The three-week-old AAP government in Delhi faced all-round criticism after its law minister mounted a vigilante-style raid on African residents here, alleging that they were running a “sex and drug ring”. The minister’s post-midnight raid was widely condemned and could cast a shadow on India’s diplomatic and economic ties with Africa.
The incident also triggered a potential political showdown between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi and the union government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with state Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal demanding that the police officers who refused to heed his ministers to take action be suspended.
Accusing a group of African nationals of running a “sex and drug racket” on the basis of some complaints he had received from residents, Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti, accompanied by party cadres, rounded up some African women in the early hours Thursday and forced them to go for a medical test.
Later, four Ugandan nationals registered a police case against “unknown people” for misbehaving with them during the early Thursday raid by the minister and his party cadre, said police officials.
Noted lawyer Harish Salve told NDTV that one of the African women was allegedly forced to give a urinary sample in public for a drug test. Salve is reported to have said he will represent the Ugandan women who filed a case against “some unknown persons”, whom they did not know.
But instead of pulling up his misguided law minister, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked Union Home Minster Sushilkumar Shinde to suspend four Delhi Police officials, who did not heed his ministers’ orders, by Monday or face demonstration by Kejriwal and his six cabinet ministers. Delhi Police reports to the union home ministry and had refused to take directions from the minister, saying he was giving them illegal orders.
“If by Monday erring police officers are not suspended then we will sit on a protest,” Delhi Minister Manish Sisodia and a close confidante of Kejriwal, told reporters after meeting Shinde Friday.
Bharti accused Delhi Police of not acting against a “sex and drug racket” despite repeated complaints while another minister Rakhi Birla alleged that police were refusing to arrest a family that had set their daughter-in-law on fire.
The vigilantism of Bharti and the AAP cadre in rounding up some African nationals for medical tests on suspicion of being involved in “drug and sex racket” has attracted widespread condemnation from both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who termed it “reprehensible”.
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari posted a tweet saying the action of the AAP cadres in forcing some African women to undergo medical tests is a “blot” and “reprehensible and obtuse”.
BJP’s Arun Jaitley also tweeted that “Delhi Police ACP has stood by law and not meekly followed diktats of his minister – the only redeeming feature in this unseemly episode.”
“The action by the AAP cadres to carry out medical tests which included cavity search on some women foreign nationals is contrary to law,” wrote the BJP leader.
Bharti’s action came in for much criticism with a new entrant to the party, activist Mallika Sarabhai, saying the minister’s remarks against Africans “smacked of racism”.
Speaking to IANS Friday, one of the women, who called herself Sandra, a student, narrated the incident: “We were in our house when suddenly we heard people shouting outside.
“When we peeped out, we saw a huge crowd. We got scared and locked ourselves inside,” Sandra, 24, who said she was pursuing a course from the Indira Gandhi National Open University, added.
Her friend Selvia, 23, who has come for medical treatment, said: “They hurled abuses and insulted us.”
Other Africans, most of whom come here either for higher studies or for medical treatment, said men wearing “black jackets” knocked on their door.
When the police reached the spot, the minister had a heated argument asking them to arrest those operating the “racket”. But Delhi Police, in defiance of the minister, refused on the ground that under the law women could not be arrested after sunset and that they did not have a warrant.
The minister had said he decided to take action because of “complaints from women in the neighbourhood” about the activities of some “foreign nationals”, which included “Nigerians or Ugandans”.
But there was anger in the neighbourhood where the midnight raid happened.
“Just because a few Nigerians have been caught in a drug scandal does not mean that all of us are peddlers. People should stop generalising,” said Divine from Nigeria who works at an African style hair salon, run by a countryman, in Arjun Nagar here.
Despite the tough posture of the Delhi government, the Delhi Police chief stuck to his guns.
“Our job is to protect the people of Delhi… whatever my officers told me is prima facie correct”” Police Commsioner B.S. Bassi told reporters and ruled out the suspension of police officials.