A few months back, Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) Chairperson, 33-year-old Swati Maliwal, launched an indefinite hunger strike in the national capital demanding the government to take concrete actions to curb sexual crimes against women and death penalty for rapists. People in massive number from across the country joined her in her protest. Maliwal ended her strike on the 10th day after the Union Cabinet approved an ordinance to give stringent punishment, including death penalty, to those convicted of raping girls below 12 years. Maliwal has been DCW chairperson for the last three years.
She has also been a former advisor to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on public grievances. When she was appointed as the DCW chairperson, there were allegations of nepotism against her as she is the wife of AAP member Naveen Jaihind.
However, Maliwal in just three years as the chief has conducted raids in many shelter homes and has opened helplines to report crimes against women. In an exclusive interview with The Logical Indian, the DCW Chief talked about various issues like women’s safety, death penalty, the tussle between Delhi Police and DCW and more. Here are the few excerpts from the conversation.
It’s been more than the four months since your hunger strike, what prompted you to do that?
Just days before my strike, I had gone to meet an 8-month-old rape victim. In the hospital, I took the little girl in my arms. The girl had major injuries on her body and was still bleeding. She was crying because of immense pain. Just a few days after that, the brutal Kathua rape case came to light. Both of these incidents shook me, and I thought that this was enough. For the last three years, I have been begging the government to make stringent laws for crime against women. I have written hundreds of letter to Prime Minister Modi demanding some action from his government for the safety of women, but he never cared even to acknowledge any of that. So, I thought even if it takes an Anshan (Hunger strike) to wake the government, I will do that.
I will continue the fast until the ordinance is passed. Also police resources and accountability needs to be increased. Really sad that some channels are playing false news that I have broken the fast. Praying to all news channels conscience to kindly not report fake news. https://t.co/AsqDyOApNr
— Swati Maliwal (@SwatiJaiHind) April 21, 2018
You broke your hunger strike after the government agreed to your demands. So, is the government keeping its promises?
No, absolutely not. When I broke my fast, the government promised us to comply with our six demands including Delhi police force to have more personnel in next three months, as there is a shortage of 66,000 police personnel in the national capital. We were ensured that new fast-track court will be set up and nothing has happened till now. The promises the government made is only on papers.
In 2017, you spearheaded the Satyagraha movement in the national capital, which lasted for 40 days. You also sat outside the Union Minister Rajnath’s house, so can tell us about the movement?
Our Satyagraha movement was a day and night movement. When for the first time the women commision was out on the road to work for the safety of our women. We worked day and night, and it was only to understand the problem that the women were facing on the roads, trains, metros. It was also to force the government to take stringent actions to curb crime against women.
It has been three years for you as the DCW Chairperson, so according to you, what has DCW done to tackle crime against women in Delhi?
When I joined DCW, the office seemed like a place for kitty parties. The old unties would just come to giggle and leave. The previous Chairperson (Barkha Shukla Singh) was holding the position for eight years. You will be surprised to know that in those eight years, only one case of sexual assault was handled by the commission.
Since the time I have joined DCW, we have done unprecedented work in the capital. Till now we have heard 50,000 cases, we have received 2.15 lakh calls on our 181 helplines, 45 ground visits have been done. We have also assisted rape case victims in 3,500 court cases, and we have at least given 1000 counselling sessions to victims. We are the only commision who works officially works on Saturday, and even on Sundays, we work unofficially.
As an acting Chief of DCW, did you not have to face any challenges from the Delhi police force? And what about the letter you wrote to the then Delhi Police Commissioner asking for the crime against women data?
When I became the DCW Chief, I wrote a letter to the then Delhi Commissioner, BS Bassi, to provide me data of the crimes reported against women from the year 2013 and 2014 so that we can study it and make recommendations to the government. I was perplexed to know that this data was available with the police. But after my repeated attempts to get the data from police, I had to summon the Delhi Commissioner, and we told him that if they do not provide us with the data, we will go to court. Later, the data was presented to us. The police have always been in loggerhead with the DCW.
Has the DCW faced any hindrance from the Delhi governor or from the side of AAP?
We are very resource trapped. We work in fear of our safety all the time. At one point, our salaries were stopped for six months. The AAP government has supported us and they even increased our budget, but some people with vested interest do not want us to work.
The national capital is called the “rape capital of India”, and many working women feel unsafe coming to Delhi for work or study. Do you think Delhi is unsafe for women?
Yes, Delhi is unsafe for women because the Delhi police are incapable of ensuring women safety. In these three years, we have conducted so many raids in shelter homes, we have made so many enemies who have substantial political backing, some of them are goons. We (commission members) sometimes do not even get police’s support. So imagine, ‘Agar Delhi Police, prasashan, apne mahila ayog ki raksha nahi kar sakta, to fir kese baki Delhi ki nariyo ki raksha hogi (If the Delhi Police cannot even assure our safety to the Women’s Commision, how would they be able to give safety of many girls in Delhi).
As you have worked with Mr Kejriwal, there are allegations of nepotism against you, what do you have to say about it?
I was the advisor on public grievances for Mr Kejriwal. There use to be a Mohalla Sabha where many came with their problems. I was enjoying working in it, as I was empowered to be able to listen to people’s problems and help them in some way that is what I wanted. Then I was told that I am appointed as a DCW chief. I was upset as I thought It would be a job from the office and then I was made to read the law and power I have which I can use for the betterment of many. I know people have accused me of nepotism, but they will know if they see my work. It was my passion to work for the women, and I am utilising my power only for that.
What made you join activism so early in your life?
After my engineering, I had a three-month break before my first job. I had an ample amount of time, so one day when I saw a man teaching slum children, I decided to join him. I thought I would do that for some time and leave it. But, as soon as I started to teach those 30 kids, I got exposed to the disparity, inequality that these children were facing. I felt guilty for not doing anything for these children, and soon I decided not to take my job and scale up my contribution towards the society.
An electrical engineer, Maliwal has been an activist for more than 14 years. In these years of her activism, she has worked with many NGOs. She does not believe in activism only from the insides of high maintenance bungalows, that is why she has herself lived in many slums in Northeast Delhi to understand the actual problem faced by people.
The DCW chief says that they will conduct regular checks in shelter homes in Delhi NCR. When we asked her if she has some message for young women, she said, “I just want our women to know that they are powerful and have to stand up for themselves and utilise their rights.”