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Pressure mounts on AAP govt to act against Somnath Bharti

New Delhi, Jan 22 (PTI): Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday faced mounting demands for the removal of his controversial Law Minister Somnath Bharti after an African woman identified him as allegedly heading a group of assaulters in a midnight raid.

The AAP government and the ruling party came under an avalanche of attack from rivals and women's activists who said the Chief Minister had staged a two-day dharna in the name of women's safety but was following “double standards” on the issue of the minister.

Bharti was involved in a row with the police last week when they refused to raid an alleged drug and prostitution racket following which he allegedly led his supporters in forcing the women to give urine samples.

With the minister becoming a source of a major embarrassment, AAP advised him to be “careful and humble” while making public statements.

A number of party leaders are said to be upset with Bharti who had earlier stoked controversies by seeking a meeting of Delhi judges and was involved in talking to a witness he was cross examining as a lawyer.

One of the African women who recorded her statement before a magistrate said she has identified Bharti as having led the group that barged into her house and attacked them.

“We were attacked on Wednesday night by Indians who were led by Somnath Bharti...We were harassed, we were beaten, they were having long sticks. They said we should leave their country or else they would kill us one by one,” the Ugandan national said.

The woman said she identified Bharti because “he came in the night and the next day I saw him on television. The Delhi Police came in time and saved us from the mob.”

Bharti refused to make any comments on the demands for his removal while the party and his colleagues came to his defence, saying any citizen, more so a minister, has the right to ask police to act on any illegal activity.

However, women's rights activists were not impressed, saying Bharti had violated laws relating to women and had taken law into his hands.

The Delhi Commission for Women summoned Bharti to appear before it.

“We had asked him to appear before the Commission yesterday but he did not show up. We will be sending another summon through the concerned SHO to him tomorrow. If he still does not appear, we shall write to the Lt Governor and to the Delhi Police Commissioner to register an FIR,” Barkha Singh, Chairperson of the Commission, said.

In an open letter to the Delhi Chief Minister, a group of women activists including Kavita Krishnan said the conduct of the law minister was “shocking and is not acceptable”.

Krishnan alleged that the “simple point is that he has endangered those African women by calling upon a mob to go chase them and catch them”.

NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma said now it is clear that Bharti was present there at the spot as it has been confirmed by the Ugandan women after identifying him in the CD.

Sharma said Bharti “should have resigned or should have been asked to resign. He has no right to go to a woman's place and do this 'harkat' (create a stir). He should have resigned on his own”.

The activists said, “Delhi Police must be accountable to the Constitution and not to bidding of ministers and mobs.”

“These Ugandan women have alleged that they were beaten and groped sexually. On what basis do you deem these allegations to be false? Is it the government's contention that only 'ma, behen, beti' are entitled to safety and dignity and that prostitutes can be left to the mercy of moralistic mobs?

“Without any other evidence, can women be forced to undergo drug tests only because of their race and nationality? The drug tests and cavity searches to which these women were subjected, turned up negative: when do you plan to apologise to them for the false allegation and the indignity, not to mention the groping they suffered at the hands of your minister's supporters?” the letter said.

“According to the Africans and their Indian friends, the Malviya Nagar SHO Vijay Pal had acted to protect the African women on the night of the raid. Today, this SHO has been penalised for failing to obey the orders of the minister who expected him to indiscriminately raid the homes of all people of African nationalities,” the letter said.

The activists further said this sends out a dangerous message to the police- that if they uphold democratic rights of vulnerable individuals as mandated by the Constitution, they will be penalised.

Kiran Bedi, a former IPS officer who is an associate of Anna Hazare, regretted that the AAP government so far has not acted against the minister who faced charges while policemen have been acted upon without any inquiry.

Using the opportunity, rebel AAP MLA Vinod Kumar Binny demanded that the minister be sacked. He also led protesters outside the secretariat.

Air Deccan founder and AAP member Capt G R Gopinath said that while AAP demanded action against police officers pending an inquiry on ground that they may interfere in the probe, the same yardstick should apply to Bharti.

Meanwhile, the case relating to the midnight raid has been transferred from Malviya Nagar to Mehrauli.

The police will send summons to Bharti only after going through the Ugandan woman's statement and if his name figured in it. The statement was yet to reach police from the court, police sources said.

Three Nigerian women and two Ugandans have deposed before the magistrate under Section 164 of CrPC. The complaint has been made under various IPC sections covering molestation, racial abuse, house trespass and hurt.