Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chairperson Swati Maliwal, 34, is known for her intrepid, dynamic and independent approach on issues relating to girls and women, especially their safety, security and empowerment.
Appointed by the Arvind Kejriwal government as the DCW chief, Maliwal had been associated with the Aam Aadmi Party since its India Against Corruption (IAC) phase.
However, there have been occasions when she did not shy away from taking on even the AAP or its leaders on significant matters. In a freewheeling interview with MARIYAM SOHAIL, Maliwal spoke on a range of issues. Excerpts:
Q: The women in the national capital do not feel safe as sexual and other forms of atrocities against them continue unabated despite the appointment of an activist like you as DCW chairperson.
A: I think my appointment to the post itself speaks volumes about the AAP government’s intentions as governments across the country generally pick politicians and spineless people for the same who never take a position against the governments concerned. If you see my track record, I did not shy away from calling a spade a spade. However, I appreciate that the Arvind Kejriwal government has done many things for women. His government has increased the DCW funds. For the first time ever, a State Women Commission gets more funds than the National Commission for Women. The DCW fund has been increased five to six times.
Q: If funds were increased, then what is stopping you or the Kejriwal government from implementing proper schemes for women’s safety? For instance, CCTV cameras have not yet been installed in various parts of the national capital.
A: We have issued a notice to the Delhi government, transport commissioner and state home secretary in this regard. After a month, the home secretary replied that the work orders have been issued and CCTV cameras will be installed within six months of 2019. The government has taken several steps to ensure the CCTV cameras get installed, but there are issues. It has been trying but you are well aware of the tussle between the Centre and the Delhi government.
Q: The installation of CCTV cameras in DTC buses was one of your major concerns, but it has not happened yet.
A: Yes, we have repeatedly raised our concern in this regard. The Delhi government asked for Rs 125 crore for installing CCTV cameras in DTC buses from the Centre, but the sum has not been allotted to it for the last two years. This demand was set aside on the pretext that if we install cameras in DTC buses, the project will not be “gender sensitive”. Can you imagine such insensitivity on the part of the Centre with regard to issues related to women?
While everyone appreciates our work the LG’s office filed two complaints against the DCW. This has happened for the first time that a case was filed against the chairperson of a women’s commission. And these things happened just because we summoned Delhi Police on a matter and demanded that the LG should call a meeting of all administrative heads, but he refused. If we are treated like this, then I can imagine what the Delhi government would be going through.
Q: Don’t you think the apathetic approach towards women’s safety has severely impacted society? The national capital is called “Rape Capital” and women feel unsafe coming to Delhi for jobs and studies.
A: Yes. I admit it. If women over 40 years of age or girl children below 2-3 years are raped, then it is our collective failure. My mother too calls me several times a day to know how I am doing. She is worried about my safety. She is not able to get rid of that fear psychosis which every mother goes through in the national capital. So imagine, if the DCW chairperson does not feel safe in the national capital, what about other girls or women living here? This fear is real.
Q: What is your take on the #MeToo campaign?
A: I totally support the #MeToo campaign. Sexual violence against women has been going on for so long in our country that raising our voice against it has been stigmatised. It is crucial if someone raises her voice, but I think she should pursue it to the logical conclusion. File proper complaints so that apart for shaming the culprits, they should also be brought to justice.
Q: Don’t you think reckless or unfounded #MeToo allegations may also lead to a dip in women employment?
A: No, I don’t feel so. If an employer is not interested in employing women because of #MeToo fear, then it indicates his mindset. The campaign has got momentum due to social media but it is important that it spreads at the grassroots level. The campaign should reach rural areas as well.
Q: The Supreme Court has struck down the adultery law and you are among those who criticised this verdict. Why?
A: Yes, I am against this law because marriage is an institution and the trust between two partners in it are binding. No partner should be allowed to cheat the other as it is wrong. I do not support the previous law either. But decriminalising adultery is not good. After the verdict, you know, two people committed suicide because their partners were cheating on them and they were left with no option. It’s not about gender, nobody has the right to do injustice irrespective of gender. What is wrong is wrong.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Sabarimala temple issue? Despite the apex court’s judgment, women of the menstruating age group are unable to enter this temple.
A: Women should enter every religious place be it a mosque or temple or any other religious place. Treating women as impure and sources of distraction are wrong. Menstrual cycle makes women more pure because it gives women power to give birth to life and that is the most beautiful thing. How can one treat it as impure? If we do not challenge these notions today, then down the line, after 200 or 300 years, our children will be doing the same thing. I strongly support the top court’s judgment.