Delhi Commission of Women chief Swati Maliwal should have, ideally, been sitting inside the AC cabin of her office in Delhi’s ITO. However, since April 13, Maliwal has been on an indefinite hunger strike demanding the death penalty for those convicted of raping minor girls. Her list of demands, sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the form of a letter, includes concluding trails in rape cases and awarding of punishment within six months in the cases of adult rape survivors.
At Rajghat’s Samta Sthal, a small white tent has been set up under which Maliwal along with her volunteers is struggling to secure justice for the rape survivors. Another long tent accommodates supporters of the campaign, majorly women. Leaders from the Aam Aadmi Party, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, have already visited Maliwal extending their unconditional support to the DCW’s list of demands. In order to fasten up 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, announced that if the Delhi High Court gave it a rough estimate of the expenditure required to set up these new courts — the Delhi government would fund the setting up of these courts.
It’s not only AAP leaders who are standing in solidarity with their former party member. Senior leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party such as Shatrughan Sinha and Yashwant Sinha, too, shared the stage with Maliwal. 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’s side regarding our demands. Neither ma’am [Maliwal] has approached them since she began her 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 seeking their support for her campaign. While this letter was being shared, reports of another minor girl’s rape in the national capital surfaced. According to reports, last Saturday, the family of a 12-year-old in west Delhi received a video over WhatsApp in which a neighbour could be seen allegedly raping the girl. The Delhi Police have arrested the accused.
Maliwal holds poor policing, triggered by a deficit of personnel, as one of the reasons why Delhi has become the ‘rape capital’. In her letter to Modi, she has alleged that there is a deficit of 66,000 police personnel and that police stations in Delhi are working on half their 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.
Six days into her indefinite hunger strike, Maliwal looks visibly frail. Addressing the media on Tuesday, she shared her reasons for this step. “For the past two and half years, I have seen the blood of small innocent girls,” she added, “I have stood witness to an 8-month-old baby being operated on for three hours [after being raped].”
Despite her deteriorating health condition, the DCW chief has refused to break her fast. According to her April 18 health report, she has lost five-kilogram weight.
Maliwal’s decision to sit on an indefinite hunger strike was triggered by the Kathua and Unnao rape cases. While in Kathua rape case, leaders from BJP’s J&K unit had supported those trying to defend the accused, in Unnao rape case, a BJP legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar is the accused. On April 12, Maliwal wrote to Modi and a day after, she sat on the fast.
Before taking such a serious step, her team maintains that the DCW has carried out a sustained campaign. In November 2017, Maliwal was detained from outside of Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s house while protesting against the rape of toddler. The Delhi Police come under the Union home ministry. Maliwal has been seeking a team that would coordinate between the Lieutenant Governor’s office, Delhi Police, MHA, Delhi government and the DCW – while dealing with cases of sexual abuse.
In February, the 33-year-old chairperson started the Rape Roko campaign to demand the death penalty for those convicted of raping infants. This was followed by her Satyagraha where she and her team didn’t return to their homes for 30 days and worked around the clock. It included visiting public places such as bus depots, railway station and checking the state of women safety at night.
Maliwal was Kejriwal’s former advisor at the Public Cause Research Foundation. When AAP returned to power, she was appointed as the DCW chief in 2015; ever since the women’s body has got into an activist mode. In past two and half years, Maliwal has conducted rescue operations in GB road, raided illegal liquor vendors in Delhi and campaigned for women safety at night.
Controversies, however, hit Maliwal when former DCW chief Barkha Shukla Singh filed a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Branch alleging irregularities in appointments. Despite the hurdles, Maliwal’s tenure as DCW chief has witnessed some extensive work, including issuing notices to the Delhi Police in rape and molestation complaints to taking cognizance of crime against women even in the neighbouring states.
There are several questions pertaining to DCW’s demand for capital punishment which need to be answered by Maliwal and her team. According to 2017 Amnesty report, two-thirds of all the nations have done away with the death penalty. As per the Amnesty International, only 23 countries executed capital punishments in 2016. This brings us to an important question, can India bring such laws?
Maliwal’s pitch for the death penalty also seems to be stemming from the frustration of witnessing consecutive cases of crime against women and the police’s failure to curb such crimes. In an earlier comment, she had said that she wants the system to become swifter when dealing with rape cases. “I want swiftness in the system. I am demanding the death penalty because it will serve as a deterrent,” Maliwal had told Newslaundry.
Nehra, a DCW official and team member of Rape Roko, said, “If there are provisions of a death penalty for other offences, why not for rape? It is certainly a more heinous crime.”
Meanwhile, a larger question looms over Maliwal’s team — when will the Central government respond to DCW’s demands?