Despite being the capital of India, Delhi is no different from any other part of the country in terms of violence against women. The situation touches nadir sometimes when the capital city becomes a focal point of debate across the country – December 16, 2012 gangrape of a student is a prime example in this regard. In the midst of all these odds, Delhi Commission for Women has established its own position as a monitoring body of the issues that disturb women the most. The commission was recently in limelight when it became the battleground between Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal over the appointment of Swati Maliwal as the new chairperson. After much tussle the dust finally settled down. Ramesh Kumar Raja talked to Maliwal to discuss her plans and priorities and her stress to revamp the commission’s image. It may be noted that Maliwal previously worked as an adviser to Delhi CM Kejriwal on public grievances and handled his Janta Samwad. Married to Navin Jaihind, a key Aam Aadmi Party leader from Haryana, she has been associated with Kejriwal since his days with the India Against Corruption movement. Edited excerpts:
How do you look at your role as DCW chief?
It’s a very big responsibility for me because working for the cause of women is not as easy as one thinks. It’s very unfortunate that no special work has been done at DCW for the last eight years. It has been used more as a wrestling ring of politics. Everything is disordered. There is no proper system of work – from how a complaint is lodged to how the case is resolved, nothing is in good shape.
Now I am spending sleepless nights to chalk out a plan of action to empower women through this institution. Since there are high expectations from us, we need to do a lot in a very short span of time.
So how do you intend to overhaul the system?
There is a need to work out the system. Although I believe in the system, I want to remove the grey areas. I believe an individual is not as important as the system and its dignity must be restored. I can neither look into all cases nor will everyone come to me personally. Rectifying the system is the only option that can significantly bring about a change to make the DCW more effective, which I am doing now for the larger interest of the people. For this, we have contacted the best lawyers in Delhi. We are also in the process of meeting and building alliances with non-government organizations.
What are the major issues you want to focus on during your stint at DCW?
Our topmost priority is women’s safety. We want to make Delhi as safe for women. I think we need to create an environment in which even if a woman has to come out at 12 in the night, she feels safe. It’s not something that we can achieve overnight; we have to work very hard for it. We would like to work for women who are being forced to live on the streets, women in Tihar Jail and protection homes and of course, for the women living in the dirty lanes of GB Road (Delhi’s red light area).
A controversy broke out between LG Najeeb Jung and CM Arvind Kejriwal ahead of your appointment. Didn’t it shake up your spirit?
No, not at all. No one has shaken my morale in my life till now, about which I had even tweeted during the time of controversy. More the difficulties higher the energy. Thankfully, those controversies are now finished and I am now more determined and stronger to prove myself through my works.
Could you share any campaign that you have started under DCW?
Definitely. Actually a number of campaigns and programs are in the pipeline and these include working for the cause of women living in very pathetic conditions in red light areas and acid attack victims. In a very short period of time, we have set an example of working for the welfare of acid attack victims. I, along with some acid attack victims, met Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia to discuss their issues. Now onwards, acid attack victims will be provided free treatment in private hospitals by the Delhi government. The government will also bear the cost of all corrective surgeries to be performed on the victims. The health minister has appointed his OSD as the nodal authority to coordinate with the DCW team in order to ensure best of treatment for all victims.
What improvements you want to bring to the lives of women at GB Road red light area in New Delhi?
There are more than five thousand women living out there. Most of them are the victims of human trafficking, they have been brought there at the tender age of 12-16 years and tortured and forced into trade where there is no life. When I talked to them, they complained of repeated sexual assaults indoors. There is no hygiene at their place and all sorts of bad practices go on. The thing which I want to highlight is that nobody bothers to take cognizance of this hellish cruelty, not even the Parliament which is nearly three kilometres away from the infamous brothel street. If a leader or official takes notice of the situation, it is quickly brushed under carpet as the matter is a taboo in the society. These are the things I would work upon in order to make them feel that they are very much part of our society.
How can you make a difference when there is no regulatory body to monitor their pathetic lives?
We are doing proper studies on the issue and looking at possibilities for bringing those women in mainstream of society. For this, we even met Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, who too sought our assistance in bringing amendments. Instead of preaching moral policing, we are finding out ways of their rehabilitation but not at the cost of their livelihood. We hope our endeavours would bring some positive change in their life.
Delhi is said to be the rape capital of India. Is there any plan to break this perception?
Delhi has a very complex issue that it’s not a full state. There are a number of agencies which pass the buck to one another that it doesn’t come under their prerogative. We are planning to constitute a panel which will look into each and every aspect of what is whose jurisdiction and what needs to be done. It will however need a long time to resolve the issue of blame game.
What challenges you see ahead in the coming times?
Although I don’t foresee any, it’s definitely going to be a difficult task to deliver results in a small time as we wished to correct the system at DCW level. Complains are pouring in, in addition to the already backlogged cases but everything is in a very sad state to amend so quick. Had the things been in place, it would have been a smooth ride for us to deliver results. I want to give relief to all the complainants coming in.
What are your expectations from the Kejriwal government?
I have expectations from all – CM Arvind Kejriwal, PM Narendra Modi and LG Najeeb Jung as well as police. I am strongly confident that neither I’ll let anyone to do politics over the issues of women nor will I do. I am hopeful that I’ll achieve whatever I wished over the issues of women, if it doesn’t happen I’ll go to court for the larger interest of the integrity of the institution.
How does the DCW distinguish itself from other women bodies and also Delhi Police’s women’s cell?
DCW is simply a monitoring organisation which acts as a watchdog to check the functions of agencies and government departments dealing with the women-related issues. We also keep a tab on the cases handled by women’s cell of police.
There are many places in Delhi where women don’t know about DCW and they have to run from pillar to post to lodge a case in a police station or have to move court directly and spend lots of money in litigation. So is there any awareness campaign in your mind for such people?
I acknowledge this problem and we’ll definitely work on it. Right now we are in the process of launching a 27×7 helpline for women and its monitoring will be done very effectively. We’ll not launch it until we get a very strong back-end support so that a logical conclusion could be drawn after registering the matter in a proper format. Good and humble people will be at our end to listen to grievances from the other side. Besides, we are planning to revamp the ongoing program, Mahila Panchayat, at the community level so that everybody does not need to come to the DCW. It’ll help in resolution of some of the cases at the community level only.