Saying the Delhi Commission for Women is more responsive than ever before, they accused the Centre of undermining the commission’s autonomy.
A number of women organisations have demanded that the Centre stop attacking Swati Maliwal, the chairwoman of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), by challenging the autonomy of the commission and indulging in vendetta-based politics, asserting that women’s related issues in Delhi have never been better addressed than under Maliwal.
At a meeting organised to voice concerns about how the commission was being targeted, Representatives from the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), All India Democratic Women’s Association (ALDWA), Anhad and All India Progressive Women’s Association organised a meeting to discuss the government’s targeting of the commission and Maliwal in particular.
Shabnam Hashmi of Anhad said that after a long while, all women’s groups have been receiving a “strong and supportive response” from the DCW whenever they have approached the body over an issue. “They take action within 24 or 48 hours. The 181 helpline is also working well and the van comes to solve the problems of the women complainants at very short notice.”
The problem, she said, lay in the patriarchal mindset of the police and the government at the Centre which would rather send women back to the 16th century. “This is why they are attacking Maliwal but we will firmly stand by her,” she said.
Annie Raja of NFIW wondered why such a hue and cry was being raised about the DCW’s hiring of contract workers when it’s common practice to hire such workers. “The reasons is,” she said, “because Maliwal showed courage to even summon senior police officers for not acting on the complaints of women. She would seek action and ask them to file FIRs and issue summons when compliance was lacking. Obviously it has been resisted. But for us, we find a lot of responsiveness and discussion on issues in the commission now.”
Raja said it was important to protect the DCW’s autonomy as the body works for the welfare and empowerment of both women and children. Additionally, the body has been proactive in helping survivors of acid attack and sexual violence.
Kavita Krishnan of All India Progressive Women’s Association said the fact of the matter is that the DCW is short-staffed. “I had petitioned the Delhi government for the same and took people on contract-basis when extra hands were not allocated.”
She said the DCW was being singled out for doing so as the Centre, through the Lieutenant Governor, wants to restrict the organisation’s autonomy, granted to it by the Delhi Commission for Women Act, 1994. Charging the DCW for corruption, she continued, was absolutely wrong as it impacts the commission’s autonomy and functioning.
Maimoona Abbas Mollah and Asha Sharma of AIDWA said the group of women’s organisations will launch an action programme if the attack on the DCW continues.
Mollah also recalled how in July last year, several women’s organisations had rallied behind Maliwal when she was accused of naming a minor sexual assault victim. “Under the present regime at the Centre, attack is taking place on the autonomy of all institutions and even the DCW has not been spared,” she said.
The representatives from women’s organisations also said that under Maliwal’s leadership, the DCW created efficient new systems, for instance, any complaint made to the organisation is acted upon within 72 hours. “The present commission has dealt with 11,696 cases, the 181 women’s helpline received 2.16 lakh calls, Crisis Cell lawyers have dealt with 5733 sexual assault cases, 22 rape cases have gone to courts, 1869 sexual assault cases have been dealt with by the Crisis Intervention Centre counselors, in 97 cases the court has awarded victim compensation upon intervention of the DCW, 7500 visits have been undertaken, 9806 cases have been personally heard by members and 487 by the chairperson,” they said, highlighting the extent of work done by the commission.
Noting that “these numbers might not be enough to deal with the extent of the violence that women face”, they said, nevertheless they “give a lot of hope to women’s organisations and women in distress”.
Meanwhile, talking to The Wire, Maliwal said she is currently focusing on two cases being fought in the Delhi high court right now and also on ensuring that all pending matters are resolved amicably.
“There are two court cases right now in the high court which the DCW has filed. One is regarding the general overall women safety condition and the high court has issued notice to the L-G (Lieutenant Governor) in that asking why no meeting has been held on the issue of women’s safety for the last one year and why he has set up the Women’s Safety Task Force in Delhi. The other one is regarding staffing. I was present in the last meeting. It was a very high pitched affair and what came out was that the court ordered release of 50% of the salary and the next hearing is on January 6,” she said.
Maliwal said the high court provided immense relief as now the DCW will be able to pay the salaries of the 90-odd temporary employees it hired. “The commission had already requested the Delhi government for giving us more staff. We had just 20 employees. So when we did not get more personnel, we hired these employees on a ‘short-term, part-time basis’. We made these appointments. We were guided by member secretaries and it is all on the files. We have handled enormous numerous amount of work.”
She said the DCW also plans to urge the court to help the organisation acquire more regular staff. “We are seeking 285 regular employees. We will be putting this issue, also, before the court to issue directions to the government, because they are not providing us additional staff and it is causing a lot of problems.”
The commission and the government
To ensure the smooth functioning of the commission. The autonomous powers of the commission are derived through the Delhi Commission for Women Act, 1994, wherein the administrative powers are defined in Section 9(ii) which states, “The Commission shall regulate its own procedure and the procedure of the Committees thereof.” The financial powers are defined in Section 11(i) which states, “The Government shall after due appropriation made by the Legislative Assembly of the Capital in this behalf, pay to the Commission by way of grants such sums of money as the Government may think fit for being utilized for the purposes of this Act.” and Section 11 (ii), which states, “The Commission may spend such sums as it thinks fit for performing the functions under this Act and such sums shall be treated as expenditure payable out of the grants referred to in sub-section (i).”
The commission, on a regular basis, monitors the functioning of the government vis-à-vis ensuring the welfare of women and girls in Delhi. It will be impossible for the commission to fulfil its mandate as ordained by the Act, if it is not financially and administratively independent of the government.
Women’s commissions achieved autonomy from the government after decades of struggle under the women’s movement. We cannot be mute spectators when an all round attack is taking place on the autonomy and functioning of the DCW.