Swati Maliwal, who will complete her term as chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) in the next five months, has said that not enough has been done to put an end to rapes in the national capital.
"We have done a lot of work for the cause of women and we have data to prove that. But if you ask me what is DCW's contribution in effectively reducing or stopping rapes in the national capital, it is probably a question that at times even I ask myself. When I hear about rape cases of minor girls, I question our contribution," Maliwal told IANS in an interview.
According to NCRB data, Delhi reported 13,803 cases of crime against women and has the maximum number of rape cases -- 1,996 -- in 2016.
"We need to create deterrents in the capital. People don't feel scared because they think they can get away after committing a crime. And this has been happening. Compared to the cases registered, very few end in conviction. We need to have faster judiciary, more police strength and more forensic labs," she added.
Maliwal, 33, was appointed the DCW chief in 2015 after the Aam Aadmi Party came to power that year. Her appointment raised questions and was looked upon as a political move.
"The Delhi government had the guts to appoint an activist to the post of chairperson. We got a lot of support from the state, there is no doubt about that. But this is because they have a vision of a woman's panel which functions democratically," she contended.
She pointed out that DCW has issued more notices to the state government than the Delhi Police in the last three years.
In 2016, Maliwal was dragged to court after the Anti-Corruption Branch filed an FIR on irregularities in the appointments she had made in the DCW -- but she stoutly defended her actions. She is out on bail in the case.
"I alone cannot handle so many cases. When I was appointed, there were only 30 staffers and major infrastructural gaps. The earlier committee had done nothing. Cases were pending and I needed people, I needed to build a team. The appointments happened according to the procedure. There are many in the committee who are from different political parties. Anyone who is willing to actually contribute and work for DCW is welcome," she noted.
Maliwal's first priority on her appointment was to rescue the sex workers from the GB Road area of central Delhi and rehabilitate them. Although the DCW has been successful in rescuing many minor sex workers, she is now planning a pilot project to bring them back into society.
"There are many sex workers who want to come out of the situation but they don't have any other option; they have lost hope of an alternative livelihood. We need to think big for the effective reformation of the sex workers of GB Road. It's a sensitive topic and we need to do this holistically. Even if you teach them, it should be ensured that the person's past is completely erased," she stated.
Maliwal also expressed concern over the rising cases of children and women being trafficked in the national capital and lamented the lack of support from the Centre for the DCW's activities.
"There is only silence in response to our requests, whether it is about women being trafficked, rape cases, deploying more police for ensuring safety and the utilisaion of the Nirbhaya Fund. I have met the Home Minister, have written several letters -- but there has been no response. It's unfortunate," she said.
Asked why the central government had not bothered to reply to the DCW, Maliwal said this "may be" due to the differences between the state and the Centre.
"I don't want to get into the politics of the situation. I don't think that should be the case -- but it can be one of the reasons," she said.
On her plans if she gets another term, Maliwal said that she is not concerned one way or the other, adding it was for the Delhi government to take a call.
"I am not expecting anything. I live in the moment. My priorities will be the same -- which have been already set. Three years is much too less a time to bring about major changes because it takes time to understand how a system works. Whether I am there or not, I will set the system in a way that the work will go on," Maliwal concluded.
(Somrita Ghosh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)