Why Somnath Bharti is hero in Khirki extension

By on January 31, 2014
Open landfills, bad roads, leaking water pipes, Delhi’s Khirki Extension is full of civic issues. It’s also a sociologist’s delight, with a plethora of communities – Hindus and Muslims, Indians and foreigners – all living cheek by jowl in its narrow bylanes.
One such bylane, opposite Saket’s sprawling Select City Mall, is now in the eye of a storm, thanks to Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti and his Aam Aadmi Party. Khirki, also known for art and culture, has become notorious for its locals’ xenophobia and racism.
A view of Khirki Extension in Delhi.
They — both Hindu and Muslims — gather near the Sai temple in the village, and the topic invariably is the habshis and habshans. “Their culture is different, these habshi women (African women) have made this an unbearable place.
Earlier, they used to indulge in their activities behind close doors. Ab sharam khatam hai,” said Furkaan Ahmed, a leather shop owner in the area.
Ahmed says it was about time someone told the Africans they can’t be doing anything they wished. “Somnath ji ne bahut achcha kiya, jaise aaye aur in habshiyon ko bata diya ke is desh me yeh log khule aam nahin ghoom sakte.”
The meeting is adjourned, after everyone is done with their share of ridiculing foreign nationals.
Soon after the afternoon azaan, the local mosque starts making announcements to discourage people from renting out accommodation to Africans.
Interestingly, not everyone agrees with that. Radha, 25, a tailor with a local designer, says she can’t see why the residents just can’t stand the foreigners. “Bas dar lagta hai, pata nahin kyun”, she says (They are scared of the foreigners, I don’t know why).
Women’s rights groups and opposition parties may be roundly castigating Somnath Bharti, but for the residents of Khirki Extension, he has become a “hero, who is there to protect us.
Bharti had gone to the area and standing outside one of the houses, in the middle of the night, ordered police to raid and arrest the Ugandan women there. When the police refused, Bharti conducted the ‘raid’ himself, with his party workers.
The incident led to an  unprecedented political stand-off between the state government and the Centre as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal did what he does best, taking to the streets and protesting against the Union government, this time demanding that home minister Sushilkumar Shinde suspend policemen who refused to take orders from Bharti and that the Delhi Police be brought under the state government.
A constable deployed at the entrance of Khirki village breathed fire against the Aam Aadmi Party, now Delhi Police’s enemy number one. “It’s topi terror in this area”, he says. “The white cap has become a symbol of terror”.
The policemen refuted AAP’s charge that police had turned a blind eye to the law and order problem in the area. “We were here long before AAP came on the scene.
Everything was smooth and peaceful. Whenever we got complaints from residents, we took action. We have deported so many people from here,” they said.
For some, though, Bharti is Bruce Wayne of Khirki. “He dared to take a step that none before him did. We had filed complaints with the police, but no action was taken,” one local said, alleging that the Africans were openly running drugs and prostitution rackets.
“In the last few years, it has become impossible for us to step out of our houses because of their activities,” another resident said. A number of Khirki residents told this correspondent, “these foreigners had unleashed a reign of terror in the area with the help of  the local police.”
But the Africans have a different story to tell, one of xenophobia and racism. “The locals call us all kinds of names and pass comments on our colour,” a Nigerian woman said. “When we protest, we are threatened and told to leave the country.”
What do they do for a living?
A Nigerian boy said the Africans mostly ran small businesses like saloons, but others said they take  “stuff like (rare) artefacts from here and sell them in our country.” They denied they were into drugs trade or any other illegal activity. They also had to pay higher rents than Indians, they added.
So, why do they choose to live in Khirki despite all this? The common answers were, “The rents in Khirki are cheaper than in most other places in Delhi” and “this is a central location”. Khirki, full of illegal constructions, does offer lower rents than other parts of South Delhi.
And while it attained notoriety last week, Khirki village – as the area around the 14th century mosque, an ASI-protected monument, is still called – continues to be a favourite haunt of artists and art studios.
In recent years, shopping malls, multi-storeyed houses for rent – mostly illegal buildings that have mushroomed as demand for expat accommodation has grown — and other assorted symbols of Delhi’s modernity have begun to erase its old world charm.
Some still say the place is not as bad as it is made out to be. Mandeep Raikhi, managing director of Gati dance forum, says, “There is a clear energy change in the area after 6 pm. But to say that it is uncomfortable would be wrong.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: