Press "Enter" to skip to content

Hungry for action

Delhi Commission of Women chief Swati Maliwal’s tenure has been the journey of an activist. She is now on indefinite hunger strike demanding capital punishment for rapists

In past 30 months, the DCW conducted rescue operations in Delhi’s red-light area, raided illegal liquor vendors in Delhi and campaigned for women’s safety. Can the Centre agree to her latest demands?

Since April 13, when she started her strike, DCW chief Swati Maliwal has firmed up a list of primarily three demands, sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the form of a letter. This includes finishing trials in rape cases, awarding the judgement within six months in the cases in which rape survivor is an adult, and capital punishment for rapists.

At Rajghat’s Samta Sthal, a small white tent has been set up in which sits Maliwal along with her volunteers. Another long tent accommodates the supporters of the campaign – majorly women. Leaders from Aam Aadmi Party including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have paid visits, extending their unconditional support to the DCW’s list of demands. In order to speed up the rape trial cases, the DCW is seeking an increase in the number of fast-track courts in Delhi.

Kejriwal, while sharing the stage with Maliwal, had announced that if the Delhi High Court gives a rough estimate of the expenditure required to set up these new courts, Delhi government is ready to fund it.

It’s not only the AAP politicians who are standing in solidarity with their former party member. Bharatiya Janata Party senior leaders Shatrughan Sinha and Yashwant Sinha too shared the stage with the DCW chief. Former Janata Dal-United Rajya Sabha MP Sharad Yadav met the 33-year-old on Wednesday.

Statyavarth Nehra, DCW official, told Newslaundry, “So far there has been no communication from the central government regarding our demands. Neither has Ma’am [Maliwal] approached them after sitting on the indefinite hunger strike. Whatever is being said to the central government is through the media and on social media platforms.” On Wednesday, Maliwal wrote letters to female parliamentarians asking them to support her campaign. Notably, while this letter was being shared – reports of another rape of a minor girl in the national capital surfaced. According to reports, last Saturday, the family of the 12-year-old in west Delhi received a video on their WhatsApp in which a neighbour could be seen allegedly raping the girl. The accused in the case has been arrested by Delhi Police.

Maliwal holds poor policing, triggered by deficit of personnel, as one of the reason why Delhi has become rape capital. In her letter to PM Modi, she had alleged there is a deficit of 66,000 police personnel and that the police stations in Delhi are working on half of the required strength. “Today, Delhi Police is able to discharge their duties only in terms of VIP protection. It has failed to serve the common citizen,” Maliwal wrote.

Even days after her indefinite hunger strike, Maliwal’s spirit is indomitable. Visibly frail, Swati addressing the media on the fifth day, she shared why she was forced to sit on hunger strike, “for the past two and half years, I have been seeing blood of small innocent girls.” Sharing another horrific incident, she said, “I have stood witness to an eight-month-old baby being operated for three-hours [after being raped].”

Despite her deteriorating health condition, the DCW chief has refused to break her hunger strike. According to her health report, she had lost 2 kg weight.

Her team maintains the DCW has carried out a sustained campaign before taking this extreme step. In November 2017, Maliwal was detained outside Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s house while protesting against the rape of toddler. (Delhi Police comes under the Union Home Ministry). She has been seeking for a coordination team between the Lieutenant Governor’s officer, Delhi Police, the MHA, Delhi government and the DCW – while dealing with cases of sexual abuse.

Later in February, the 33-year-old chairperson started the Rape Roko campaign demanding death penalty for convicts of raping infants. This was followed by her satyagraha where she and her team didn’t return to their homes for 30 days in protest and worked round the clock. It included visiting public places such as bus depots, railway station and checking the state of women’s safety in the night.

Maliwal was Kejriwal’s advisor at the Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF). When AAP returned to power, she was appointed the DCW chief in 2015. Ever since she has taken over the office – the women’s body has got into an activist mode. Controversies hit Maliwal when former DCW chief Barkha Shukla Singh filed a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) alleging irregularities in appointments. Despite these controversies, Maliwal’s tenure as DCW chief has witnessed extensive work. Right from issuing notices to Delhi Police in rape and molestation complaints to taking cognisance of crime against women even in the neighbouring states, she has been pro-active in her approach.

There are several questions over the demand for capital punishment which needs to be answered by her and her team. It is important to note that two-thirds of the world’s countries have done away with death penalty. As per Amnesty International, only 23 countries actually executed convicted criminals. In such times when the countries are doing away with capital punishment, can India bring such laws?

Maliwal’s pitch for death penalty seems to be based on the frustration which has built over months due to witnessing one after another case of crime against women and the failure of the police to curb such crimes. She herself has said in the past, that she wants the system become swifter while dealing with the rape cases. “I want swiftness in the system. I am demanding death penalty because it will serve as a deterrent,” Maliwal had said earlier in conversation with Newslaundry.

Nehra, a DCW official and team member of Rape Roko, said, “If there are provisions for the death penalty for other offences, why not for rape? It is certainly a more heinous crime.”

Also, Maliwal’s stage is being used by AAP leaders and other leaders who are critical of the BJP – to attack PM Modi. Not only this, the tone of a couple of AAP MLAs was itself problematic, considering they were speaking from a stage demanding justice for women. “The man who abandoned his wife, the man who made his mother stand in an ATM queue for Rs 4,000, what will he know about women and her struggles,” Moti Nagar AAP legislator Shiv Charan Goel had said on Tuesday from the stage. And surprisingly, no one from the DCW took offence.

Meanwhile, the larger question that looms over team Maliwal is whether and when the Centre will respond to her demands.