New Delhi: Swati Maliwal, recently appointed chief of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), says “police nexus” in trafficking of women to Delhi is an “open secret” and says rehabilitating sex workers was on top of her agenda.
Maliwal, who at 30 is the youngest to take charge of this job, had recently equated prostitution with "rape", drawing the ire of some activists.
Maliwal said that those involved in sex work were mostly doing so because of compulsion, not choice. Providing good career alternatives would enable women to leave sex trade if they so desired, she said in a detailed interview to IANS.
Maliwal, who was a personal aide of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal handling public grievances, said rehabilitating and improving the living conditions of sex workers was on top of her agenda. Free treatment for acid attack victims at Delhi's top hospitals and government jobs for them was her other focus area.
Maliwal spoke to IANS at her central Delhi office and said she would work to keep DCW "fiercely apolitical".
Q: Amnesty International is planning to declare sex work as a human right. How does this apply to Delhi's red light area, GB Road?
A: GB Road is three kilometres from Parliament. But there is no cognizance of the plight of these women. After my visit, a group of sex workers came and said we want to get out of this (sex work). Nirmal Chaya (government-run home for women) is not the alternative. If we rehabilitate 50 women, that would send a message that we are serious about it. There are other issues like how to stop trafficking of minor girls. The moment you enter the area, some pimp approaches you saying baraah saal ki mast, teraah saal ki mast (12-year-old girl, 13-year-old girl).
Q: Those in authority and even police often say off the record that prostitution "prevents rape" of "decent women". Can a GB Road with its trafficked minors be running without a police nexus?
A: I strongly condemn this mindset. Most of these girls are being trafficked and in sex work because of poverty. For all those who are saying these things, please realise that this is not social work. Why should we put that moral obligation only on these women? The day I accept this, I will also be in GB Road doing what these women are doing. There is police nexus. It is an open secret. But if you close these brothels down where will these women go? They may get back to sex work in worse conditions.
Q: How do you intercept traffickers with a police force that may not be completely on board?
A: Trafficking is also taking place in Delhi through placement agencies. DCW is the nodal authority for registering these agencies. We are going to be working on this very soon. We are also trying to increase our presence in GB Road, too. Once that happens, the police will be a little wary about whatever is happening.
Q: DCW is often seen as a toothless tiger. How will you change this?
A: Teeth are very important. The reason I am not harping on that is because no work has been done in DCW till now. Present DCW's mandate is clear - making visits, recommendations to the government, taking suo motu cognizance of issues related to women, issuing studies, commissioning committees - none of that has happened so far. In eight years only two visits have taken place. The Delhi Dialogue Commission has recommended more powers for us in its Bill of Rights for Women like penal powers, powers of a civil court. But for the next three-four months, I want to focus on the existing mandate and set up systems.
Q: What are your plans for helping acid attack victims?
A: Their health is a very serious concern. The SC had ordered all government and private hospitals to give them free treatment and medicines. But it's not implemented. So we met Delhi Health Minister Satyender Jain and he has appointed a nodal officer who will work with DCW to get these women treated at top private hospitals free of cost. The acid attack victims will be part of the task force on this. Second issue is low rate of conviction and long drawn legal battles. The government will now appoint a senior prosecutor to fight these cases. I got a proposal approved for government jobs for these victims from the CM when I was his advisor (public grievances). Now ministers will get them placed in the government according to their profiles. This is my first victory in a way.
Q: You had tweeted against the sexist comments made by three elected representatives, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Somnath Bharti, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ramesh Bidhuri and Congress MP Gurudas Kamat. What about respect for women in politics?
A: No matter which party they are from, whether Somnath Bharti or Kamat, they are elected members and 50 per cent of the electorate is women. It's unfortunate that these statements were made in the House. The Speaker should take action. They (politicians) need to learn to respect women and speak in a proper manner about women. That's the least they can do.
(Anuradha Mukherjee can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)