In defence of Centaurus Mall – Why the hullabaloo?

“Rs100 just to enter? How dare they? It’s a public mall! I’m boycotting the mall!” 

The level of offence that some have taken to the recent decision by Centaurus Mall’s administration to charge Rs100 for entering the building is surprising, and largely misdirected.

First up, the fee can be adjusted against purchases made in the mall, so entry essentially remains free if you buy anything inside. Second, the mall is private property, and businesses have a right to refuse entry. Don’t believe me? Try hanging around inside any random shop for a few days, buying nothing and just ogling at customers. If you’re a man, you’ll be lucky to leave on your own two feet. If you’re a woman, you will experience exactly what women shopping in Centaurus have been going through since the metro bus became operational in June.

Parking validation is a more common method to attract ‘real customers’ and keep gawkers at bay. Basically, a mall or other entertainment venue with paid parking will waive fees for anyone who spends a certain amount of money on goods or services. The problem with enforcing such a mechanism here is that the mall has already had legal issues over its paid parking in its above-ground parking lot, which is on state land. Plus, the unwanted clientele are apparently using the intercity bus, so parking fees don’t affect them anyway.

By the way, even public property has entry restrictions and fees on entry. Islamabad’s Marghazar Zoo and Japanese Park both charge nominal entry fees, despite being public facilities. The air-conditioned halls of parliament are inaccessible for the general public; or even journalists who haven’t gone through the arduous paperwork process. And try forcing your way into GHQ in Rawalpindi to beat the heat. After the soldiers get done with you, the Punjab Police’s notorious ‘drawing room’ beatings will seem like a gentle massage.

Now, you may argue that these places restrict entry for security. Well, security, in the case of shopping, also includes the shopping experience. A mall might not act against overcrowding when the crowd is made up of shoppers, but when the crowd is driving away actual shoppers, the administration is bound to react, lest its tenants are forced to close up shop due to falling sales.

The only mistake the mall administration has made is by offering exemptions. Apart from the exemption for building residents, special persons, children, law enforcement, and journalists, the list makes little sense. Residents obviously should have free entry, while children and special persons of any age need to go out and see the world. Plus, child labour aside, in most cases they have zero personal income.

Even law enforcement and journalists should be regulated to avoid abuse, meaning that only uniformed law enforcement officials responding to or investigating a crime, and journalists covering events at the mall should qualify.

Any politician, diplomat, soldier, NGO worker or other employed person coming to the mall would be expected to buy something inside. Much like journalists and cops, if they have enough free time to just laze around in the mall, they are probably not very good at their day jobs. Also, age and education do not determine whether a person is lecherous.

Years back, a university-educated former Pakistan cricket team captain incessantly hit on a friend of mine during a practice session before a cricket match. He was past 30 at the time. She was 15. It wasn’t until an adult (an illiterate senior member of the team) intervened that he left.

I am not personally a ‘Pindi boy’, definitely not geographically and hopefully not behaviourally. But I am the Islamabadi son of a geographical Pindi boy (and a Pindi girl for that matter), which makes the anti-Pindi allegations seem even more ridiculous to me. My Pindi parents taught me to respect women, and the only reason the term offends me is the sheer number of people from my parents’ hometown that have done such awful childrearing.

So the real issue is the parents who bar their daughters from going out for fear of eve teasing while placing no such restrictions on their sons. You, sirs and madams, are part of the problem. Your biased conservatism regarding your daughters can only leave your boys to assume that any woman out alone is actually just looking for a man to keep her warm, or worse.

Spend some time making your ‘boyz’ into the kind of men you want your daughters to be with, and your daughters will stop being harassed in public. Then maybe you can stop complaining about mall entry fees and focusing on real issues. Like why the cinema walls are so thin.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/28466/in-defence-of-centaurus-mall-why-the-hullabaloo/

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