New Delhi, Jan 18: A vigilante-style rounding up and alleged manhandling of some African nationals in a midnight raid involving a Delhi minister was Saturday roundly condemned by the Indian government as well as African envoys in India. But Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal defended his cabinet minister’s action and said his government had “nothing against foreigners.”
African envoys voiced their concern and condemnation of the incident, which was triggered after Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti along with some cadres of his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) knocked on the doors of homes where African nationals live in Khirki Extension in south Delhi past midnight on suspicion that they were running a “drug and prostitution racket”.
The external affairs ministry called a meeting of African heads of missions in South Block after some of them aired their concerns over the raid and the alleged manhandling of four Ugandan women, including one who was reportedly made to give a urine sample in public. The four women, who also were allegedly made to undergo a medical examination, including a cavity search, have filed a police complaint.
The Indian government, at the meeting with over 20 African envoys, termed the incident as “utterly condemnable and cannot be condoned”.
Dinkar Khullar, Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs, met the African envoys in South Block in the evening. He conveyed the government of India’s view that the incident “was utterly condemnable and cannot be condoned” and assured the African envoys that there “was no deliberate targeting of the nationals of any country and should remain an aberration”.
Khullar said that the authorities are deploying extra patrols so that life and property of all residents of Delhi, including foreigners, will be safeguarded. The central government is also setting up a “single point office of the Police Commissioner, specifically for complaints from foreign nationals”, he said.
But Kejriwal defended the action of his law minister and said that his government has “nothing against foreigners”.
In an interview to NDTV, Kejriwal said: “We respect foreigners as our honoured guests.”
He denied that Bharti’s vigilante action was tantamount to moral policing. “I don’t think Somnath Bharti made racist comments. Bharti didn’t manhandle anybody during the raid,” Kejriwal said.
At the meet with MEA officials, Ethiopian Ambassador Gennet Zewide, who is deputy dean of the African group of diplomats in India, voiced the collective concern of the envoys. She said the incident “was not appropriate” and should be condemned.
“We are all very concerned.. the way it was handled was not appropriate.. it was not right, it has to be condemned and we are seriously concerned,” she said.
Asked if it could be termed a racial attack, Zewide said she could not say so.
She said the Indian government has assured that the culprits would be caught.
The ambassador also termed the incident an “aberration.. not something that happens everyday”, and voiced satisfaction with the government’s quick response.
According to eyewitnesses, the minister and the party volunteers came in large numbers and tried to barge into a house from which they claimed a “drug and sex ring” was operating.
Bharti had tried to force the police to conduct a raid on the house. But the Delhi Police, who are under the union home ministry, refused to obey him without a warrant. This led to an ugly spat between the minister and an Assistant Commissioner of Police who was called to conduct the “raid” that night.
Kejriwal had called for the suspension of the police officers who refused to do Bharti’s bidding.
On Saturday, he stood firm on his decision to sit on dharna if Delhi Police officers who refused to obey Bharti are not suspended.