With the tall glass and concrete malls of Saket serving as the backdrop, the narrow lanes and spray-painted walls of Khirki Extension paint a picture of a different world. Men crowd around grocery stores, barber shops, and small-eating joints. A few metres away is the office of Khoj Studio and a dance performance centre.
A midnight “raid” by former law minister Somnath Bharti in these lanes in January 2014 brought this little-known locality into the limelight. Allegedly aimed at busting “prostitution and drugs racket”, the raid led to severe criticism from various political parties and activists for its alleged attack on African residents in the area.
Suman Choudhary (55), a property dealer in the locality, said, “The two flats rented to the African women, who were complainants in that case, have now been given to Indians. Following the incident, landlords refused to give their flats to foreign nationals for rent. Petitions demanding that the colony be made free of Africans did the rounds at that time. The number of Africans living in Khirki Extension has gone down considerably in the last two years as they started moving to other parts of the city.”
A Nigerian national, Ola Jason, who used to live in Khirki until two years ago, said he had no option but to move out of the area owing to the “emotional trauma” he underwent in the aftermath of the “raid”.
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“It was not just my work, even my domestic life was affected by the hostility and behaviour of people in the area when the ‘raid’ happened. Most of us moved out due to the emotional trauma we faced,” said Jason.
From Khirki Extension, Jason moved to another locality in south Delhi — Rajpur Khurd — in the hope of finding a less hostile neighbourhood. On May 20, however, Congolese student Masunda Olivier was beaten to death following a scuffle over hiring an autorickshaw in Rajpur Khurd.
In the weeks that followed the incident, four other Africans were attacked. This prompted a protest at Jantar Mantar by Africans residing in the capital, who demanded better safety and security measures. Other demonstrations were held to try and bridge the gap between locals and African residents.
Jason said he too is heading a committee that had been formed two years ago by those residing in Khirki. “I am still entrusted with the responsibility of spearheading the committee. In the initial days of its formation, the committee used to hold meetings. We even met Somnath Bharti who had asked us to approach him with issues that we faced. However, it has become difficult to get people together since they decided to leave the area,” he said.
Last year, Lieutenant Governor had issued prosecution sanction against Bharti in the case. Two years since the incident, Bharti stressed on the need for sensitisation programmes with Indian and African residents.
“There is a psyche that foreigners are easy-going or foreign women are easily available; they listen to loud music, and dress differently. We need to sensitise people in this regard. There are good and bad people in each community, be it Africans or Indians,” he said.