A lost cause called Mahila Haat

Plummeting sales

Almost two years after the former wedding hall shut shop to pave way for a central shopping destination dominantly run by women, Shehnai Banquet Hall’s banner still stands tall in the area marked as ‘MCD authorised parking’ around Delhi Gate, reminiscent of its past.

Flanked by hospitals such as GB Pant and Loknayak on one side, and Delite cinema on the other, this stretch of land, atop the parking area, is North Delhi Municipal Corporation-run Mahila Haat. A haat that was established in November 2012 on the lines of the other famous haats around INA and Pitampura in Delhi, is evidently losing steam. 

Walking along the plank that takes you to the entrance of this inconspicuous shopping destination right in the middle of Old Delhi, you can witness young boys playing cricket, and numerous small dhabas operating alongside its railing. Reach up and a seemingly closed gate welcomes you to this deserted centre.

If the buzz in Dilli Haat is your idea of a shopping haat, then the silence here will leave you deaf. A large expanse of land, riddled with numerous empty kiosks, curtained by faded, torn tarpaulin sheets betray the sorry condition of the so-called haat. Not just visitors, there seems to be no kiosk owner in sight, even in the evening. The only hope amid this picture of apathy and neglect comes from the three beautifully manicured lawns that green this otherwise barren haat. 

Young Aamir, who takes care of a ‘stoles and scarves’ kiosk comes from Seelampur. Bored with nothing to do since there have been no customers since morning, he passes his time watching the kites flying in the sky. “I come at 9 am only. Could you ask the authorities to get me a light inside my shop?” asks the youngster innocently. Close to the other gate, sit a few kiosk owners huddled together. Ironically, even in this group, there are only two women. 

Speaking about their state of despair, Poonam Kaushik, a handloom and handicraft seller says, “I only come by 3 pm in the afternoon, after I am done with my work at home. What’s the point of coming early when it’s so hot here? Unlike other haats, we do not have proper shops.” 

Owner of kiosk number 3, Mohan Thakur chips in, “There are 39 kiosks in Mahila Haat and today was the day of allotment. We have decided that the women will come only between 3 and 8 pm. It’s harsh on them to be here when the sun is at its peak and there are bare minimum facilities to escape the brunt of weather conditions.”

Sushma Yadav explains, “Owing to excitement, around the time that the haat kicked off, there were cultural programmes, kitty parties by locals and even advertisement through print and radio that kept the sales going. We had dreams in our eyes, but now things have come to a halt.” She points out, “We cannot even display our goods as the kiosks are open from all sides and sunrays, rain and dust wreak havoc with our products. One shower of rain, and there is waterlogging around here. There is no immediate drainage system available either.” 

Given these circumstances, have they ever considered shifting to other haats? Poonam replies, “I am a homemaker. I have to run my family alongside my work. Coming from Daryaganj, I can easily manage both these things. How can I do the same if I had to go to Pitampura?” 

The haat whose very existence proclaims ‘women empowerment’ seems to be losing out on that front. Mohan Thakur wishfully exclaims, “Why do we need to go anywhere else? We are the cusp of Old and New Delhi.

 The Sunday book market in Daryaganj, the cinema lovers at Delite, the citygoers who happen to visit these hospitals, can easily find us right in the middle of all this action. What’s the point of shifting then? What we need is better management, some level of advertisement and construction of shop-like kiosks with better facilities.” 

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