Guest Post by AASTHA CHAUHAN, MALINI KOCHUPILLAI, and several AFRICAN RESIDENTS OF DELHI
Dear Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, Mr.Yogendra Yadav and Aatishi Marlena,
Being witness to the events occuring in Khirkee this past month, we, a group of artists, architects, activists and local residents have felt the need to frame an open letter addressed to your party, the AAP & the public. The media-frenzy associated with these events has been accompanied by the usual kind of misinformation and hyperbole. However, in the ensuing noise, the real stories of the underlying racism that afflicts our society and the negative repercussions of the raid on the African residents of the neighborhood, have been lost. We hope this letter will clarify some facts and put across a few of our concerns.
Our intention is not to encourage confrontation, it is to propose solutions. Delhi is a tough place for all immigrants alike, how will we make this a more inclusive compassionate city? These are the larger questions. These were the issues we were hoping to tackle.
It was in this hope (for constructive solutions) that two of us, Aastha Chauhan and Malini Kochupillai approached Somnath Bharti on the 12th of January at his office in Malviya Nagar with a proposal for a community cultural festival, Antarrashtriya Khirkee. This festival was intended as a small first step to alleviate the existing interracial tension in Khirkee Extension. They requested Bharti’s informed intervention. Please see the proposal attached as ‘Annexure I’ below to read details of this proposal.
What followed on the 16th of January is quite widely known.
We are still open to dialogue, but not with someone who is close-minded. We hope you agree that racism, sexism and intolerance are unacceptable. Especially as qualities you look for in a leader.
“Racism is generally defined as actions, practices or beliefs; or social or political systems; that are based in views that see the human species to be divided into races with shared traits, abilities, or qualities, such as personality, intellect, morality, or other cultural behavioral characteristics, and especially the belief that races can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others, or that members of different races should be treated differently.”- Wikipedia.
“Ye hum aur aap jaisey nahi hai”(they are not like you and me) – Somnath Bharti.
The evidence of Somnath Bharti’s racist actions and statements is available on video for everyone to see.
Here are a few irrefutable facts:
The unfortunate targeting of African nationals on the night of January 16th was racist.
The act of pushing your way into the house of anyone without proper proof and warrant is illegal.
The fact that the people humiliated in this way were women is shameful.
The assumption that all Africans are involved in peddling sex and drug is racist.
Bharti’s attack on the 16th and the subsequent redemption is based on a premise that clubs all African nationals into one large group of dangerous people. This, too, is racist.
Rather than addressing or even attempting to comprehend the nature of the issue at heart, the minister charged into the community bursting with self-righteousness. His actions unfortunately, were nothing but ill-informed, reactionary egotism
In the following days the situation of the African nationals in Khirkee went from bad to worse. A citizen of Côte d’Ivoire, (who as you may know are legal refugee in India), had to move three apartments in two weeks. His paperwork is in place, he is a student, he even wore the AAP cap to campaign for the party. But at the same time as when he was repeatedly mugged by his landlord’s son, other than the everyday racism he has to face, the party he hoped would bring change thought it was easier to trivialize and generalise the debate.
Please see ‘Annexure II’, – the note published by the local RWA to see the kind of racist attitudes that are being given legitimacy and circulation.
As you know the targeting of any ethnic group of such nature is illegal. Encouraged by the minister’s racist remarks and behaviour the local community has now begun to consider itself free to jibe, harass and heckle, even steal from all African nationals It was repeatedly insinuated that they all run a sex and drug racket.
There was a complete communication break down and several African nationals began leaving the neighbourhood while several others were forced to live in fear. This needed to be tackled, as the situation grew progressively dire. (Without passing a judgement on the local community as the racist evil, there was and still remains a need for dialogue)
On the Aam Aadmi Party’s insistence, we agreed to open discussions in a meeting that would include African nationals, AAP volunteers as well as some members of the local community. Based on mutual trust, it was agreed that the media need not be informed about the dialogue between AAP and the African nationals from Khirkee. The meetings were in fact successful as the number of participants began expanding, and there began a real exchange, grievances were shared and the progress seemed promising. Somnath Bharti was not part of these initial meetings.
He made an appearance on the 31st, when photographs were taken and a smiling Bharti was shown posing with African people. The images were immediately posted on the AAP facebook page and the party wanted us to speak to the media and participate in the eyewash.
Later that evening, some women allegedly approached the minister with their grievances regarding trafficking.
Had the minister been genuinely concerned about the plight of these women he would have made a more concrete attempt to offer them genuine support by means of informed participation by organizations such as the AIPWA.
Instead, he chose to declare himself the saviour and hero of the African people who he had targeted not more than ten days ago. Bharti claims the moral high ground of the rescuer who will help “Thousands and lakhs of these women”, but is he willing to take responsibility for those African nationals who suffer the everyday racism his actions have validated?
Last week an elderly Indian lady was intently listening to our conversations and requested me to ask the African gentleman standing next to me not to eat her. An AAP representative standing with us ignored what the lady was saying. Is it not the responsibility of the party to intervene in this xenophobia? is the party only there to fan superstition and claim vindication at the end of the day?
Apathetic to the stories of the several other Africans who were present at the meeting the minister decided to misuse the trust of the Ugandan women, and with complete disregard for the vulnerable dialogue process that had just begun, he proclaimed his innocence. He has even gone so far as to ask for an apology from his critics.
Polarities lead to stand offs that are almost always counter productive. The openness for dialogue was our way of moving forward, Somnath Bharti has now dragged us back several steps.
