Millennium Post


On the intervening night of 15-16 January, 2014, the Aam Aadmi Party, in yet another attempt to ‘address’ the problems of the common man, conducted raids in south Delhi’s Khirki Extension, on the rationale that a prostitution and drug racket was prevalent in the particular locality, based on information provided by locals. The raid was conducted by state law minister Somnath Bharti and his supporters on complaints that despite numerous pleas to the police, nothing was done to address their concerns.

That night cops from the Malviya Nagar police station were called upon by the minister and were told to conduct raids on a building that allegedly housed such criminal activities. In fact Somnath Bharti, addressing the media on that night said, while allegedly witnessing acts of prostitutes soliciting customers, said, ‘The girls ran as soon as they saw us. The police were running slower than us. So we helped catch two girls. We caught them red handed soliciting prostitution’. However, what unfolded after the event, resulted in massive clash between the state government and Centre at the heart of the capital and created significant backlash from the media against AAP.

The negative reaction to the event went beyond the media and opposition parties. Members of their own party, including founding member Madhu Bhaduri, admonished the law minister’s comments and was a signatory to the open letter to the chief minister, signed by many social activists, demanding the resignation of Somnath Bharti. She soon left the party, citing difference on this particular matter. The charges of racism, xenophobia and the lack of legal precedence that was followed during the raid were issues on which Bharti received a lot of flak. The Ugandan women, who were hauled up and sent to AIIMS hospital for drug tests and cavity searches, were found to be innocent of any charge. They have alleged that they were groped and beaten by the crowd that followed Bharti to this raid.

Further criticism can be summed up in what Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, said, ‘AAP leaders talk of following “due process” in terms of waiting for the judicial probe to be completed before sacking Bharti – but do not seek any problem with Bharti flagrantly violating all due processes – both legal (lack of a search warrant, burden of proof as to who the target of this raid were, etc.) and political (dialogue with different sections of the community to sensitively address all issues concerned) in Khirki!

AAP has continued to defend Bharti in the matter. Arvind Kejriwal, in an interview to Reuters, said, ‘Under the law also, if any citizen comes across any crime, he’s immediately supposed to report to the police and ask them to take action. He’s not done anything wrong. He’s not against any community. He’s not against any country. That is all. It has been by some sections of the media and by the opposition parties, this entire thing has been turned into a racist or that kind of a controversy.’ A judicial probe has been ordered by the Lieutenant Governor in this regard and the matter is under investigation.

Interestingly, in a fresh development, on 4 February, three Ugandan women from Khirki Extension had a FIR registered at the Malviya Nagar police station, where they alleged that they were brought to India on false pretenses of providing jobs and instead were pushed into prostitution. The Delhi police have registered a case against unknown persons under sections 366, 368, 384 of IPC — kidnapping, forced intercourse, extortion, wrongful confinement and section 4/5 of Immoral Trafficking Act. Nido Tania and our ‘organised racism’

Towards the fag of January, an Arunachali student, Nido Tania, was mercilessly beaten on the streets of Lajpat Nagar by thugs during an altercation. The following day, he succumbed to his injuries and died. The genesis of that altercation was racist comments passed by locals in front of a shop. Unsavoury remarks were passed on his hairstyle and facial features. This is not an attempt to suggest that the events in Khriki Extension resulted in the tragic event that befell Nido Tania. Speaking to Millennium Post, a senior leader AAP leader, Ashutosh, said, ‘No one can take the law into their hand.

It is absolutely wrong to link the Khirki Extension incident with the attack on the northeastern people in which a boy lost his life.’ Despite being right about not drawing a direct correlation between the two, Ashutosh misses the larger point. As Aastha Chauhan, an artist who works among the African community in Khirki, said, ‘The complaints of so-called drug and sex rackets need to be seen in the context of organised racism.’ Unfortunately, in the language used by Bharti, during the raid and days which followed it, where he addressed crowds at the same locality, smacks of racism.

‘I am here to solve your problems. I request you to make a list of houses jahan aise log rehte hain (where such people live). I will be visiting each of these houses and I will urge the police to do the same. I have taken a vow to put an end to such things in this area’, Bharti told the crowd, days after the raid. This statement needs to be qualified with the context in which it was made.

A few days before the raid, various NGOs and activists had approached Somnath Bharti about the constant racial prejudice and sometimes racially motivated violent attacks that occurred against Africans living the locality. Prior to this plea, there were several racist complaints made to the police about the ‘stink’ of African food and the ‘short skirts’ worn by African women, and complaints by the RWA accusing the Africans of ‘drugs’ and ‘prostitution’. In such a context and without the tools to filter or assess what the ‘people’ tell Bharti, fertile ground was created for the ugliest kind of racial profiling. 

The reason why this raid is being brought up in the context of Nido Tania’s death is that it in such an environment, where deep fault lines exists in our social fabric, especially in the context of race relations, such an example set by a minister, where no ‘due process’ of law was followed and racial profiling was consciously incited, democracy is usually the first victim. Despite feeling ‘vindicated’, in the light of the FIR filed by three Ugandan women, where they’ve alleged that they were forced into prostitution, AAP cannot lose sight of the kind of racial profiling that was conducted upon the African community at Khirki Extension.

