Unsafe on Mall Mile’

The Mall Mile is where some of Gurugram’s first malls came up roughly two decades ago. Over the years, this stretch of the Mehrauli-Gurugram Road has increasingly become unsafe for women. In May, a woman was abducted from near Sahara Mall on MG Road and taken to Delhi, where she was allegedly gang raped. Last year, a woman was abducted from the same area and allegedly gang raped in a moving car. Similar incidents were reported in 2016 and 2012. The Mall Mile featured in all these cases.

Several women who live and work in Gurugram say that they avoid the Sahara Mall section of MG Road because they feel uncomfortable in the area.

Siya Belliappa, 28, who works with a private firm in Gurugram, said that she has felt unsafe ever since she moved from Mumbai to the city a few years ago. She lives in DLF Phase 3, barely 10 minutes away from MG Road. “My workplace used to be on MG Road and even then I was warned about how unsafe it is,” said Belliappa. “It is common knowledge that this is a spot for sex workers to pursue their trade.” Belliappa says she has visited restaurants and bars on MG Road but said that she feels much safer if she gets a drink in bars located in other areas of the city, like Golf Course Road or Cyber Hub.

Long-time Gurugram resident Malini Honda Patnaik, 28, echoes Belliappa’s views. Patnaik visits MG Road occasionally but says she tends to avoid the Sahara Mall area because it makes her uneasy. “There have been reports of a prostitution ring that operates there and of chain snatching and bag snatching,” said Patnaik, an advertising professional. “My experience at an MG Road pub was quite uncomfortable,” she said.

Another woman narrated how she was propositioned on the Mall Mile stretch. The 26-year-old woman said that she was waiting outside Sahara Mall for a cab to pick her up one night, when two middle-aged men parked their bike next to her. “It was around midnight and I was immediately on guard and scared,” she said. “They started talking to me and asked me how much I will charge them. I think they knew I am not a prostitute but thought it was fair game to harass me because I was standing alone.”

She added: “This is just another example of how when it comes to safeguarding women, just keeping them at home is anyone’s best solution instead of actually doing something about ensuring their safety, so that they can step out without having to worry,” she said.

A deserted pub in Gurugram's mall mile on Wednesday evening.

Swati Grover, 37, who works in the social development sector and uses MG Road every day, argued that it should actually be restrictions on men visiting these establishments instead. “It is a demand and supply thing, right?” she said. “It is men who visit these places for soliciting.”

Make-up artist Puri agreed. “It [the restrictions on single women in bars] makes absolutely no sense and is completely illogical,” said the 30-year-old, who lives close to MG Road and also avoids the area because of safety concerns. “It does not matter if you are single or married. It would help much more and in fact make it safer for women if authorities could control the kind of men who visit these places.”

With inputs from Abhishek Dey.