As a rising economy (so to speak) India is looking for foreign investments but is unable to do justice to the expatriates who live here. If the AAP is so concerned about shaking off the racist tag, please understand so is Khirkee, New Delhi and India. Or are these irrelevant to the party? No resident of Khirkee is comfortable with the continuous branding of their neighborhood by Bharti and the media as a ‘Sex and Drug den’
“Law can be used to promote lawlessness. Law cannot be broken to have a better law and order situation prevail? This is such a contradiction” – Shazia Ilmi, AAP Leader.
Does AAP accept that laws were broken on the 16th of Jan raid? The judicial probe ordered by the LG into the events of the 16th night is yet to begin. While it may be simpler to identify a corrupt individual who took bribes and allowed illegal activities in a neighbourhood, it is impossible to identify a racist egotistic minister as the inquiry is not objective. We lose face, faith and time every passing day.
As mentioned before, we are open to a dialogue with a more reasoned voice within the party. However at this time, the AAP has failed to demonstrate its commitment to a fair and just governance by continuing to give a bully like Bharti a voice in this matter, despite there having been no public apology from either the party or Bharti.
We are aware that AAP is being hounded and attacked by various forces as it struggles to establish a new politics but please do understand the shock that we feel at seeing a minister bully women and express no regret or offer an apology. Part of building a new politics is also about sensitivity towards women and the capacity to accept bravely your own mistakes.
Annexure 1 – A proposal for Community space for Khirkee Extension, and Hauz Rani
Presented to Somnath Bharti on 12th January, 2014 at his office in Malviya Nagar
The Jamun Park sandwiched between the Press enclave road and the Khirkee extension lane is an abandoned stretch of land that the Delhi Masterplan demarcates as a neighbourhood green zone. However due to objections by the ASI, no development has happened over the past 10 years, and the space has degraded into an unsafe dumpyard for construction debris and garbage. Due to the decrepit nature of the space, it currently lends itself to nefarious activities such as gambling, prostitution, drug use and serious cases of sexual harassment against local women who live and work in this locale.
Given the severe paucity of community spaces and play areas for the neighbourhoods’ kids, this space offers a unique opportunity to bring the various communities of the neighbourhood together, while providing for much needed recreational activities for kids of all ages.
We propose a simple, non- intrusive design of an egalitarian public space that can be used for a variety of social, cultural and sports activities in consultation with architects, urban designers and the local community. The main idea being to clean up the space, approximately 6000 sq mtrs of barren land, and to propose simple paving and lighting to create a safe, public environment for the neighbourhood to enjoy together. As the ASI has repeatedly objected to any building activity on the land in question, our proposal is limited to creating a flat paved space with a provision to put up temporary structures as and when needed by the neighborhood, like for weddings, weekly markets, community gatherings and cultural programmes.
We would like to inaugurate the space with a photo exhibition supported by the French Cultural Inst, who are organising a prestigious country wide public photography exhibition, Fete De La Fotographie, from mid February to mid March 2014, across many public venues in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. This space in Khirkee Extension will be one of the major venues in Delhi due to its very public and accessible location opposite the Saket malls. On this occasion we also propose a community festival with food, music, hip hop dance performances and football matches by and for the local community; especially highlighting the multi cultural milieu of this neighbourhood, home to people from Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Senegal, Somalia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Iran, Uganda, as well as the vast expanse of the many states of India.
One of our main concerns is that once these proposed cultural events are over, there is no mechanism in place to ensure that the space doesn’t revert back to its uninhabitable state. We request Mr. Bharti to suggest bodies or collectives that can be culled from the community and be given the responsibility to ensure the maintenance of the space by and for the community. We, as a group of activists, artists, urbanists and local stake holders, would be happy to create such a democratic collective to undertake this responsibility.
A Festival of friendship in Khirkee,
home to a vibrant and diverse immigrant community
Proposed Dates : 15 February – 15 March, 2014
Closely reflecting the multiculturalism of this neighbourhood is the variety of cuisines available here, from the exquisite Kabuli Pulao at the Afghani Durbar to the Sheermal’s from Inayat roti wala, the Mizo diner and more recently Michelle’s bar with Cameroon style fish amongst many others. While the festival will invite the ubiquitous Gupta Burger stall and Momo-wala, we would like to include four new cuisines from the neighbourhood.
Bboy Battle and Jam
Home to the Tiny Drops hip hop community centre, Khirkee has a thriving Hip Hop culture. The talented dancers, rappers, beatboxers from the neighbourhood have performed in several battles that we have organized in the past. For the festival we will put an open call inviting teams from all over Delhi to battle in the open grounds of Khirkee. The event will include performances by the local musicians and an open jam session.
Football: Khirkee super series.
The football series is open to the local teams from Khirkee. Having organized cricket and football matches in the past, we are positive that this sports event will attract teams from our international residents as well.
Fashion workshop with NBC and closing performance
The idea is to create a new line of apparel with and for the dancers of local Bboy crews (Slumgods, agnostic, kishore’s crew). The gear that we will put together will be inspired by the music/poetry and dance styles of the young bboys and beat boxers from Khirkee. The dancers will participate in conceptualizing and rendering of these garments and gear with Nitin Bal Chauhan, eminent fashion designer. The workshop will culminate in a fashion show/performance, which will be the closing event for the festival.
All-city Ad Campaign
The advertising campaign can use poster, stencil, graffiti, and radio as possible media. Promoting friendship between India and Africa, including references to relevant celebrities and historical figures, from cricket superstars to Razia and Yaqut.
This can also be used as a means to advertise the अंतर्राष्ट्रीय Khirkee Festival.
- 1. Community roundtables discussing racial dynamics on the streets, with political representatives, religious leaders, business owners, elders and youth.
- 2. Police at the local thana, sensitizing the staff around racial crimes, and educating on paperwork/ status of immigrants (refugee, illegal, etc).
- 3. Inviting the representatives of the African embassies for an interaction session with the local African residents.
Malini, Aastha, Netrapal & Radhika