“My friend told me, don’t go outside, they are beating up African women. I was planning to go out, but I stayed in and locked my door. They banged on our door, I was terrified. They beat up and groped other Ugandan women that night (the night that Somnath Bharti led the ‘raid’). In Khirkee, there have been many such attacks in the past. On one occasion, a man broke a beer bottle and slashed my friend’s leg with it, she was bleeding. I have been stoned by men. They often touch our breasts, grope us as we pass, they brand us as prostitutes. We are very scared.” – Brenda, a Ugandan woman who lives in Khirkee
“The RWA in Khirkee has been activated in the past year, not over concerns of sanitation, water etc, but on an overtly racist plank, profiling and targeting the local African community. There have been multiple instances of violence against African women, and even African kids faced discrimination at school. The police used to be insensitive to the complaints of the Africans. But after we wrote letters to the police and spoke to them, the police’s attitude has become more sensitive and principled. The SHO there has, in fact, acted responsibly when he received racist complaints about how Africans’ ‘food stinks’ or how ‘women dress in short skirts.’ The complaints of so-called ‘drug and sex rackets’ need to be seen in the context of this organised racist targeting. We ask the Government if the SHO and local police should act as an obedient arm of racist sentiment? If the SHO is transferred, after our patient efforts have actually made him respond sensitively and responsibly, it will send a message to the police that they should not defend the rights of the minorities or foreign nationals.” – Aastha Chauhan, an artist who has long experience of working among the African community in Khirkee
These were some of the voices from Khirkee village that were heard at a sit-in against racism, at Jantar Mantar on 19th January, that had been organised by the JNU Students’ Union, AISA, AIPWA, RYA, and several other concerned individuals and activists. At the sit-in, the protestors gave a standing ovation to African drummers and hip-hop performers from Khirkee (who performed Hindi songs!).
Speaking at the sit-in, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of AIPWA, said “According to news reports, the Minister, Somnath Bharti, asked locals to draw up a list of African nationals’ residences – ‘jahan aise log rehte hain/where such people live’, vowing to raid and search each of these homes. He also told media, “I have received a lot of complaints from women in this locality against foreign nationals, yeh hum aur aap jaise nahin hain (They are not like you or me).” She said, “Mr Kejriwal says his Minister and his Government are not racist: we are here to tell him that Mr. Bharti’s words and actions are copybook racism. To encourage a mob to catch hold of African women and eunuchs because he says they are sex-workers, is both racist and sexist, and downright unconstitutional. The Government and the AAP party should remove Mr Bharti from his post as Law Minister.”
Other protestors said, “Will the Delhi CM only accept the version of local AAP members and the Minister as ‘the voice of the people’? Or is he willing to listen to the dissenting voices from Khirkee village itself, who have been battling racism in very hostile circumstances? Will it recognise that voices that counter racism, communalism, casteism or gender discrimination, or who stand up for the rights of sex workers or hijras, may not be popular, but are more democratic; that ‘majority’ and ‘democracy’ aren’t one and the same? Will he automatically assume that Ugandan women must be liars, or will he take their FIR seriously and take action against Mr Bharti based on their FIR? This is a basic test for the democratic character of any Government.”
Protestors pointed out that the racist build-up and the efforts to counter it, preceded the formation of the AAP Government, and said that the Government should resist the temptation to turn the Khirkee incident into a political contest between the Delhi Government and the Home Ministry over the Delhi Police.
Protestors raised slogans against the CM’s remark that ‘drug and sex rackets led to ‘rape tendencies’, and held placards saying, “Violence against African women makes Indian women shamed, not safer!”
Shuddhabrata Sengupta, artist and writer with the Raqs media Collective, said that history would remember Razia Sultan of the 13th century for her broadmindedness, in a way that it would never remember Somnath Bharti. Africans in India had a history spanning 900 years. Madhu Prasad of the All India Forum for Right to Education reminded people that the freedom struggles of India and Africa inspired each other. Activists who have worked for the rights of gay and transgender people – researcher Ena Goel, Akshay, and Aditya Bandopadhyay, spoke about the difference between people’ participative democracy and majoritarianism, and said that AAP would have to demonstrate that it understood the difference. Akshay, who has worked in Uganda, said that the Indian community in Kampala has faced racial discrimination since the time of Idi Amin.
Protestors recalled that there have been growing instances of xenophobia, racism and violence against Africans in Punjab, Goa and other parts of the country too. People from the North East states also experience racist prejudice and violence regularly in Delhi and elsewhere. They urgently called to counter the spread of the racist virus in the capital city.
The meeting was also addressed by Sucheta De and Shakeel Anjum of AISA and Aslam Khan of RYA. It was conducted by Abhiruchi, the GSCASH representative of JNU. JNUSU President Akbar and Vice President Anubhuti Agnes Bara were among the organisers of the protest.