In my article, AAP: Unconscionable Vigilantism, I had described how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) minister Somnath Bharti and vigilantes affiliated with the party had assaulted, sexually molested, and humiliated four Ugandan women by alleging that they were prostitutes and drug addicts. AIIMS CCTV footage confirms that Bharti himself personally led the mob. A psychotropic drug test was forcibly administered on the defenseless women. However, the results debunked the allegation that the women were drug addicts.
Unscrupulous orchestrations have followed these barbaric attacks. A defiant Kejriwal went on an offensive and staged a disruptive blockade unconscionably defending his minister’s criminal conduct. He audaciously claimed that the defense secretary of the Ugandan embassy met his minister after the incident and thanked him for the vigilantism. He waved a letter, purportedly written by the diplomat, which allegedly endorsed Bharti’s conduct. He demanded the suspension of the police officers who had refused to carry out the illegal raid.
Kejriwal was soon exposed. The alleged letter had been written in June 2013. It was an internal note of the Ugandan embassy and had nothing to do with the recent crime (click here for a copy of the letter revealing its date and contents). There is no way Kejriwal could’ve misinterpreted its content as an endorsement of the assault on the Ugandans. He unscrupulously lied to manipulate the gullibility of the public. The ploy was to lead the common man into thinking that the Ugandan diplomat wouldn’t have endorsed the vigilantism unless the four Ugandan women were indeed guilty of being part of a drug and prostitution racket.
AAP has since then released a series of videos to bolster the allegation that the Ugandans and other Africans run a drug and prostitution ring, create ruckus at night, indulge in gang fights, and run naked on the streets. What does an examination of the content of the videos reveal?
One of the videos shows two gangs of Africans exchanging blows. In one of the frames of the video, a middle-aged Punjabi woman casually walks right through the scene of altercation to enter her home. The locals recording the fight are joking and laughing in the background. This suggests that the locals are used to such frequent fights and that the Africans do not target the locals in such fights.
However, there can be no doubt that nocturnal drinking bouts and altercations would disturb the local residents and destroy neighborhood tranquility. Children studying for examinations would be adversely affected. Families wouldn’t prefer living in such a neighborhood. Such activities should be stopped and offenders legally punished. Another video shows a black man running naked in a crowded street and later lying on the ground after he was apparently tackled by a cop. One shouldn’t read much into this video because the person running naked could be mentally ill.
None of the videos shows a prostitute or her pimp soliciting a customer. None of the videos shows drug-peddling. However, there is no need to discount the possibility of such things happening. Anguished residents testify that many Africans drink all night-long, heckle and disturb the locals, sell drugs, and indulge in prostitution near the Khirki Extension Park and Sai Baba temple. One needn’t prima facie discount such civilian testimony.
However, a reasonable person should evaluate other possibilities too. Kejriwal accused the police officer Vijay Palof colluding with the drug trafficking and prostitution ring in return for a bribe. He demanded that Pal be suspended. Congress capitulated to his demand and forced Pal to go on leave. However, reports that have emerged since then tell a different story. Pal fought gender crimes against women and won the accolades of various women’s rights bodies. In an open letter, a number of women’s rights groups describe Pal as “a rare exception (among cops) who acted to protect African women whose safety was criminally compromised.”
Pal acted tough on Africans who had illegally overstayed their visa, indulged in illegal activities, or got into scuffles. Most of the deportations happened after Pal acted on complaints received from the local residents. In 2013, he deported more than 400 Africans from the Khirki Extension, which has been at the epicenter of the controversy neighborhood alone whereas in the preceding year a mere 100 Africans had been deported from all of Delhi. On the surface of it, this does not look like the profile of a police officer who is in cahoots with the Africans that allegedly run a drug and prostitution ring. Why would a police officer colluding with such a ring deport a record number of Africans and therefore destroy his source of bribery?
Let us not forget that much of Khirki Extension, which has been at the epicenter of the controversy, is an unauthorized neighborhood. It is very close to prime locales and hospitals. The property value would appreciate by several orders of magnitude when the neighborhood is regularized. Those who have been squatting could hope to become rich overnight given the construction frenzy in Delhi. The real estate mafia, which is often behind such squatters, would be the prime beneficiary. Is the entire drama being enacted as a pretext to regularizing the neighborhood to covertly benefit the real estate mafia? Only a transparent inquiry would reveal. Is it a coincidence that one of Kejriwal’s agenda is regularizing illegal colonies?
Let us now turn to the allegation of prostitution ring. Even if some Africans are running a drug and prostitution ring in that neighborhood, it doesn’t automatically follow that the four Ugandan women who were sexually molested by the AAP vigilantes are prostitutes. AAP hasn’t furnished evidence that these women are prostitutes. Besides, prostitution is an organized crime of which the prostitute is the foremost and defenseless victim. She often hails from impoverished families, is a victim of human trafficking, is vulnerable to diseases, and faces stigma. An empathetic activist would rather target the criminals who run the prostitution ring than humiliate a defenseless prostitute. However, AAP has attacked the alleged prostitutes instead of targeting the ring leaders.
Kejriwal seems to have gauged the pulse of his voters, who reportedly endorse the attacks on the Africans. He also exploited Congress’ dilemma to his advantage. Congress relies upon the AAP to divide the anti-incumbency vote and prevent the BJP from winning the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. If legal action is taken against the AAP functionaries for breaking the law and sexually molesting women, AAP would lose its popularity and ability to divide the anti-incumbency vote. Therefore, Congress is ready to turn a blind eye to AAP’s illegal vigilantism which explains Kejriwal’s defiance in the face of media criticism.
The real issue here is not whether the Africans run a drug and prostitution ring which, although plausible, remains an unproven allegation worthy of legal investigation. If proven correct, the ring leaders should be legally punished and the victimized prostitutes rehabilitated. However, the real issue is that Bharti and the AAP hooligans sexually molested, assaulted, and humiliated four Ugandan women. Bharti has neither been arrested nor interrogated by the police for this well-documented crime.
Kejriwal and the AAP acted in a way to shield Bharti and to deflect attention from the real issue: the sexual molestation and assault of the four Ugandan women. AAP carried out a so called internal investigation to hastily absolve Bharti of any guilt reminiscent of Shoma Chaudhary’s internal investigation to shield her colleague Tarun Tejpal in a sexual crime. In that case, the police interrogated Chaudhary for shielding an accused criminal. Why has Kejriwal not been interrogated for shielding Bharti, who too is an accused criminal in a sex crime?
The Ugandan women have until now fought bravely for justice by identifying Bharti as the offender. However, I fear that Congress would deport them from the country under some pretext to shield the AAP. If that happens, it would be a grave dereliction of justice which would only confirm that powerful politicians can get away with anything.