Trying to find nuance in the Khirki Extension raid
The story, as many media superhits are, is polarized. On one hand, you have residents of the area, the Aam Aadmi Party and Somnath Bharti who see nothing wrong in the raid. On the other, you have the police, Central government and media seeing the raid as “taking law into own hands” by the law minister.
What else is happening?
Residents see the Nigerian (and other black foreigners) prostitution and drug running as a problem. They had complained to police without any results. Aam Aadmi Party took up their concern. The question here is Aam Aadmi Party’s thought process. AAP’s Yogendra Yadav admitted in an interview, that they could have handled this better. They should have put the evidence they had in front of the public before taking action. However, they stand by Somnath Bharti in insisting that the raid may not have been justified well, but it is correct.
This is meaningless talk, because the whole idea of accountability is being able to justify actions taken on behalf of people. If there is a claim that the action is correct, regardless, then it isn’t all that different from other parties taking law into their own hands.
In this regard, Aam Aadmi Party reminds me of Shiv Sena. There is no inherent ideology beyond “Whatever people say” and there is a preference for action if a wrong is perceived (witness the toll booth vandalisms). It could be argued that with entrenched corruption in Maharashtra, the profiteering toll booths were never going to be addressed by constitutional channels, and the vandalism forced the matter to people’s attention.
The Aam Aadmi Party does risk getting embroiled in politics of this sort, if they persist in actions that bypass established methods of dealing with people’s problems. Perhaps these methods need to be bypassed. For example, the police not taking an interest in the well being of Delhi People does seem sinister when we note that the incidence of crime is higher among politicians than the general population, and you have the Central Home Ministry handling security for Delhi. It is unclear why someone from Maharashtra with the police force at his disposal would experience the security of Delhi streets as a priority. And it shows in the rising crime. Delhi has the most cops per square kilometer than anywhere else in the country and crime thrives here.
At the same time, people’s perceptions cannot be considered proof of anything. While I have no doubt that Africans do participate in drug and prostitution in Delhi, I find it difficult to believe that they are the only players or that all of them are into illegal business. The idea that a mob can form a conclusion about the character of women and take suo moto action against them is alarming. It is even more alarming when it gets legitimacy by being led by an elected representative of people. So here you have a well defended precedent of a civilian mob entering a home where women stay at night, believing their actions to be wrong. This mob then forces them to go to a hospital to be tested. Will Somnath Bharti take responsibility for such mobs following in his footsteps whenever they perceive women acting in a wrong manner? Who is responsible for making and defending such a civilian action against women, and is it worth it to find evidence of prostitution or drug trade, which can be done in a hundred other ways?
If you have Nigerians infesting malls to solicit clients for prostitution, it shouldn’t be rocket science to use CCTV camera footage as evidence and get courts to force cops to take action – for example. That is what an aam aadmi would do when cops refuse to act on his complaint, right? It shouldn’t be too difficult to do sting operations showing drug sales or prostitution – which the residents claim that they have indeed done, by the codename “Black Beauty”. Media can be used to release stings like this to force public pressure and action to be taken.
Somnath Bharti is a law minister, it is rather alarming that a mere refusal to act by police sent him so out of legal actions that he had to resort to something like this. It is hardy the first time Aam Aadmi Party’s demands for legal action were stonewalled. Usually, the stand is to insist on law and order. Why do a Shiv Sena on this?
An additional question is that of prostitutes. Most women in prostitution are led there by circumtances and court horrendous risks for their safety as well as health. They provide a service that is used by men for their sexual enjoyment and are completely abandoned by the state. They also provide an important service for the many men who are not otherwise able to get sex (or as often as they want). Not everyone is a handsome charmer and not everyone is married. More than that, not every man wants to have a relationship with a woman in order to have sex.
Money for sex is still consent. Will the absence of prostitutes result in increased consensual sex, or will it result in more predatory men taking opportunities how they can? Will the housewifes who breathe a sigh of relief when their husbands let them sleep unmolested at the end of an exhausted day have a better life scratching their “itch”?
Are these really evil people? Would the world be a better place if men who wanted to have sex did not have to pay for it? Because I refuse to believe that acting against prostitution will turn men into celibate beings who only have sex with their wife or with a woman who consents without money being asked.
Where should prostitutes live? If they all should be rehabilitated, does the government have enough jobs available? What efforts have they made that women do not need to prostitute themselves to survive? Or is the outraged modesty and complaint enough reason to chase them to their homes and bring them out? Those alleged prostitutes were most certainly not caught in the mall, right? So what, a prostitute in her home is also a problem for the entire mohalla? And the government thinks this is correct enough for a minister to lead a mob action against other civilians?
Aam Aadmi Party needs to go to the drawing board on this. Is political leadership merely about representing people and reflecting their wishes, or is it also about introducing new ideas that may perhaps be against a popular view, but will help their society evolve?
The perceptions about Nigerians are such an area. The perceptions against prostitution are another such area. As the party grows, there will be many such areas where the public either doesn’t have an opinion, or the public opinion is one that harms the right of some people and it cannot be taken up. Public opinion in many parts of India will insist that low caste people should be segregated, so will the Aam Aadmi Party manifesto for that area promise to do it? If Aam Aadmi Party merely uses mob opinion as justification, then that isn’t all that different from a Khap Panchayat pointing out the harms of girls using phones and perhaps leading a mob to forcibly restrain girls and take away their phones?
On the other hand, the criticism of Aam Aadmi Party is going off the rails as well. BJP, the kings of mob action having an issue is ironic. Congress, part of the UPA government that controls the police but did not take action against drug trade or prostitution despite resident complaints is hypocritical. Are we saying that residents of an area raising a complaint about illegal actions going on is a matter that should continue to be dismissed? How is it that media has not demanded accountability from Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde over the police blind eye to these complaints?
In my view, the Aam Aadmi Party’s actions in the raid were wrong, but their accusations against the police are correct. Their demand that Delhi police be accountable to Delhi government is also valid. Why should Delhi be secured by a police force that answers to someone from the other end of the country?