Nido Tania was also a victim of racial profiling of a different kind. On a daily basis, the word ‘Chinky’ is used to denigrate individuals with mongoloid features from the seven sisters to Ladakh. The term ‘Chinky’ has a historical precedence, where during the 1962 Indo-China war there were many instances, especially in north India, where any person who looked Chinese, was called a ‘Chinky’. It is clearly a pejorative term with explicit racial overtones. Women have it worse, with constant questions asked about the ‘morality’, due to the seemingly liberal lifestyles they lead.

A student, currently pursuing her 2nd year in DU, on conditions of anonymity recalled an incident, during her first few days in college. She said, ‘I was on the metro to north campus, when on the train someone asked me how much I charged for the night. For a moment I was terrified and numb. I went back to my hostel in tears’. Unfortunately, such incidents continue to play out and such explicit racism is prevalent in the psyche of mainland India. In a recent study conducted by Jamia Millia Islamia's Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research with National Commission for Women (NCW), Delhi was found to be the worst city for women from the northeast, in terms of racial discrimination and harassment, with over 81 per cent respondents saying yes about facing such atrocities. 

What can we do about it?

Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), speaking to Millennium Post, on the issues of racism in the city said, ‘The main cause for racism, simply put, is a lack of knowledge about geography and deep seated cultural ignorance. Also, there is a deep sense of hierarchy in mainland Indian society, due to castiesm within their own community. When they witness someone with vastly different features and arriving from a seemingly alien culture, the sense of hierarchy and consequently ignorance is accentuated. Also, there is an increasing regionalisation in Delhi. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, people from the northeast could easily get admission into DU. Today you have Schedule Tribe seats in Delhi colleges reserved for only Delhi domiciles. The introduction of a compulsory Hindi course in DU, also smacks of regionalism. How do you expect a student from the northeast to study Hindi in college, when he’s never done it before in school?’

Speaking to Millennium Post, senior AAP leader and former journalist, Ashutosh, on the issue of racism said, ‘People need to understand that we all are Indians, irrespective of our differences in ways of living, culture and the place that you belong to. We all are free to go anywhere and live a peaceful life. There must be mutual respect for each other and there is also the need for education to sort out problems regarding racism’. On this note, Delhi’s education minister, Manish Sisodia, said, ‘I have met education officials already and in all likelihood; the history of northeast will be taught in Delhi schools starting next session’. AAP has at least begun engaging the northeast community. It is time they confront the inherent racial bias prevalent in their party. Unfortunately that may seem like a bridge too far, with liberal political attitudes, not holding much of an appeal in states like Haryana, as it might do in Delhi. In their quest for political gains, AAP may go with ideas that are horses for courses in a land where khap panchayats have a stranglehold over the political realities in the state. However at this juncture, such conclusions are a matter of conjecture. When asked why incidents of racism are so rampant in the city, Ashutosh said, ‘Such elements do not have any fear of the police and law. This is a complete failure of policing in the city’. Suhas Chakma, despite his clear antipathy for AAP’s style of politics, shares a similar viewpoint on the matter. 

He said, ‘Law enforcement is key and it should work as an immediate remedy. We have a legislation passed by Parliament called the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which needs to be implemented with greater haste. Fear needs to be created amongst those who break the law’. In the light of Nido Tania’s death, where it took the Delhi police two days to file an FIR in the case, law and order is definitely a major concern. However, with only one police personnel available for 253 citizens, the force is terribly understaffed and overworked, according to data available from exactly a year ago. Long awaited police reforms and sensitization amongst the ranks has always been the need of the hour. However, there is a pathetic lack of political will to address these concerns. Binalakshmi Nepram, writer and social activist from Manipur, has another suggestion. She said, ‘Delhi police itself is biased. Most of the policemen are from Haryana - they are extremely racist. It would help if the Delhi police recruited some people from the north east’.

Trial and Error!

However, according to an eminent sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan, it is imperative that we don’t come to judgment on AAP too soon, over the issue of racism. Speaking to Millennium Post, he said, ‘People are mistaken about AAP, when they identify the party with one individual because there are a plethora of world views it involves, from your Somnath Bhartis to your Prashant Bhushans. 

They are unconsciously creating a new map of the city, whereby different kinds of margin groups are being noticed. On a daily basis, you have hundreds of people who join the party, with voices that are noisy, sane and deviant. Of course, the party should feel the weight of criticism. However, they’re identifying certain problems in the city but are unable to articulate their ideas well enough. It is a process of trial and error and they have no larger plan. 

Timetables are being dictated to them. At such a nascent stage, it is imperative we give them time’. They have possibly identified certain problems, especially in light of new revelations made by three Ugandan women, who’ve allegedly escaped the vicious leash of forced prostitution. However, racial profiling is definitely not the way to go. Engagement and dialogue need to take precedence.
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