Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chairperson Swati Maliwal has refashioned the commission into an organisation of strength, of voice. She has a long list of enemies, but the intrepid champion of women’s rights is not one to be silenced.
City Spidey caught up with her for a session on the state of women’s safety in Delhi, dubbed India’s rape capital.
The administration had once asked all concerned agencies to join forces to provide lights on roads, to end dark stretches. What’s your take?
The truth is there are numerous dark stretches and dark spots in Delhi — and it has certainly played a role in rising incidents of crime. Recently, Delhi court took cognizance of the crime rate in an area called Ranhaula. The SHO was called in and asked to explain the high crime rate in the area. He said the whole area was dark, and thus, the police was helpless. He was asked who was responsible for the lights, but the SHO had no certain answer.
What is the DCW doing about this?
The DCW has filed a petition with the High Court. It has sought a detailed report on the findings of Delhi Police regarding the mapping of dark spots in the city. We have asked them for details of the roads, streets and localities that have non-functional streetlights, or no lights at all.
We wanted to know the agencies responsible for the lights in those areas. Civic bodies have been directed to mark who owns or maintains each light pole, so that the concerned authority could be informed if these were not functioning. We have the court order for it.
The Nirbhaya episode jolted the country out of complacency, but no big measures were taken in its wake. Why?
After the Nirbhya incident in 2012, a special task force (STF) was formed by the Ministry of Home Affairs comprising officers of the central and state government. They had to monitor women’s safety on a daily basis. They were required to meet twice a month for review. But they met only 12 times in three years! And here’s more — in those 12 meetings, dark corners and stretches were amply discussed.
How can safety of women be assured in Delhi?
Monitoring the situation on a daily basis is needed. There’s need for review, at least twice a month. The STF constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs was disbanded in 2016. The DCW fought for the reconstitution of the STF for almost a year. After repeated communications with the home ministry and the lieutenant-governor and a High Court order (December 21, 2016), the STF for women’s safety was reconstituted under the chairmanship of the LG. The judiciary is playing a big role in ensuring women’s safety. I am thankful for it.
How does the DCW work for women?
We work and support women at the grass roots level. We meet them and find out their problems. Sometimes, we meet them at our office and counsel them. We fight for them legally — we ensure that their safety and rights are protected at all levels. Now, we have formed our mahila panchayats [women councils]. There are 50 such panchayats in Delhi, and we plan to take that number to 200.
What is DCW’s biggest achievement?
Our biggest achievement is giving these women a sense of hope. They feel the DCW is for them and they trust us to do something for them. They have trust in me and I am committed to their cause. We have taken on 12,000 cases, helping women fight for their rights. We are the only women's commission in India that works voluntarily on Saturdaya. We have attended 3.25 lakh calls, made 7,500 visits, offered 5,500 recommendations and held 1,869 counselling sessions! I personally meet the visitors every day from 10 am to 6pm. So, as a whole, the DCW has come to represent hope and trust for women — and that is our biggest achievement.
The DCW has been in controversy over the issue of appointment of staff. Your take?
When I took charge, we had just 42 members. I introduced the biometric system, and that number decreased to 26! Our work had increased and we needed workers. We wrote to the government, but it did nothing. Then I followed a simple process — short-term appointment of staff. I am doing my job honestly!
Recently you made a risky claim — you said the prostitution racket in the GB Road area had the patronage of a Union minister. Do you think you’ll be successful in bringing the guilty to dock?
Definitely! I want that area to be closed down permanently. I want the women from the area to be rehabilitated — and given a life of dignity. They should be given employment opportunities and other facilities to improve their lives. MCD is now preparing a report to demolish all illegal constructions in the area that had been made for running the business.
What kind of cases does the DCW mostly encounter? How does Delhi fare in comparison to other states?
We get 300-350 cases every day, mostly related to domestic violence, physical and sexual assaults, and sexual harassment at the workplace. In Delhi, the cases at least come to light, whereas in other places, most of the cases are pushed under the rug.
What is your message to women?
Do not feel unsafe and afraid of anything — fight and raise your voice. We are here to support you.